SJC Responds To City of Cape Town’s Commitment to “Eradicate” the Bucket System

Statement Comes Days After Social Audit Exposes Severe Shortcomings in Sanitation Provision

The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) notes Mayor Patricia de Lille’s and Premier Helen Zille’s press statement,[1]announcing the rollout of 12 500 portable flush toilets (PFTs) to various informal settlements across Cape Town.  This will add to the 11 307 already in circulation.  While this commitment to improving access to sanitation is to be welcomed, claims that it will lead to the “eradication” of the bucket system without reference to the broader sanitation backlog is potentially misleading.  Furthermore, the statement fails to acknowledge or commit to responding to the SJC’s social audit report released two days ago,[2]which found that outsourced providers of chemical toilets are failing to deliver on their contracts with the City.  Like chemical toilets, PFTs are also serviced by private companies (as well as by the City), and users have experienced similar problems with accountability and service quality.

Black bucket toilets remain one of Apartheid’s worst living legacies, and must be phased out countrywide. However, far more than the 1000 households whose buckets are “known and serviced by the City” lack access to a clean, safe and dignified toilet.  According to the 2011 census, 2.7% of the city’s households – or roughly 100 000 people – have no toilet whatsoever.[3] Furthermore, as of 2012 there were over 85 397 households – or 44% of all households in Cape Town’s informal settlements – which did not have access to basic sanitation facilities.[4]  These figures are conservative as they assume all existing toilets are functional and appropriately distributed, which is not the case due largely to inadequate maintenance, monitoring and meaningful engagement with affected residents. Thousands of residents are unable to access a communal toilet and must often relieve themselves in the open.

The Mayor and Premier are correct when they say PFTs are often preferred because they are located in people’s homes, reducing the threat of being exposed to crime by having to walk long distances to communal facilities.  However, many residents complain that these toilets are poorly serviced and that the City rarely engages them on how best to maintain them.

The SJC welcomes initiatives to improve access to sanitation, and ensuring that bucket toilets are phased out is an important element of this process. However, we must not lose sight of the greater context in which approximately 80 000 households in the city’s informal settlements continue to lack access to basic sanitation and roughly 30 000 households across the city have no access to sanitation facilities at all.

In order for the rollout of PFTs and other sanitation services to work more effectively we again call on the City to act on the findings of the SJC’s social audit to ensure that wasteful expenditure and poor service quality on sanitation is reduced.  It is also vitally important that the public is aware of the extent of the sanitation crisis in Cape Town and across South Africa by being presented with accurate and representative data.


For comment please contact:

Axolile Notywala                     074 289 5220 /

Dustin Kramer                         083 674 0552 /

Phumeza Mlungwana             074 417 8306 /


[1] ‘Mayor De Lille and Premier Zille to outline the City’s plans to eradicate the bucket system’ (10 May 2013), accessed at

[3] Statistics SA, Census 2011 Municipal Report, Western Cape (2012)

[4] Presentation by City of Cape Townto SJC 3, April 2012

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