Human settlement chaos blocks sanitation delivery

The provision of proper toilets is in a mess. (David Harrison, M&G)

The provision of proper toilets is in a mess. (David Harrison, M&G)

The report  reveals that many municipalities will not meet their millennium development goal of halving the lack of access to sanitation and proposes an overhaul of the whole sanitation structure.

The Malpractices in Sanitation Delivery report was compiled over the course of last year by the ministerial sanitation task team established by Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale. It was prompted by the open-toilet saga in the Western Cape and Free State and was chaired by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Though completed in September 2012 and presented to the parliamentary portfolio committee on human settlements, it was not released publicly and human settlements did not respond to questions. The Social Justice Coalition, a nongovernmental organisation working in Khayelitsha, was even planning to lodge a Promotion of Access to Information request to get hold of it.    

Then it appeared on the department’s website, riddled with spelling mistakes, with a link that appears  not to work properly.

Gavin Silber, the head of the coalition, said it was problematic that the report was finalised in September, but released only now. “The deadline for its recommendations is June, so there doesn’t seem to be time for consultation,” he said. But its nearly 500 pages offer comprehensive criticism of the current state of sanitation.

In her introduction, Madikizela-Mandela warned: “I can unequivocally state that we have a serious problem that threatens to have a negative impact not only on the health of this nation, but on the very democratic culture we aspire to build.” This is evident in the continuing complaints about lack of service delivery. “Communities have spoken loudly and persuasively about the lack of proper sanitation,” she said.

Sanitation portfolio
The goal of her team was to help the government’s national sanitation programme by examining where it was going wrong or right. To do this, it visited 48 municipalities in all nine provinces. The biggest problem, the report found, was the scattering of the sanitation portfolio between spheres of government. Initially under water affairs, its legislation dealt mainly with water. But it then was moved to human settlements. Local government, co-operative governance, health and education are also involved.

“In most instances, legislation relating to the implementation and provision of sanitation is scattered throughout government departments with no central co-ordination,” it said.  

Silber agrees with this. “There is wide acknowledgement that sanitation has not been properly co-ordinated since it was passed from water affairs to human settlements in 2009. Responsibility has been passed back and forth like a hot potato.”

A report by the Human Rights Commission early last year, sparked by the same open-toilet scandal, discovered the same problem. It motivated for sanitation to be returned to water affairs.

The lack of national guidance has left development to local government. And with sanitation not being a money-earner – unlike water, for which money can be charged after the basic free allocation – it tends to be neglected. The main infrastructure funding for municipalities, the municipal infrastructure grant, goes into other programmes and there is no money for toilets to be built or maintained, the report said. 

Given this state of affairs, it concluded that many municipalities would not meet their millennium development goal for sanitation. But it did admit some progress. Fivemillion households did not have access to sanitation in 1994 and the number is now about 2.4-million nationally. However, this number includes households that have a toilet that might not be working.

The task team is calling for the creation of a single body to run sanitation under human settlements. This would take over the duties and funding of all other departments. “The creation of a national sanitation agency will provide leadership,”  it said.  Communities would then be included in their own development, which is not happening now.

Public-private partnerships must be reinforced and a special sanitation fund created to respond to community requests for assistance.

The department did not respond in time to questions about the release of the report.

Sipho Kings

Sipho Kings

Sipho Kings is the person the Mail & Guardian sends to places when people’s environment is collapsing. This leads him from mine dumps to sewage flowing down streets – a hazardous task for his trusty pair of work shoes. Having followed his development-minded parents around Southern Africa his first port of call for reporting on the environment is people on the ground. When things go wrong – when harvests collapse and water dries up – they have limited resources to adapt, which people can never let politicians forget. For the rest of the time he tries to avoid the boggling extremes of corporations and environmental organisations, and rather looks for that fabled 'truth' thing. For Christmas he wants a global agreement where humanity accepts that sustainable development is the way forward. And maybe for all the vested interest to stop being so extreme. And world peace. And a sturdier pair of shoes. Read more from Sipho Kings


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