10 March 2017

South Africa: Our Toilets Haven't Worked for Four Years, Say Mbekweni Shack Dwellers

Residents of three informal settlements in Paarl say their communal toilets have not worked properly for four years and they have to use the bush.

A spokesperson for the Drakenstein municipality blamed vandalism.

Toilets in Esigingqini, Silver Town and White City informal settlements in the O.R Tambo District in Mbekweni have been stripped of metal pipes, leaving toilet seats with no flushing mechanism.

Residents have to pour water into the toilet bowls to flush them.

Esigingqini has 13 toilet blocks with five toilets per block. There are three blocks at Silver Town and another three at White City.

When GroundUp visited, most of the toilets were blocked and the floors were filthy. Some of the metal doors had been stolen and others were welded shut or tied up with wire.

Shack dwellers in all three settlements GroundUp spoke to said they were forced to use the bush across the railway line and risked accidents and being mugged. They sent their young children to use the boundary between the shacks and the railway line as a toilet.

"We demand government's urgent attention to this. It has been over four-years now that we have tolerated these living conditions," said 39-year-old Lunga Fele from Silver Town.

Kwanele Ngemntu, 42, from Esigingqini, said the filthy toilets brought flies and a bad smell to the homes nearby.

He said if the toilets could not be fixed they should be removed.

"It really causes me a big headache when I think of the treatment we get from our own municipality. At one stage, we embarked on protests that resulted in the burning of Mbekweni train station to demand basic services such as electricity, water and toilets," said Noludwe Ngemntu, 35, a shack dweller for 15 years.

Esigingqini community leader Ayanda Nonkala condemned municipal officials for not keeping promises made after several meetings over the issue last year.

"Because they were unable to fix these facilities, we begged them to replace the current toilet model with one that only uses plastic pipes. They promised, but never fulfilled their promise."

"After our last November meeting, they urged us to get them a plumber to fix these communal facilities, and still nothing has materialised, even after we provided them with the plumber.

"They still neglect us" said Nonkala.

John Zantsi of the Drakenstein Municipality said the housing inspector had visited the area two weeks ago and confirmed the problem.

He said the municipality would repair the toilets as soon as procurement processes were complete.

"The toilet issue is a big problem all over the Drakenstein Municipality because thugs vandalise them constantly," he said.

He would not specify when the toilets would be fixed.

"Our Expanded Public Works Programme toilet cleaners are currently cleaning the toilets and we urge the community to report clogged up toilets and leaking taps at 082 7762 910," he said.

In 2016, according to the municipality, there were 533 families in the informal settlement in Esigingqini, 128 in Silver Town and 231 families in White City. Some of the White City shack dwellers have since been moved into RDP houses.

Each of the three settlements has only two communal water taps.

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