SJC Welcomes Significant Shift in Cape Town’s Sanitation Policy

Mayor Patricia de Lille addresses the SJC's Cape Town Sanitation Summit on 15 September 2011.
SJC Welcomes Mayor de Lille’s Consideration of Janitorial Services es for Sanitat ion Facilities in Informal  Settlements

“Move Marks Significant Progress in Campaign for Clean and Safe Sanitation”

The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) welcomes a commitment from the Office of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille that janitorial services for sanitation facilities in informal settlements “should be considered for inclusion” in the planned Mayoral Special Jobs Creation Project[1].  According to the Mayor, the R138 million project – announced on 29 September 2011[2]– will come in the form of “a community based operation and maintenance programme in historically neglected communities” which will include “cleaning, maintenance of services in informal settlements, maintenance of stormwater systems, and more”.  If such a service is designed and implemented effectively, it will serve as a groundbreaking step towards ensuring that all people in Cape Town have their rights to basic sanitation progressively realized.

On 27 April 2011 the SJC held a march of more than 2500 people to the Mayor’s Office, where a petition signed by more than 10 000 Cape Town residents calling for improvements to sanitation facilities was handed over. Since then the SJC has met with Mayor de Lille and various department directors on two occasions, where sanitation provision has been discussed in depth.  In September 2011, the SJC hosted the first Cape Town Sanitation Summit[3], where more than 100 individuals (including Mayor de Lille) representing more than 60 organisations discussed joint plans for improving sanitation conditions in informal settlements. One of the most urgent demands throughout the SJC’s campaign has been for janitorial services (i.e. regular cleaning and maintenance) for communal toilets.  We have long argued that providing such a service would immediately improve the quality of life of residents, and prevent breakages that lead to costly repairs.

At present, between 400 000[4] and 500 000[5] people in the City of Cape Town have no access to basic sanitation facilities. In some of these communities more than 100 dwellings (or 500 people) share one toilet stall.  No janitorial service is currently provided for flush toilets, while temporary facilities (such as chemical toilets) receive limited and often inadequate servicing.  Many toilets and standpipes have consequently fallen into disrepair, due largely to high use and a lack of routine maintenance, repairs and monitoring.  The resulting poor hygienic conditions contribute directly to an array of illnesses including diarrhea, gastroenteritis, and skin rash.  Lack of access also places residents at great risk of criminal attack. It is common to have to walk great distances to find a functional toilet or a “private” space to relieve oneself, and residents are frequently assaulted, robbed, raped and murdered on the way.

While the Mayor’s commitment is significant, it must now be developed into a workable implementation plan with a clear timeline for a service that is both practical and accountable.  Such a plan will require detailed discussion about how communal toilets are distributed, monitored, and maintained; as well as how janitorial services will be linked to a broader informal settlement sanitation development plan.  This process will require consultation with providers of existing services, many of which are presently failing to effectively collaborate or understand their respective responsibilities. Finally, communities will need to be meaningfully engaged on how the new service will operate.

The SJC and its partners – including community forums, social movements, ward councilors, NGOs, faith based organisations, technical experts, and academic institutions – are committed to working with the City to ensure that over time, every person has access to a toilet and water source that is clean, safe and dignified.  Janitorial services would be notable stride towards this objective, and would serve to illustrate the importance of fostering constructive partnership between government and communities.

For comment please contact Gavin Silber on


[1] Letter to the SJC from Mayoral Chief of Staff Mr. Paul Boughey (30 September 2011)



[4] City of Cape Town’s Presentation to the SJC (July 2011)

[5] Water Dialogues (2010)

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