The repeated allegation that “for two years, 55 families in Makhaza, Khayelitsha, were forced to relieve themselves in full public view” is untrue, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille said on Monday.
Writing in her weekly newsletter, the Western Cape Premier also slammed the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for their roles in the saga.
There were too many contradictions and unanswered questions. And too few facts, about the open toilets saga, she said.
The media had repeatedly reported that 55 families in Makhaza were forced to relieve themselves in full public view for more than two years.
“This has been repeated so often, in various ways, that I believed it was true. I apologised in Parliament.
“And I asked myself: How was it possible for this to happen under a DA administration, and on my watch as mayor?
“But the more I thought about it, the less the story hung together: if this project started in 2007, why did I only hear about it in January 2010? Why did no one protest sooner?
“Even more mystifying was why the ANC didn’t use the ‘open toilets’ against me in the run-up to the 2009 election?
“And most puzzling of all: Why did Andile Lili, the project’s paid facilitator since 2008 [as well as a local ANCYL leader] only start to protest against the project when it was 96% complete?
“Indeed, given that he was the project facilitator, why was he protesting at all?,” Zille asked.
“The answer is simply this: there were, in fact, no open toilets in 2007 or 2008 or indeed until the end of 2009.
“The 55 toilets that remained open were those installed in the very final stage of the upgrading project — in November 2009 — when 96% of the 1 316 toilets provided for each family had already been enclosed.
“For some reason, the last 55 were not.”
Following a newspaper photograph of an open toilet in January 2010, Cape Town mayor Dan Plato immediately ordered them to be covered, despite the objections of the 1 261 families who had enclosed their own toilets.
But on January 25, when the city arrived to enclose the toilets, they were prevented from doing so by a small group of people claiming to represent “the community”.
Two subsequent attempts by the city to erect enclosures were thwarted when the ANCYL tore them down, despite almost all the individual families requesting, in writing, that the city enclose their toilets, she said.
During the time that the 55 toilets remained open, no person was “forced” to use them.
The community was well serviced with an alternative option — one enclosed toilet for every five households, which was the national norm for incremental upgrading projects.
Given that 96% of the families in the project now had their own toilets, the communal toilets were free most of the time.
“In other words, the repeated allegation that ‘for two years, 55 families in Makhaza were forced to relieve themselves in full public view’ is entirely without foundation,” Zille said.
Furthermore, as soon as the city learnt about the open toilets, it attempted to enclose them.
But the ANCYL wanted them open, because it suited its agenda. The 55 open toilets happened to be located in the precise area where the ANCYL’s leading “thugocrats”, Andile Lili and Loyiso Nkohla, conducted their “reign of terror”, said Zille.
“Given the contradiction between the community’s wishes and the ANCYL’s actions, there is only one conclusion: the open toilets were a direct result of the ANCYL’s intimidation in order to drive its political agenda.
“I experienced this first-hand when I visited the area to speak to members of the community.
“I was informed that the last person to openly express opposition to the ANCYL had to live with the consequences.
“So why can’t we erect concrete enclosures for the 55 families? And why did the 1 261 families who enclosed their own toilets not demand concrete enclosures as well?
“I put this to the officials working on the project. And I found the answer instructive,” Zille said.
Upgrading informal settlements had two phases — providing infrastructure services, such as roads, stormwater, water, and sewage, and secondly erecting the house.
The two phases had to be aligned, because if concrete toilet enclosures were provided on each erf during phase one, they had to be removed in phase two to incorporate the toilet into the house.
This meant an additional cost of R4 000 per erf, deducted from the R75 000 subsidy for each family’s top structure.
This meant, in practical terms, that a concrete enclosure in phase one would result in a house in phase two that was two square metres smaller than it would otherwise have been.
“If you enclose your own toilet in phase one, it can be incorporated into your house in phase two, and you will reap the benefit of a bigger house.
“This is why families choose to enclose their own toilets in phase one.
“It is an empowering and logical choice. That is, until the ANCYL decides otherwise,” Zille said.
The saddest aspect of the saga was the “pitiful report” of the SAHRC, which “is full of the factual inaccuracies required to reach the conclusion that the council violated the human rights of the residents of Makhaza”.
“It is the clearest possible demonstration of what happens when the ANC deploys its parliamentary cadres into institutions that are supposed to be independent of the ruling party.
“They become extensions of its power abuse instead of limits on its power.
“Some Chapter Nine institutions allow themselves to be abused and, unfortunately, the South African Human Rights Commission is one of them,” Zille said. — Sapa