SJC Meets with Mayor of Cape Town to Discuss Access to and Quality of Sanitation in Informal Settlements

On 7 July 2011, a delegation from the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) met with Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and officials from departments including Water and Sanitation, Housing, Development Services, Electricity, Solid Waste Management and Utilities.  The SJC’s delegation was joined by Reverend Suzanne Peterson, who represented Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum (WCRLF); and Professor Maurice Kibel, Emeritus Professor of Public Health at University of Cape Town.

This meeting followed the SJC and partner organisation’s Queue for Clean & Safe Sanitation on 27 April 2011. At this event, 2500 Khayelitsha residents symbolically queued behind a toilet outside the Mayor’s office and handed over a petition signed by more than 10 000 residents. The SJC approached Ms. de Lille both before and after the May 2011 local elections to request a meeting to discuss our concerns.

Over the preceding eighteen months, the SJC had great difficulty engaging with the previous administration.  Numerous requests to meet with City officials were routinely declined or ignored.  Mayor Dan Plato failed to respond to our petition which was handed to him in person on 28 April 2011.

We therefore appreciate Mayor de Lille’s decision to agree to meet with the SJC delegation, for engaging with us respectfully.  During the meeting, the Mayor stated her intention to ensure that the City of Cape Town becomes a more caring and inclusive City that provides basic services to all its residents, and asked the SJC to lend its expertise in ensuring the highest level of service possible is provided to the community.

Both our delegation and the Mayor acknowledged that significant challenges exist in providing basic sanitation to all those in need.  We agreed that the best means of overcoming these challenges is through partnership.  We also agreed that politics must be set side when discussing such a critical and basic provision.

Both the Archbishop and WCRLF have been long-time supporters of the SJC’s Campaign for Clean and Safe Sanitation, – having participated in two visits to informal settlements in Khayelitsha with the SJC over the past year.  The Archbishop published a public letter in the Cape Times[1] before the meeting, stating his concerns and offering his support.  Last week, health professionals including Professor Kibel published another open letter supporting the campaign[2].  The SJC would like to thank them and all partners for contributions made to the campaign thus far, and acknowledges the critical role all will play going forward.

The SJC has consistently advocated a two-prong approach to address the poor quality of sanitation in informal settlements.  First, more must be done by the City to ensure that existing facilities are adequately maintained, monitored and coordinated.  This can be done relatively cheaply and quickly.  It will not require the installation of additional infrastructure or acquisition of new land, but would greatly improve the level of service and quality of life for those using communal toilets.  Second, the City must – along with civil society – instigate broad based engagement to plan for the long-term delivery of clean and safe sanitation facilities in line with national norms and standards within a reasonable timeframe.

The SJC has always maintained that civil society is willing to partner with the Municipal, Provincial and National governments to fulfill the constitutional and legal obligation by local government to provide clean and safe toilets.  The SJC does not speak for every resident affected by the poor condition of many of our informal settlements, and there is a need for the City to engage with the people whose lives are affected.  500 000 people in the City of Cape Town continue to live without access to basic sanitation[3].

This is why broad based consultation will be essential.  Communities must be incorporated through partnerships between the City, civil society, community structures, the faith based sector, the academic community and ward councilors.

The SJC delegation will meet again with the Mayor and staff on Wednesday 13 July 2011.  The City will use this as an opportunity to respond to the concerns raised in the SJC memorandum of 27 April 2011 as well as at last week’s meeting, after which we will jointly discuss a plan of action going forward. We will attend this meeting in a spirit of openness. A relationship between local government and the people it serves must be built on the basis of meaningful engagement, mutual respect and trust.

Much work remains to be done.  It is hoped that these meetings will serve as an important step in ensuring that every child, man and woman has the right to clean and safe sanitation facilities progressively realised.

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