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.

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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.

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