The first national sanitation summit was convened yesterday to start drawing up a "people's plan for sanitation and dignity".
The service delivery protests that happen almost every day across the country have been described as a "ticking time bomb" by Professor Peter Alexander from the University of Johannesburg, with an estimated 16 million South Africans lacking proper sanitation.
Pregs Govender, deputy chairperson of the SA Human Rights Commission, slammed the City of Cape Town for building open toilets without thinking of the dignity of those who had to use them.
"Eventually, these toilets were enclosed not just because of a ruling from the SAHR but because of what everyone did together," said Govender, who urged communities to stand together to define constitutional rights such as dignity
Govender added that the SAHRC was interested in engaging communities about access to water, as it "is not possible to live properly on the 25 litres of water a day" government had allocated to poor people.
The summit attracted delegates from informal settlement organisations and civil society with the aim of developing a "people's plan for sanitation and dignity that will build on and support, struggles by communities throughout South Africa", according to Phumeza Mlungwana, general secretary of the Social Justice Coalition.
"When we live without services, our dignity is undermined. Diseases such as TB, diarhhoea and HIV are perpetrated by our living conditions," lamented Bandile Mdlalose from Abahlali baseMjondolo shackdwellers' organisation.
"When winter comes we know there are shack fires and you have to make sure your funeral policy is up-to-date because you don't know whether you will still be alive in December," she added.
"The biggest problem is that we accept the things we should not accept. If we keep quiet about rights that are in the Constitution, in another 20 years' time, we will come back and preach the same thing,"said Mdlalose.
If we keep quiet about rights that are in the Constitution, in another 20 years' time, we will come back and preach the same thing,"
Meanwhile, Joconia Rahube accused officials in Madibeng municipality in the North West of having no interest in fixing broken water infrastructure as they were profiting from the private water trucks that delivered water to the areas.
Rahube's brother, Osiah, was shot dead by police during a water protests in Madibeng in January.
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba praised the SJC for convening the summit, saying that we needed to "go back to the Constitution to ensure that the values of equality, dignity and justice" were upheld.
"You are raising painful issues. What is the content of dignity? What is the content of justice? If a city id not delivering services, what should you do?" said Makgoba.