In January last year, six year old Micheal Komape lost his life when he fell into a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo. Fast forward five months later and protesters in Diepkloof, Soweto were flashing their buttocks at passing motorists in protest of the bucket toilet system. And who can forget the infamy of 2013, when a group of protesters dumped faeces on the steps of the Western Cape legislature in what has now become infamously known as the “poo protests”? These and many other incidents highlight the grim reality of life without basic sanitation services. So, with bucket toilets and pit latrines not only posing an existential threat to their users, but also robbing them of their constitutional right to dignity, what is government doing to curb this problem?
Bucket toilets an ongoing problem
During his State of the Nation Address in 2006, President Thabo Mbeki had resolved to eradicate the bucket toilet system by the end of 2007. As we now know, this turned out to be like the 2012 Mayan apocalypse: it just didn’t happen. In fact, a census by Stats SA, recorded an increase in the bucket toilet system during from 2012 to 2013 in certain parts of the country. “Over the period 2012 to 2013, Eastern Cape, North West and KwaZulu-Natal reported increases in the use of the bucket toilet system,” the census read. Six years after former President Thabo Mbeki’s initial promise, access to a flushing toilet is still determined by class.
Government working on eradicating bucket system
Recently, the Department of Water and Sanitation briefed their portfolio committee on the steps they were taking to ensure proper sanitation to every South African. The department’s director general, Margaret-Ann Diedricks, reported that R975 million had been allocated to eradicate bucket toilets in the 2015/2016 period, which will cover close to 90 000 households across the country. The portfolio committee of water and sanitation’s chairperson, Mlungisi Johnson welcomed these remarks, adding that basic sanitation was the right of every South African. “The Committee has always maintained that the use of the bucket system remains unacceptable, strips people of their dignity and contradicts prescripts of the Water Services Act. It is thus welcomed that the department is well underway to eradicate the bucket system within formal areas,” said Johnson in a statement.
The numbers, however, paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Water and Sanitation, an estimated 2.2 million households still use pit latrines, chemical toilets or have access to sanitation at all. The department further admitted that they had severely fallen short of their own targets, with the Northern Cape, Free State and Limpopo among some of the provinces experience sanitation backlogs.
Whether government will be forced to shift their deadline for bucket toilet eradication remains to be seen. What is abundantly clear, however is that 21 years in democracy, a flushing toilet should be the right of every South African. The fact that it isn’t should be enough to make us all hang our heads in shame.
For a comprehensive breakdown on government’s “Bucket Eradication Breakdown”, check out this infographic by the People’s Assembly.
Feature image by Masixole Feni
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