OPINION

Activists to Sonnenberg: City must engage constructively on sanitation

Photo by Masixole Feni.
Axolile Notywala and Dustin Kramer    

Yesterday the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) published a social audit of the state of municipal public toilets in Khayelitsha. Councillor Ernest Sonnenberg responded. This is a reply by the SJC’s Axolile Notywala and Dustin Kramer to Councillor Sonnenberg.

Yesterday, the Social Justice Coalition released the report Our Toilets are Dirty which contained the findings of our social audit into the janitorial service for communal flush toilets.

The social audit is an internationally recognised method that is being used by communities across the world to enhance grassroots participation and hold governments accountable for budgetary expenditure and service delivery. The janitorial service social audit has been endorsed by MAZDOOR KISAN SHAKTI SANGATHAN (MKSS), who began doing social audits twenty years ago in India. Social audits as a mechanism have been publicly supported by the Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency, who view it as a valuable citizen based monitoring tool.

The findings in “Our Toilets are Dirty” provide detailed insight into the everyday workings of the janitorial service. This audit is a valuable tool to enable the City of Cape Town to reflect, engage and improve the service. The SJC has always been, and will continue to be, willing to engage with the City to improve the delivery of sanitation.

However, SJC and many others were surprised by the aggressive response of Cllr Sonnenberg who attacked the SJC and the social audit method before the report was even released. He missed the opportunity to read it and consider how it could assist the City in ensuring safe and dignified sanitation for all.

Cllr Sonnenberg has asked us seven questions. Below, we answer each of his questions in detail. In response we have only one: When can we expect an implementation plan to be made public?

Seven Questions, Seven answers

  1. Why does the SJC not report faults when they occur, but rather wait to compile ‘dossiers’ with out-of-date data for maximum self-serving publicity? It is pointless to collate out-of-date information. If they were actually interested in assisting residents, they would report faults for remedial action.

    A social audit is not a mechanism for reporting individual toilet faults. The social audit report explains in detail the history and method of social audits as a community monitoring tool. The social audit highlights systemic issues with the delivery of a service and expenditure, which need to be addressed. Cllr Sonnenberg has misunderstood the purpose of a social audit.

    With regard to fault reporting, the SJC encourages residents to report faults to the City. However, many residents have given up. Currently, the reporting hotline is a premium rate number. A ten-minute conversation costs up to R25.00, depending on the network. The City provides only three landlines for the whole of Khayelitsha to reports faults for free. If residents want to report a fault, then they need to walk or take a taxi to one of these phones. When reports are made, the City is unable to currently locate the toilet in an informal settlement. We encourage Cllr Sonnenberg to read page 43 of “Our Toilets are Dirty”.

  2. What does the SJC do to help ensure that communities take responsibility for keeping toilets in a clean and useable state and to assist in the problem of illegal dumping?

    This line of argument is often heard from people who have access to toilets in their own home and have never experienced using a public communal toilet. The implication is that a janitorial service is “a nice-to-have” service and does not form part and parcel of the right to basic sanitation. It implies that the default expectation is that residents should all be cleaning the communal toilets and the janitorial service is filling in the gaps where residents are not fulfilling their responsibilities.

    In fact, communal toilets in informal settlements are shared by many households and should be seen as public toilets and a public good. They should be cleaned and maintained like any other public toilets in the city, and the service should be the very best it can be. Unlike public toilets at beaches and at stations, for example, communal toilets are there to fulfill the right to basic sanitation and this includes a sanitation service that is clean. We encourage Cllr Sonnenberg to read page 33 of “Our Toilets are Dirty”

  3. Why did the SJC walk away from mediated discussions on the Janitorial Programme?

    The SJC did not walk away from mediated discussions. Cllr Sonnenberg is referring to the City’s Janitorial Summit in February 2014, which was a result of sustained engagement by the SJC to work with the City on improving the Janitorial Service. At the summit, Cllr Sonnenberg refused to discuss an implementation plan, although it was part of the agenda as agreed prior to the summit. After two years without a plan, and having come to the summit in good faith, the SJC insisted that the summit address the issue of implementation plan, as per the agenda. We explained in detail in a public statement on 27 March 2014, and in correspondence to Councillor Sonnenberg himself, that we would support the City in developing the implementation plan and provide a detailed submission if called upon to do so. We have since received no correspondence or requests from the City in this regard.

