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Makoba, Gcina (2014) Water and sanitation become a living nightmare in eThekwini. The Mercury (Eye on Civil Society) : -.


If ‘development’ at least includes adequate access to water, flush sanitation, a well-built decent-sized house, affordable electricity, waste removal and air clean enough to breathe, then those of us in Inanda, especially in wards 44, 55, 56, are underdeveloping. At the end of apartheid, even these basic need goods were better supplied and cheaper in Inanda.

Something changed in 1994 – and it was not just our liberation from racism. There was a trade-off, it now appears, leaving poor people facing new miseries. Our communities are now very concerned with the polluted air we breathe, with raw sewage flowing into our streams and with the small size and fragility of the RDP houses built here in 2011. The main stream through our wards was once clean and clear, but it is now doubtful whether there are any species living there. Fish and riverine animals that had been common have since died. The right of the living species is being deprived, and so are our rights of access to clean air and other environmental rights.

Does eThekwini municipality deserve to win the Stockholm Water Industry Award, which will be granted to the Water and Sanitation Department in September? Besides our sewer crisis, the worst service might be the communal toilets that are all over the townships and shack settlements. In ward 56,+ 150 houses are sharing 2 communal toilets which are within a shipping container. They contain just two showers and three toilets. About 500 houses in ward 44 share four communal toilets, and 320 houses in ward 55 share 4 communal toilets. There are numerous challenges that accompany these toilets, including cleanliness and queues, and most of us are not happy about them.

Listen to the voices of the residents, such as Lindani (age 39): “Our norms do not allow us to share the toilets. What if the muti is smeared for me on the toilet seat, to sit on? This is not the development we emancipated [our country for]… using these toilets is an insult to us, telling us directly that we have no value.”

According to Lindani, “I have never used these toilets ever since they came, because I am angry about them. They were imposed to us.”

While others in eThekwini enjoy their flush toilet within their household, 80 000 households in black communities are denied this right by the municipality. The container communal toilets are not accessible to the greater part of our community. They have restrictive opening and closing times. Then we have an unnecessary financial expense because we pay R2 for 25 liters we must buy since by the time we reach home the communal taps are already closed. They are not secure spaces in any case, and lead to increased crime such as rape. Many containers also have broken taps, which is a health hazard because it is impossible for the user to wash hands after use. The toilets themselves are mainly blocked and some are closed, which leads to males and females sharing the same toilets.

Most of us, especially those living where these container toilets are placed, feel that our lives are more difficult since these were introduced. Because they do not have sufficient drains, water is directed into the yards of nearby houses, so we are soaked in water day and night and our kiddies cannot play in the yards. In some cases, our houses are falling apart due to water coming from these toilets.

As another Inanda resident living next to a communal container toilet, Bongiwe Mnqaba (age 56), told me, “if we were consulted about these toilets, we would have disputed this type of development. We expected flush toilets per household, not this. If taps are broken it can be that people are sending the message to the Municipality that we do not want these toilets.”

Another resident, Mxolisi (age 18) complained, “Now that a dead body was found [hanging in a container toilet] early this year, everybody is scared to go there….I think they can now be removed because they have turned to be useless. Even more, tsotsis are hiding there to mug people who are coming from work [because] they are dark!”

The greatest fear of this type of ‘development’ is that it is permanent. The question in our Inanda wards remains: how long will our community be forced to live under these conditions, if a world water award makes our leaders smug?

(Gcina Makoba is a Dennis Brutus Community Scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society.)

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