Sisulu and the bucket toilet stink

Under every president after Nelson Mandela there has been a promise that bucket toilets would relegated to the past. These promises have never been fulfilled.

More than 12000 homes in South Africa still use bucket toilets, and days can go by without them being cleaned.

The latest person to make this promise was Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. She told City Press in June: “We will eradicate this bucket system. Give us time. Come to us in six months and ask us about the bucket system.” More than seven months have passed since then.

Joleen Steyn Kotze, a senior research specialist in democracy, governance, and service delivery at the Human Sciences Research Council, said bucket toilets are a human rights issue, because using them strips people of their dignity.

In 2006, former president Thabo Mbeki was the first to say that bucket toilets would be eradicated — by 2007. The same call was made by the ANC in the build-up to the local elections that year.

The deadline was missed.

A year later, former president Kgalema Motlanthe also set an ambitious target — to eradicate the backlogs in providing people with improved sanitation by 2014, including the eradication of bucket toilets. His statement in the presidential annual report of 2008-2009 was straightforward and unambiguous. By 2014 there were still an estimated 85718 bucket toilets and, since then, almost R3-billion has been spent to replace them.

Kotze said: “There is a moral responsibility to ensure the bucket system is eradicated. The bigger issue is how politicians govern. There is a culture of lack of accountability where politicians [who] fail to meet their targets or execute their duties somehow get off scot-free without them being held accountable for their failures.”

She added that until that “culture of a lack of accountability” is addressed, those people living in inhumane conditions — such as having to use bucket toilets — are going to continue doing so.

Water and sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said: “A combination of factors has resulted in the minister missing the deadline she set, including tenders that were not finalised on time.”

But it is unclear whether there are more bucket toilets being built or not. Answering questions, Ratau said: “There are no new Bucket Toilets being built … this refers to the system in the formal areas,” said Ratau.

But later he says: “The target is a moving target as municipalities continue to provide households with bucket toilets as a form of sanitation.”

In 2018, Ratau told the M&G that the department had identified dry toilets, costing R11500 each, and waterborne sanitation, at R15000 a toilet, as the solution.

He said there were more than 52000 bucket toilets in formal areas. The majority of these backlogs were in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and North West provinces. But now, most of these toilets have been eradicated, he said.

(John McCann/M&G)

Data provided by the department in 2018 showed that almost R3-billion had been spent on eradicating the bucket system in the four provinces with the biggest backlogs.

In its annual performance plan for 2019-2020, the department said it needed another R2.3-billion to get rid of bucket sanitation systems in formal settlements and reach out to about 30978 rural households with sanitation backlogs.

As has been tradition, the department has set another deadline that toilets will be completed in the Northern Cape by the end of April 2020 whilst the Free State Projects will be completed by August 2020.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

Related stories

Covid-19 info lags as cases shoot up

Vital information apps and websites are outdated as cases begin to mushroom, especially near the coast, just in time for the December holidays

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Busy Bee continues to sting despite challenges

Cape Town’s oldest Black rugby club personifies the problems Black rugby faces, including attempts to have its history erased, being affected by apartheid and struggling financially for good resources

Ramphosa extends national state of disaster

As the president extends the state of disaster for another month, other restrictions will be eased, including those on alcohol sales and international travel

WSU suspends classes and exams to avoid the spread of Covid-19

The university says it has to take the precautionary measures because 26 students have tested positive on its East London campus

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

Shabnim Ismail bowls her way into the record books Down...

The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how...

Hawks make arrest in matric maths paper leak

Themba Daniel Shikwambana, who works at a printing company, was granted bail and is due to return to court in January

Andile Lungisa: Early parole for the house of truth

Disgraced Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa calls for a change of leadership in the ANC immediately after being released on parole

War of words at Zondo commission: ‘Grow up Mr Gordhan,...

The cross-examination of the public enterprises minister by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry went on well into overtime on Monday evening

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…