Active citizenship: how Khayelitsha residents are leading the charge

By Marianne Thamm 1 October 2014

Khayelitsha’s toilets are back in the news. The Social Justice Coalition has just released an audit of the City of Cape Town’s janitorial services for flush toilets in the township and which cost around R60 million. The audit paints a picture of ad hoc cleaning, little planning and no clear oversight of service providers. By MARIANNE THAMM.

Marianne Thamm

This year, about two weeks before South Africans were due to vote in the national election, veteran activist Zackie Achmat, speaking at a Daily Maverick Vociferous Wednesday panel discussion in Cape Town, reminded the audience that while the unauthorised spending of taxpayers’ money on Nkandla was certainly an issue, the fact that just 40km away fellow Capetonians were forced to “shit in a bush” should be a matter that provoked as much outrage.

Everyone should go to Khayelitsha. I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘I care about Nkandla, but those people can shit in a bush’,” Achmat told the largely middle-class audience who nodded in agreement.

Say “toilet” in Cape Town and it is bound to be followed rapidly by charges of “political football”. Ever since the publication of a photograph around 2011 of a resident in Khayelitsha sitting on an open toilet, covered by a blanket, toilets, poo and poo flinging have featured regularly in local political discourse, in Cape Town and in other provinces. The provision of basic sanitation is a right enshrined in the Constitution and one that requires innovative solutions as well as political will.

For the residents of Khayelitsha toilets are far from a “political football”. They are essential in the health and wellbeing of a community that finds itself on the margins of a city that is this year’s World Design Capital and that is rated as one of the best tourist destinations in the world.

The creative and political tension between the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), its partners Ndifuna Ukwazi and the International Budget Partnership and the City of Cape Town is exactly the type of engagement that ultimately results in the type of accountable government envisioned in the Constitution and that so many political parties, particularly those in opposition, call for.

The concept of the ‘social audit’ undertaken twice since 2013 was initiated in India to combat widespread state corruption and to enable communities to engage with government around issues of service delivery.

The audits not only teach residents their rights but also facilitate engagement with local officials as well as assist governments, particularly those who use service providers, as the City of Cape Town does, to keep track of what exactly has been paid for and what has been supplied.

For the past four years the SJC has engaged with the City Of Cape Town around the sanitation crisis that poorer residents of Cape Town face on a prolonged and sustained basis.

In 2011 the SJC hosted a Sanitation Summit, attended by the City and other levels of government where several issues, including a janitorial service to clean public toilets in the township, were discussed.

The SJC pointed out that shared communal toilets in informal settlements are public toilets and like all public toilets in the City, should be cleaned, maintained and monitored regularly by dedicated City employees.

A formal submission by the SJC was made to the City in March 2012 after Mayor Patricia de Lille had requested the organisation to assist with the development of a plan for a janitorial service.

In May that year De Lille announced the official introduction of the service “signaling a significant shift in policy with the potential to have a major impact on the quality of life in informal settlements”, said the SJC

The initiative, said the SJC, set an important precedent for local governments nationally to accept responsibility for the maintenance of communal facilities in informal settlements. Both the City and the SJC agreed that a plan and draft policy would be developed by October 2012.

Since then it has been a long and winding road that has taken almost 18 months for the city to implement a proper janitorial plan. What started off positively in 2011 then appeared to disappear in the wheels of bureaucracy, as emails requesting the city to commit to a time frame seem to have gone ignored. In June the SJC marched on the city and then again in September when SJC and TAC members – including Achmat who was arrested – chained themselves to the Civic Centre.

In February this year, after a “Janitorial Services Summit” councillor Ernest Sonnenberg, mayoral committee member for utility services, committed to developing an implementation plan and proposed that a committee draft this.

Four months later between 14 and 19 July, the SJC, Ndifuna Ukwazi and residents of Khayelitsha undertook a weeklong audit of the janitorial service for communal flush toilets in four informal settlements in Khayelitsha.

The preliminary findings were presented to residents and the City at a public hearing that took place in Khayelitsha on 19 July. At this meeting officials challenged the legitimacy of the audit’s findings as well as the methodology of the survey and told those gathered that the City had not had sufficient time to review the findings.

At this meeting City representatives highlighted the high cost of vandalism and the low number of faults reported to the call centre but encouraged the community to work with the city in “looking after” the toilets.

Yesterday the SJC released its final report saying that the findings were “dire”.

A service, which costs almost R60 million of public money, and which could have a major impact on the lives of informal settlement residents, is failing. Residents are left without access to safe and dignified toilets, posing life-threatening risks to workers and to the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the city,” said Axolile Notywala, Imali Yethu project manager for the SJC.

The social audit of janitorial services entailed interviews with over 200 residents who used the facilities, 31 janitors who clean the toilets in PJS, Nkanini, BM and BT informal settlements as well as comprehensive inspections of more than 500 flush toilets in all four of the areas.

The janitorial social audit required access to data and documents held by the City of Cape Town. Requests were sent to the utilities directorate and the health department of the City on 10 June 2014 and some of the information was made available to us on 11 July 2014. To date, the City health department has yet to make available the documents we asked for. The budget and actual expenditure information associated with the janitorial service were also not provided,” said Notywala.

The key findings of the latest audit were that a third of the residents surveyed said that janitors cleaned toilets only one day per week. And while janitors claimed to work on weekends, residents said this was not the case. Most residents in the four regions had found out about the service by observing janitors at work.

The SJC found that almost half of the toilets inspected were either dirty or very dirty both inside and out.

While roughly half of residents were “unsatisfied” or “very unsatisfied” with the janitorial service some residents cleaned the communal toilets themselves.

Moreover, most toilets were locked and not all residents and janitors could access these.

The survey also found that one in four flush toilets was inoperative and that janitors were not reporting or fixing minor faults.

Findings are also that most janitors are employed in the sections in which they live and that they are contracted and have consistent work hours. However, the distribution of janitors was unequal and not all sections had enough janitors employed. Janitors also did not have the required cleaning equipment.

Other findings were that there is no designated role for ward councillors and that the fault reporting system did not work effectively for toilets in informal settlements.

When it came to issues of health, safety and labour, the SJC survey found that janitors had not received the required training, that only one in eight had been inoculated against diseases and that they did not receive the required protective personal equipment (PPE) as required by City janitorial service documents.

Ultimately the SJC audit found “severe poor management and ineffective implementation of a most basic service to many thousands of informal settlement residents”.

The SJC report concludes with several demands including that the City take immediate remedial action, ensure all janitors are inoculated and provided with required tools and equipment and that toilets in all four areas are repaired. The report also calls on the City to release, within four weeks, a janitorial service implementation plan including a plan for training, what this would be, when it would occur and how janitors would be equitably and rationally distributed across the city.

Further clarification was also needed on the role of ward councillors and other stakeholders in the implementation of the service as well as when and how the city would be implementing the recommendations of the South African Human Rights Council’s July report.

This is a report, however, that the City and the mayor contested, claiming it displayed “an inexplicable lack of understanding of the legislative, financial and other factors which determine service provision”.

What is clear after reading the 49-page SJC report is that the issues identified are clearly not impossible to rectify and that simple and effective interventions will go a long way to alleviating most of these. Working with residents and the SJC, the City should be able to find a way of providing efficiently a most basic right, access to safe, clean and functional sanitation. Especially so when R60 million has been spent on the service. DM

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