We have all heard of “shack chic”, “shabby chic” and “township chic”. But how about “shit chic”? In the rural townships between Polokwane and Tzaneen in Limpopo, people are decorating their long drops (pit toilets) in highly expressive and individual ways, despite obviously limited resources.
For those who don’t know, the long drop is an outside toilet; basically a -toilet seat below which is a “long drop” of about 1,5m, into which, like life itself, a little faeces must fall.
Everyone has a story to tell about long drops and every community has its own version of a rural legend about a child falling into one, either to die a gruesome death or to be heroically rescued.
The majority of South Africa’s rural population is not yet connected to a mainline sewerage system and relies on the long drop as its only means of sanitation. Pit toilets tend to be less of a health risk in rural than urban areas, because they have a finite life and can be moved, but in cases of flooding and heavy rain there is always a risk of diseases such as cholera.
Provided by the government free of charge, long drops are always the first installation in housing developments: We have all driven past rows and rows of corrugated iron-clad toilets and not a house in sight.
But when you have to make do without flush toilets, washbasins and floral-scented toilet paper you improvise with good cheer and innovation.
The areas of Segwashe, Mangeng, Ga Mothiba, Makanye and Mankweng are poverty-stricken, but it is testament to human tenacity that people here have chosen to cheer up their long drops and make daily life and its necessary ablutions a more interesting experience.
Some have stripped the corrugated iron for use elsewhere and gone for plain wooden enclosures around their long drops: others have chosen bold and bright colours.
One such innovator is Frans Segobela from Ga Mothiba, whose long drop is a fire-engine red and stands proudly in his dusty backyard. Beside the door is a clean white bucket for carrying water and flushing. Segobela’s is a brand-new toilet, part of a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) scheme, and he is very pleased indeed.
As in every community—rich or poor—the number of toilets per household is seen as an indication of status, and some people have three or four long drops in their backyard.
Decorations differ from one to the next. Some have solid brick enclosures, with separate entrances for men and women.
At a clinic in Segwashe, donor money was used to build a bright green brick long drop with white wooden doors. One hygiene-conscious family transformed theirs into a white enclosure with an officious-looking spray-painted message that reads: “Sanitation. Good environment equals good health.”
Their neighbours appear to have a little more toilet humour: one sports a long drop with a spray-painted elephant and the word “Jumbo” on the door, while another used a Castle Lager sign as the door to his facility.
Despite extremely limited resources, a wild array of colours, tones and even paint effects is used.
Gugu Pedi’s long drop is a rustic-style enclosure of wattle poles and stone, which bulges out in a comfortable fashion. Inside the enclosure is a moulded concrete bath. It could be straight out of a contemporary game lodge dÃ