Two organisations have teamed up to map public flush toilet locations in Khayelitsha. They will launch an interactive website and phone-based reporting system to improve efficiency in toilet maintenance. By Michelle Korte for GROUNDUP.
Armed with clipboards, a digital camera, and a handheld GPS, a team of Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) and Social Justice Coalition (SJC) members set out by minibus taxi on Wednesday 2 July to identify public toilets in Site C, Khayelitsha.
This trip was one of many, as the team wants to identify and map the locations of all public flush toilets in Khayelitsha’s informal settlements by September. Members began the GPS mapping in June and have so far mapped three sections of the township through weekly trips.
The purpose of the mapping project is to improve efficiency of toilet maintenance. Currently when there’s a complaint, it is difficult for the City to locate the exact toilet in need of repair among informal settlements, says Shaun Russell of NU, who works with the project’s research and development. He estimates that there are approximately 74,000 toilets to be mapped in Khayelitsha. One of the aims of the project is to identify that number more precisely.
Using the GPS data, the NU and SJC team will plot toilets on a map for a website they are creating. The map would indicate the location and usability of each toilet. “Putting a visual element to a whole bunch of data often makes it easier for people to engage with,” Russell says. He hopes to incorporate submitted photos of toilets on the website as well.
The team will administer a cell phone-based reporting system to keep the map updated. When the mapping is complete, each toilet will have some sort of identification mark—a written number or sticker placed on the toilet—so residents can send an SMS or USSD message to report problems with specific toilets. Russell says people will then know exactly where to go to fix the problem.
According to Nkosikhona Swartbooi, one of the project leaders, the process will work like this: a resident calls or texts the system to report a toilet issue, the team reports this information to the City, the team calls the resident back to inform him or her of when the City plans to address the problem, and the team checks back with the resident a few days later to ensure the problem is solved. NU and the SJC will “liaise between the people and the City,” Swartbooi says.
The collaborative map will allow researchers to identify patterns of where toilets are not being properly maintained. “It’s going to help us recognise where issues are coming from,” says Axolile Notywala, SJC sanitation programme manager.
Persistent problems affect service delivery in informal settlements. In addition to shortcomings of the City’s janitorial service, there are barriers to effective reporting of issues and time lags in correcting these issues. Notywala says that some people do not have enough money to call the City’s technical operations centre to report problems. Swartbooi also mentioned that residents do not want to use their airtime to wait on hold—and sometimes get disconnected—to register complaints.
“Lots of residents complain,” Russell says, citing examples in which over half of the toilets in an area are unusable or 200 people are relegated to a single toilet. “What we’re trying to do is improve that and make a well-functioning system,” he says. “Sanitation is one of the basic human rights. That kind of lack of dignity with regard to sanitation in informal settlements is something we’re trying to fix.”
Often the numbers cited about sanitation in Khayelitsha do not match the situation on the ground, Russell claims. “In the news, the City providing X number of toilets means nothing if they are not working,” he says. Notywala agrees: “A lot of times the infrastructure was provided maybe years ago, but if you go there today that toilet might not be working,” he said. “People might have the facilities but that doesn’t really translate to access.”
The team has been building relationships in other townships to potentially expand the toilet-mapping initiative. “Because of limited resources we have to focus on small areas at the moment,” Russell says, but “if we don’t do it ourselves, we will try to pass that capacity onto organisations that do know those areas better.” They are establishing a protocol so the process can be replicated.
NU and the SJC are identifying only concrete-encased flush toilets, which are managed by the City. Russell says they will analyse the feedback from this project and consider mapping chemical toilets as well.
“We don’t know who will use [the mapping system] the most, but the point is to get the information out there—to make it visible and accessible,” Russell says.
The team views community involvement as one of the project’s main advantages. Russell says organisations too often impose systems without consulting residents to reach a joint solution, but NU and the SJC say they are prioritising open communication. According to Notywala, the toilet-mapping project will not only improve maintenance but also “provide a sense of ownership for the people who are reporting it.” When the reporting system is up and running, “we’re going to start community engagement, education, and mobilisation,” he says.
The toilet mapping also informs a larger SJC budget-monitoring project titled Imali Yethu, or “our money” in Zulu. According to Notywala, this project aims to ensure lower cost of basic services, water sanitation, area cleaning, and refuse collection. It also seeks to provide accessible information about service delivery contracts between the City and Khayelitsha.
The project was prompted by community concern and has been a long time coming, according to Russell. Last year’s sanitation protests and the SJC march to the Mayor’s office and Human Rights Commission marked an accumulation of public frustration. “People don’t know where to go if the toilets don’t work,” Swartbooi says. “They came to us.”
A City-run janitorial service cleans the public flush toilets, but in some cases, Russell says, residents have been cleaning toilets themselves for weeks.
The SJC has been checking toilets in Khayelitsha regularly, finding many in unacceptable conditions. Some of the toilets encountered in Site C during Wednesday’s mapping trip were damaged, overflowing with faeces, vandalized, or otherwise unusable. Others still had not been connected to a sewage system and remain unused. One Khayelitsha resident speculated that these unconnected toilets were delivered before elections and have since been neglected.
Wednesday’s toilet-mapping trip doubled as an SJC monthly site visit, according to SJC junior researcher Thozama Mngcongo. “We work together as a team,” she says. The SJC used the trip to gather information for its upcoming social audit. Members spoke with residents and took photos of tap water sources in addition to toilets.
The SJC conducted two social audits last year—the first in April examining chemical toilets, and the second in September and October examining refuse collection and area cleaning in informal settlements, according to Notywala. The SJC’s next social audit is scheduled for 14-19 July. Swartbooi says the SJC will invite City officials on the first and last days of the audit to present their findings and ask questions. A public hearing will be held on 19 July. DM
Photo by GroundUp.
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