Capetonians protest woeful sanitation
When the announcement was made by the City of Cape Town that portable flush toilets were going to be installed to residents in informal settlements, people were relieved. However, when they realised these were just a more sophisticated version of the bucket toilets, those same people were disappointed and enraged. Their anger sparked a whole new conflict: ‘Poo Wars’.
The controversy initially started due to the outcries of unhappy residents who have to live with portable flush toilets. ‘World War Poo’ started brewing back in May when Cape Town cleaning company Sanicare fired their entire workforce consisting of 108 workers. They allegedly ignored a High Court order to return back to work after embarking on an illegal protest in an attempt to earn higher wages. These former workers retaliated against Sanicare. With the help of residents in an informal settlement in Gugulethu, they blocked a section on the N2 highway, burnt tires and dumped human waste on the road.
People use a large amount of resources and as a result the waste just keeps pilling up. This can be a major problem for those without the proper means to dispose of their waste. The cost of installing a number of public toilet blocks of ten vacuum pumps throughout a settlement is over R5 million. The Democratic Alliance (DA), the ruling party of the Western Cape (whose main purpose is to alleviate poverty by providing a welfare safety net for those unable to provide for themselves), claims that it simply does not have enough money to do this.
Sibusiso Zonke, an African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) member in Khayelitsha, said that although the City of Cape Town told them this was a temporary measure, informal settlement residents believe that this shows the City has no intention of providing a proper waterborne sewage system. He also alleges that these portable flush toilets are just a delaying tactic. These factors made communities express their need for proper sanitation. “We’re tired of empty promises, we said the City must collect them (take them away), but they keep on bringing them back, that’s why we’re taking them back to them.”
Informal settlements have been around for years and the number of residents slowly increases every year. Most of these informal settlements are still using the bucket system… so communities expressed their need for proper sanitation.
The stench of this war is clearly evident within the relationship between the DA and the ANCYL. The League accuses the DA for not caring for the sanitary needs of residents in informal settlements. However, Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille argues: “The ANCYL are a load of thugs. They’ve got no credibility whatsoever.”
ANC councillors addressed the community of Kosovo, an informal settlement in Philippi, and claimed that Zille is lying about the Western Cape being number one in terms of service delivery. They went on to say that the province is not as efficient as she claims when it comes to bettering the lives of the disadvantaged.
The ANCYL is denying any involvement in the Cape Town ‘Poo Wars’. They claim that the evidence produced by the Western Cape government, demonstrating that those leading the poo protests are members of the League, are baseless diversionary tactics.
That being said, it is difficult to understand why the ANC is denying that any of its members are involved when over 200 people, mostly ANCYL members, are facing charges of public violence related to the protests. A total of R14 000 was raised by a community for seven of those accused as bail was posted at R2 000 each.
When ANCYL task team leader of the Western Cape Muhammad Sayed was asked whether members of the ANCYL are involved in the protests, he responded by saying: “That’s not for me to say, I don’t know.”
Many would argue that their methods of getting their point across cross the ‘line’ and are unacceptable and disrespectful towards government officials and residents, but we can understand their anger and dissatisfaction with their current state of sanitation.
“We’re used to the smell. Faeces does not smell bad to us anymore. They are not healthy and bring diseases to us. At home, the ‘pota-pota’ is kept in a kitchen where we cook. During the day we keep it outside the house,” said Zonke. No-one should have to live that way… everybody deserves to be treated equally and to have their basic sanitation needs met.
Some of the negative implications that residents face are that they’re left with no choice but to make use of nearby rivers or open fields. These methods of relieving oneself can leave you susceptible to diseases, especially when you excrete near septic/contaminated water. It also raises the chances of being raped.
In June, 184 ‘poo protesters’ were arrested at a Cape Town train station as they were about to board a train to dump faeces in the city centre. Later that same month, they were arrested when Cape Town International Airport terminal was their next venue. The reception area of the Provincial Legislature also had a faeces ‘revamp’.
This time the handful of protesters were led by PR councillor and ANCYL leader Loyiso Nkohla and former ANC PR councillor, Andile Lili. Their movement has grown to such an extent that a faeces protest task team has been formed.
Premier Helen Zille’s spokesperson, Zak Mbhele, said the protests are ironic because ‘they are in fact protesting (against) flush toilets being delivered by the City of Cape Town. The portable flush toilets being offered in informal settlements are meant to eradicate the last remnants of the bucket system.’
Ivan Meyer (Provincial leader of the DA) made the statement that the sudden ‘poo wars’ flare up in Cape Town is part of the ANCYL’s ungovernability campaign.
Nkohla responded: “That is the essence of our fight. We will use any form of protest until we get what we want. It is immaterial how many times we get arrested.”
What baffles us is knowing that informal communities are able to raise
large sums (through community meetings) to support and protect these protesters and are even willing to pay people to transport these faeces… instead of, in partnership with government, bettering people’s living standards.
This conflict has devastating effects on the economy and is a rather peculiar way of getting the government’s a
ttention. Truth be told, investors might find it hard to spend money in a context where human faeces are being thrown at the local Premier as she tours poor areas in Cape Town.
And note all the other recent protests that have flared up in South Africa, all ‘dancing’ to the rhythm of the same tune: increased wages and better service delivery.
The steadily decline of our South African economy can be linked to the protests. A single action has the potential to start a ripple effect that will ultimately affect everyone.
Questions have been raised as to whether these ‘poo wars’ form part of the ANCYL’s strategy to make the DA look incompetent ahead of the 2014 general elections. Adding to this, BBC’s Mohammed Allie wrote: “People are asking why these protests have only taken place in Cape Town, when the same issue (sanitation) exists elsewhere in the country.”
Whoever wins the election will have a tough task ahead as government made the pledge that will see the bucket system completely eliminated by 2014. Until then, history unfolds as poo continues to make news headlines.
Dylan Oktober, Firdous Hendricks and Kaylynne Bantom.