The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) welcomes the commencement of construction of concrete enclosures for the 1316 toilets in Makhaza built without walls and roofs in 2009, in compliance with the ruling of the Western Cape High Court. Mayor Patricia de Lille’s statement yesterday represents an encouraging change of direction in the City’s approach to the 18-month long controversy. It is hoped that we can draw lessons from what went wrong in Makhaza, and shift the debate to focus on providing clean, safe, and dignified sanitation facilities to all those in need.
One of the SJC’s primary campaigns over the past two years has focused on clean and safe sanitation facilities for those living in informal settlements. When the Makhaza controversy erupted a year and a half ago, there was hope that it would provide an opportunity for critical, committed and cooperative engagement between government, communities and independent experts to address the sanitation crisis. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass.
The City of Cape Town, led by Mayor Dan Plato, refused to accept any responsibility or blame. The SJC condemned both the actions of local leaders in Makhaza responsible for the destruction of the temporary enclosures, and the unconstructive and damaging response by Plato when he ordered for the remaining toilets to be demolished and called for the community to “burn tyres”. Instead of highlighting the life-threatening problems presented by a lack of basic sanitation, the Makhaza toilet scandal became a focal point of political mud-slinging and obstructionism.
The SJC called on Archbishop Thabo Makgoba to stand in as a mediator, to facilitate a stakeholder meeting which might have lead to an earlier resolution. Despite several public offers on his part to do so, the City and local community leaders ignored the proposal.
On 26 October 2010, following the SJC’s submission of a Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) Application and holding a protest outside the Cape Town Civic Centre, the City of Cape Town released an internal report on the Makhaza toilets controversy. The internal report revealed that the City failed to conduct proper community consultation and had violated the Water Services Act and Constitution by constructing unenclosed toilets.
On 29 April 2011 Judge Nathan Erasmus found that the City of Cape Town had behaved “unconstitutionally”, that the so called agreement was “unlawful”, and ordered the City to provide concrete structures to all 1316 toilets. In late May, the City of Cape Town indicated that it planned to appeal the decision of the Western Cape High Court, implying that City administration was still refusing to hold itself accountable both to the conclusions of its own internal report and to those of the High Court. The news from early June that the City – under the leadership of Mayor de Lille – was dropping its appeal signifies a substantial shift in tone and in policy. Her hope that delivering the enclosures “will a go a long way to repair the relationship between the City and the people of Makhaza” illustrates a commitment to meaningful future engagement with residents.
The lack of basic sanitation deprives as many as 500 000 Capetonians of their rights to safety, health and human dignity. Last week a three-year-old boy near Philippi was dragged out of his home and killed by stray dogs. His mother was not at home, because the filthy conditions of nearby toilets forced her to walk to another toilet 100 metres from their home. She is quoted as saying “I think that if those toilets were in a good condition my child would be here with me today – The toilets are far and the taps are far”. This case is one of many which serves to illustrate the necessity of a comprehensive and collaborative effort to address the crisis of basic sanitation in Cape Town. We welcome the City of Cape Town – under the leadership of Mayor de Lille – to partner with the SJC in this campaign.