Mayor De Lille Shoots the Messenger by Attacking SJC Toilet Audit

SJC members inspect Mshengu toilets. Photo courtesy of Sowmya Kidambi

Events over recent months have once again highlighted the struggles of hundreds of thousands of Capetonians and millions more nationally who do not have access to a clean, safe and dignified toilet.  Certain individuals have unfortunately resorted to throwing waste, using violence and preventing municipal workers from cleaning sanitation facilities.  In response the City of Cape Town has threatened to withhold services from thousands.  Instead of acknowledging the 40% of informal households in the city lacking access to basic sanitation – according to the city’s most recent Water Services Development Plan (see page 3 of the Executive Summary) – officials have used misleading statistics that fail to convey the scope of the challenges at hand.

Having lead a campaign for improved sanitation on a sustained basis since 2010, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) will do all that is necessary to ensure that political agendas – particularly in light of the upcoming national election – do not interfere with addressing a very real crisis affecting around 80 000 households in the city on a daily basis.

Today, Mayor Patricia de Lille held a press conference in which she criticised the social audit exercise conducted by SJC members and partners in April 2013 (see full statement here).  The Mayor stated that the findings “lack historical context, are inaccurate and betray a lack of technical understanding”.   Without responding to each accusation leveled at the SJC, there are a number of substantive issues which must be placed on record immediately.

As opposed to throwing human waste, the SJC’s social audit stands testament to how active citizens can hold government and the private sector to account through productive engagement.  The exercise was based on rigorous community surveys, evidence gathering, analysis of contracts, and physical verification of chemical toilets provided by Mshengu Services.  With assistance from experts, it was conducted by those who best understand historical context and local challenges – residents of affected communities.  The full report and findings can be found here.

While we have always acknowledged that the audit process has some limitations – for instance the SJC is of course unable to conduct assessments of all 200+ informal settlements across the city -, it indisputably shows severe shortcomings in this critical outsourced service demanding urgent intervention by the City.  The process was publicly endorsed by the highly respected International Budget Partnership (IBP) based in Washington DC, and the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency in India (SSAAT) (see this statement here).  Interestingly, the City has previously acknowledged that the SJC has better information than they do regarding numbers on the ground and have indeed requested the SJC’s assistance in this regard.

Following the release of our findings, the Mayor acknowledged that “we (the city) need to improve monitoring of service providers”.  The Mayor has also further committed to investigating the geotagging of all chemical toilets, and hosting a series of community meetings around the city to listen to concerns related to outsourced services.  Given this, the Mayor’s attack on the SJC today is both unwarranted and perplexing.

Although some action has been taken, it is by no means enough.  A comprehensive policy and plan is needed to address systemic causes of service delivery failure by private contractors.  There has also been no indication from the City on whether action will be taken against Mshengu Services.  We will continue to call on our Chapter 9 institutions, including the Auditor General, the Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector to independently investigate complaints lodged with them following the social audit.  We will continue to call for a comprehensive plan regarding the implementation of a policy for basic norms and standards and maintenance for sanitation services in informal settlements.  We will consult our members and partners over the coming days to discuss all available avenues, and decide how best to respond to these worrying developments.

The SJC has, and continues to be, committed to partnerships to ensure the improved provision of sanitation. Distressingly, it is becomingly increasingly difficult to interact productively with the City of Cape Town on these matters.  To tirelessly fight against the messenger rather than the problem does the City of Cape Town and, more importantly, its residents no good.


For comment please contact:

Phumeza Mlungwana          0744178306

Axolile Notywala                  0743861584

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