S. Africa's polls pegged on open toilets saga
Seventeen years after the end of apartheid and the promises that an ANC-led government made to bring dignity to all the country’s people the issue of open toilets (toilets that have no walls and thuis provide users no privacy) have become the battleground between the battleground between the two principal rivals for South Africans' votes, the African National Congress and the opposition democratic Alliance.
What is being referred to here as the open-toilet saga has gripped the nation and its politicians. The saga began in Khayelitsha, a slum area in the DA controlled city of Cape Town, but the phenomenon has been found to be quite widespread across slums across South Africa.
In April it was reported that the opposition Democratic Alliance-led City of Cape Town had violated residents' right to human dignity after 51 toilets were erected without enclosures in the area of Makhaza, Khayelitsha in December 2009.
In the run up to the May 18 polls Julius Malema, the African National Congress Youth League leader, had repeatedly raised the subject against the opposition party in his campaigns until it emerged that some local authorities controlled by the ANC were also guilty of the same.
The ANCYL, on behalf of community members, lodged a complaint about the open toilets with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in
January last year.
The SAHRC investigated the matter and according to spokesman Vincent Moaga, they found that the City had violated section 10 of the
Constitution, the fundamental right to human dignity. He said they had also not implemented their housing project in a reasonable manner as
required by section 26 of the Constitution.
The City of Cape Town said the installation of 1,316 toilets in Makhaza and other informal settlements in 2009 was done on condition that residents would erect their own structures around the toilets for privacy. Of these toilets, 1,265 were enclosed by residents, leaving many toilets without enclosures.
After a public outcry in May 2010, the City of Cape Town decided to enclose the remaining open toilets with corrugated metal sheets. But ANCYL members protested and broke the structures down, causing the city to remove all unenclosed toilets.
The SAHRC recommended to the City that it reinstall the 51 toilets that had been removed, but the city appealed against the SAHRC finding.
The ANC had claimed that the Cape Town situation proved its contention that the DA protects the privilege of Cape Town's affluent suburbanites while treating township dwellers with disdain.
However when journalists retrieved a story from last year about 1,600 unenclosed toilets in Moqhaka in the Free State – an area controlled by the ANC, the party was forced into a hasty damage limitation exercise.
Two weeks ago President Jacob Zuma admitted to South Africa's Sunday Times: "Of all the stories pertaining to service delivery that I came across during campaigning, the open toilets saga broke my heart."
Some commentators have suggested that the open toilets story has been good for the country in that it has steered the election debates away
from racism to matters of basic service delivery. It remains to be seen at the ballot box which side will win in the open toilet saga