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19 August 2017 02:05 (South Africa)
Opinionista Axolile Notywala

The struggle for decent sanitation and a fair budget in Cape Town

  • Axolile Notywala
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    Axolile Notywala
Today, the Social Justice Coalition and Khayelitsha residents will be making submissions on the 2016/17 draft budget which was tabled on 31 March by Mayor Patricia de Lille. Their target: persuading the City to solve the problem of sanitation in informal settlements.

Using a toilet in informal settlements is one of the most dangerous activities for residents. In Khayelitsha, many people do not have access to basic sanitation and are forced to share inadequate temporary facilities such as chemical toilets, container toilets, portable flush toilets (porta potties) and buckets. A small number of residents have access to a full flush toilet that is shared among many people. Many who have no access at all use the nearest open field or bushes. Earlier this year, Sinoxolo Mafevuka was tragically raped and murdered in a communal toilet in SST informal settlement in Khayelitsha.  

Each year, the mayor tables the draft budget and calls for submissions from the public. Cape Town is an extremely unequal city defined by spatial apartheid. The budget is one of the most important mechanisms to overcome this and to promote equality and justice.

In 2015, with assistance from the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), 502 residents of Khayelitsha, mostly from informal settlements, participated and made submissions on the draft budget.

Many of these submissions talked about daily personal experiences such as using portable flush toilets (also known as pota-potas) and the distance informal settlement residents have to walk to a toilet or a bush to relieve themselves. These submissions also made recommendations and suggestions on improving the sanitation situation in informal settlements.

In her submission, Olwethu Mxoli, from Enkanini informal settlement, said: “We are still using bushes and open fields which is very dangerous. Last year, I lost my six-year-old cousin who got hit by a car while crossing the freeway. I plead with the City to install more flush toilets and to maintain them; we do not need Mshengu or pota-potas.”

But the 502 individual submissions were misrepresented by the City and labelled a “focus group” in the final budget participation report. Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson admitted in December 2015 that they had been misrepresented in this way, and acknowledged that no focus group had taken place.

Because they were misrepresented, the submissions were never considered by Council. The voices of residents such as Olwethu Mxoli were effectively silenced and the issues they raised ignored.

The SJC’s short film, produced by Chronicle, and published this week, tells the story of this struggle for a fair, equal and just budget.

This year the City of Cape Town has a budget of about R40-billion that affects the lives of more than 3.5-million people.

In our submission to the Cape Town 2016/17 draft budget, tabled last month, we show that the City’s spending on sanitation in informal settlements is irrational and unjustifiable.

The City’s total capital allocation for water and sanitation in the draft 2016/17 budget is R1.49-billion. This is an amount to cover both informal and formal areas in the City.

From this amount, the City has allocated just R15-million for 204 informal settlements for capital spending. This is money that is allocated to provide toilet infrastructure such as full flush toilets, connected to the City’s reticulation and sewerage systems. Also, 21% of Cape Town’s household population are informal households. This means that 21% of households get just 1% of the City’s total capital allocation for water and sanitation.

What’s worse is that capital allocations to informal settlements have actually been declining for the past few years, even while the total capital allocation for water and sanitation has increased from R1.1-billion in 2014/15 to R1.5-billion in 2016/17.

Rather than prioritising and installing long-term infrastructure to informal settlements, the City provides toilets in informal settlements through increasing the number of temporary, undignified, unsafe toilets that are meant for emergency environments, such as porta-potties, bucket, chemical and container toilets; 73% of all toilet technologies provided to informal settlements are temporary and this is spent on private contractors through the City’s operating budget.

These temporary, outsourced services are also substantially more expensive than installing long-term infrastructure such as flush toilets, even when accounting for  both capital and operating costs – what it costs to both build and run flush toilets over time.

For the cost of every one temporary chemical toilet, the City could build and operate nine flush toilets. The City currently provides just over 5,000 chemical toilets across the 204 informal settlements. This could translate to building and operating just over 45,000 full flush toilets for the same amount of money.

The City argues that it cannot increase capital allocations for sanitation because of the constraints in informal settlements that would prevent installing infrastructure, such as floodplains. The City identifies the presence of just a single constraint as a justification that it is prevented from installing permanent sanitation infrastructure in the entire area – regardless of whether it affects 1% of an area or 70% of an area and regardless of the nature of the constraint.

Looking at four informal settlements in particular, our submission shows that the City misrepresents these constraints. While constraints are present, they only affect portions of an area, can be overcome, and long-term infrastructure still costs far less than temporary services even with constraints.

CT Section in Khayelitsha for example is included in the City’s list of informal settlements where it argues that one constraint prevents the City from installing sanitation infrastructure. But the City’s own data shows that actually 90% of CT Section is not affected by any constraint. Only a small portion is, and even that constraint can be overcome were the City to choose to invest in proper infrastructure there.

The provision of temporary services in long-term informal settlements – the majority in Cape Town are older than 15 years – is irrational, unreasonable and violates constitutional rights.

Today, the SJC and Khayelitsha residents will be making submissions on the 2016/17 draft budget which was tabled on 31 March by Mayor Patricia de Lille.

Last year, 502 poor and working-class Khayelitsha residents who participated in the budget process were ignored by the City.

This time, 3,000 residents from Cape Town’s informal settlements are making submissions.

In his budget submission this year, Avela Siphiwo Mayekiso of BM Section in Khayelitsha explained: “The bucket system that I use is unhealthy… I want [a] better service because I am equal to others… When you are doing the budget please consider me [and] the place I stay in.”

The question now is this: In 2016, will Mayor de Lille listen to the voices of 3,000 residents? DM

Watch the film. Read the SJC’s submission.

  • Axolile Notywala
    axolile.jpg
    Axolile Notywala

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