Cape Town’s toilet wars: “it’s political”

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Township toilet wars re-emerged as political ping-pong yesterday when Cape Town’s elected leaders blamed a third force for erupting service delivery.

Premier Helen Zille, Mayor Patricia de Lille and Bonginkosi Madikizela, provincial MEC for human settlements, said yesterday toilets were not effectively cleaned in townships because of “political elements”.

Cape Town's Mayor Patricia de Lille and Bonginkosi Madikizela, provincial MEC for human settlements, with Western Cape's Premier Helen Zille. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Cape Town’s Mayor Patricia de Lille and Bonginkosi Madikizela, provincial MEC for human settlements, with Western Cape’s Premier Helen Zille. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Madikizela said township residents were attacking City of Cape Town workers and its contractors who were meant to keep toilets clean.

“They want to hold us at ransom to provide flush toilets or a home. They think if we give them this they will have to wait longer for a home,” he said.

“You also have disgruntled former employees (of cleaning company contractors) who are burning their company’s and city’s vehicles. They are driving our workers out of communities with pangas and knives.”

Madikizela added: “There are political elements in some areas. Some people do everything they can to show a city as one that does not care for poor people. For them to continue, they must prevent us from providing services to poor people. We will no longer engage people who claim to be leaders.”

Gxa Gxa Street in Gugulethu township is one particular area which for the last few weeks has not seen clean toilets regularly. De Lille admitted yesterday that she would go into this and other areas this week to sort out the filth.

Thembisa Nagqaza, a Gxa Gxa Street resident, yesterday confirmed that their toilets had not been cleaned for the last two weeks.

De Lille said she would iron out matters this week with cleaning companies that the city had contracted to keep the toilets clean. These companies had been embroiled in employee strikes though and the city had sent in its own cleaners.

But that has not been happening regularly, said Nagqaza.

“We don’t know what is happening. They didn’t come and fetch the buckets. The toilets are still dirty. It’s two weeks now that the toilets are not clean,” she said.
She also said township residents had not kicked out any cleaners.

“They are lying. We didn’t do that here. They say we chased the people who fetched the buckets. We didn’t,” she said.

“I don’t know why they are saying that. We don’t have a political issue here. All we want is for them just to assist us to keep the toilets clean.”

Zille said it remained a “major challenge to provide basic services” in townships because of rapid urbanisation. The task was worsened by a “couple of gatekeepers,” she said.

“It’s easy to blame the state. The truth is you must look at the culture of violence of some people. To be driven out by a few violent people is unfair to the rest,” she said.

Councilor Ernest Sonnenberg and Premier Helen Zille. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Councilor Ernest Sonnenberg and Premier Helen Zille. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Nombako Leputhing, and ANC in Gugulethu, said there were currently “six toilets for more than 400 people” in Gxa Gxa Street informal settlement.

“There are no political elements that they talk about. If they say they are caring city then they must deliver to the people. Our people need toilets. The situation that our people are living in is unacceptable. You can’t play political games with our people lives,” she said.

“I’m in the health portfolio. How are we going to prevent diseases if people still live in this situation?

She added: “We can’t play political games when people are in that situation. Our job at the ANC is to help people. We need to look after our people. If the DA is saying there is political games, why are they doing the same?”

“Now we are going to elections and everything will become a political game. People are complaining in other provinces as well about what the ANC is not doing. We are not saying that it’s the DA playing political games.”

The city and province yesterday launched a project to eradicate 958 bucket system toilets in various townships. De Lille said the city had “12,500 portable flush toilets in storage that would be provided to communities” as replacement. These toilets would be cleaned thrice weekly, she said.

She said some instances had “indicated their preference to continue to use this system, despite the availability of chemical and other toilets the city makes available to them.”
Leputhing responded: “It’s a humiliation that she said that. It’s a humiliation for our people. There’s no way that people can prefer that.”

“Nobody can prefer a bucket system toilet… I grew up in a township and have experience of a bucket system. There is one bucket and everyone must use it. Everyone will use it and relieve themselves in one bucket. When it is full it’s like it’s boiling. There are infections. It’s bad.”

“People want flush toilets, like Zille and De Lille are using. Imagine if you put a bucket system toilet in their homes, how would they feel?”
The city would nonetheless continue its sanitation plans which last year cost taxpayers R130-million to install 34,225 toilets across townships.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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