Access to adequate sanitation continues to be a problem in South Africa. The latest census report states that thousands of South Africans are still without proper toilets. Almost four million households still use pit toilets, 2.1% use bucket toilets and 2.6% use chemical toilets.

This issue not only affects households but health facilities as well, especially in rural areas  and informal settlements where there is no access to running water. Communities and facilities in Moretele local municipality are among those still using pit toilets. A senior official in the municipality tells Health-e News that more than 15 of the 22 clinics in the municipality use pit toilets. 

Irritated residents 

Moretele is a deep rural area and most of the households still use pit toilets. 

Agnes Matshaba (45) is one of the few who uses a flushing toilet at home. But she has to use a pit toilet whenever she goes to the Leseding clinic.  

“They know that it’s not good for people to use pit latrines. They reserve the one flushing toilet for staff while we as the public are subjected to use these ones that smell so bad and they are even dirty,” she says.

Another resident Nkele Dooka (30) says it’s very hard going to the toilet when she’s at the Bosplaas clinic, especially now that she is pregnant. 

“I used to come and go back home without ever going there. There is no privacy, the doors do not lock. You’ll be surprised by someone entering the toilet while you are inside. The worst thing is that you see the faeces when you enter, before even using the toilets.”

Dooka is not used to pit latrines because where she stays she uses the flushing toilet. 

Disadvantages of pit latrines

Medical doctor Ditiragalo Molao says using pit toilets can lead to the contamination of groundwater. This can later result in waterborne diseases. Foodborne diseases can result from consuming food in contact with faecal matter or urine. People can also develop respiratory problems from contaminated air.  According to the World health organization (WHO) people who are exposed to poor sanitation can also contract antibiotic resistant diseases.  

“In an ideal world it would be a benefit to the environment and public health to have access to flushing toilets. But given our developing state, we still have more disadvantaged areas in South Africa and Africa,” says Molao. 

“Pit latrines are what is ideal at the moment and they limit uncontrolled waste in neighbourhoods.” 

For people who still use pit latrines, Molao has this advice: 

  • Keep them clean and neat as possible
  • Clean regularly with use of products like bleach  
  • Keep a basin of water and soap close to toilet for handwashing after use 
  • Dig the pit away from your house to avoid contaminating utensils and the garden

Eradication plans underway

North West Department of Health spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane says the process of demolishing all pit toilets in Moretele and the whole of North West is well underway. He says the government will continue to either convert pit latrines to flushing toilets. – Health-e News

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