Recent Headlines from the Great Cape Town Toilet War


July 26, 2014

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Upgrading, Water & Sanitation

The Toilet War in Cape Town (and South Africa, and beyond) continues to rage, with these recent reports surfacing…

  • The Human Rights Commission (HRC) of South Africa, responding to a claim placed by the Social Justice Coalition, finds that the City of Cape Town’s approach to water and sanitation violates the human rights of informal settlement dwellers when “emergency service provision” measures, notably chemical toilets, are relied on for years, becoming a de facto long-term, inadequate and racially discriminatory response (e.g., p. 71) rather than a pathway to progressive realization of constitutional rights to basic sanitation (e.g., see p. 53). The Commission recommends that the City within six months develop new “norms and standards” for progressive realization of that “ensure services are available, accessible, acceptable to users, and of appropriate quality” and that the new National Ministry of Water and Sanitation and National Housing Ministry also engage in various related policy, training, monitoring and enforcement activities. The document offers a nice introduction to the legal context for sanitation in SA: Investigative Report – Western Cape – Social Justice Coalition – 9 July 2014.
  • Mayor Patricia de Lille fires back that the HRC both misunderstands challenges of service delivery in the country and has with political motivation unfairly singled out Cape Town for condemnation, despite the city having achieved demonstrably better results than other urban areas, and announced the City’s intention to lodge HRC complaints against other SA metros.
  • Activists accused of using or trying to use feces as a direct weapon of protest in incidents at the Cape Town International Airport and the provincial legislature are acquitted.
  • The challenges of effectively managing (i.e., cleaning and repairing) township toilets is all too evident on casual inspection, but gets further reinforcement from a recent “social audit” by the SJC, with findings similar to those of previous CTPC work, for example in Monwabisi Park in Khayelitsha in 2008.

Meanwhile, down in the basement, the sound of machines (cue Talking Heads)… CORC friends and I immersed daily in strategizing how to chart, amid the wreckage and catastrophe, gains and setbacks, shifting alliances, fog and fear and paralysis of toilet warfare, a way forward, to consolidate gains (and avoid backsliding) at the little WaSH facility beachhead we’ve helped win in Langrug, to actually devise a coherent way to progressively, much more quickly, meet that devilishly simple charge — “ensure services that are available, accessible, acceptable to users, and of appropriate quality” — and in the process also steal a march in the related battles for health and well-being, sustainable livelihoods, and incremental settlement upgrading.


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