  4. The SJC recognised today that the Janitorial Programme works well in a number of areas. Why then did they describe the whole programme as failure?

    The SJC has always held that the janitorial service has the potential for improving access to clean and safe sanitation. As the social audit report shows, its implementation however is haphazard and inconsistent. As currently implemented, the janitorial service is failing to ensure decent sanitation - a missed opportunity for the City and residents. It is the City’s obligation to deliver clean, safe and dignified sanitation for all. The fact that some residents may be getting a better service is no comfort to residents whose toilets are still dirty and unusable.

  5. How much did the SJC spend on their ‘social audit’? What were the salaries paid for this exercise and what is the percentage of funds obtained for this initiative relative to their overall budget?

    On 14 July 2014, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Paul Boughey wrote to the SJC requesting its ‘financial reports’. We obliged Mr Boughey. Our annual financial statements are available to anyone who wishes to see them.

    On 17 July 2014, financial information from the statements then appeared in a press statement from the Mayor herself, attacking the SJC and the findings of the South African Human Rights Commission report into the Mshengu matter. The Mayor made unsubstantiated allegations that we “deliberately misrepresent information” in order to attract funding.

    The City of Cape Town has in this way repeatedly attempted to deflect the question away from service delivery and onto the SJC itself. One strategy that the City uses is to suggest that the SJC is trying to get publicity to cover its salaried staff and operational budget. We should call this by what it is - blatant attempts at intimidation. Similar strategies were adopted by Thabo Mbeki’s regime and other denialists against the Treatment Action Campaign.

    We would be interested to know if the Mayor’s office or MAYCO members regularly make such direct requests for financial information, including Cllr Sonnenberg’s request for salary information, of other civil society organisations in the city in which it governs. We refuse to be intimidated in this way.

  6. Does the SJC recognise that the City has invested heavily in expanding access to decent sanitation, which sees Cape Town having 100% access, while most other cities have thousands of residents with no access to any sanitation at all?

    The SJC commended the City for rolling out the janitorial service. However, we remain shocked at the outright denial of the urgency and scale of sanitation needs in Cape Town’s informal settlements.

    Regarding the figure of 100%: In making this claim, the City cites a report by the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) commissioned by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for its national investigation and report on sanitation.

    In its final report however, the SAHRC is clear regarding the problems with the empirical claims of the DPME/DWA report. The SAHRC openly discusses the serious discrepancies in the reported numbers and particularly the difficulties in establishing where the DPME/DWA got its data. It notes that the overall findings of universal access in the Western Cape and Gauteng are extremely difficult to understand in light of all available data, site visits, and public hearings.

    The 2011 census shows that roughly 30,000 homes (over 100,000 people) have no access to sanitation in Cape Town, just under 50,000 households (over 150,000 people) use bucket latrines and the City’s own data in its Water Services Development Plan shows that nearly 80,000 homes (nearly 300,000 people) living in informal settlements have ‘inadequate access’ to sanitation. Africa Check did a comprehensive report on the City’s claims, finding that the City was wrong.

    References for these figures are available in our fact sheet, ‘Common Claims by the City of Cape Town’, online here.

  7. The SJC referenced their 2013 solid waste audit, but the City has yet to see these findings. Why have they not shared these?

    The preliminary findings were released publicly in October 2013 and provided to the City officials who were available at the public hearing including Cllr Sonnenberg. We acknowledge that we have not sent the final refuse collection and area cleaning social audit report to the City as yet. This was due to urgent circumstances in relation to our work, particularly that of the O’Regan-Pikoli Commission of Inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha. We will make the final report available to the City before the end of the month. We are unclear as to what Cllr Sonnenberg refers to in regard to his allegation that we circulated “inaccurate information” during that social audit. We stand by the findings.

False allegations regarding data

We also note false allegations made by Cllr Sonnenberg that the SJC ignored requests from the City for data from the janitorial service social audit. In email correspondence to Cllr Sonnenberg’s office (specifically to Andrea De Ujfalussy) on 4 August 2014, we did in fact respond to this request and explain that data would be put online with the release of the report. The data was released with the report as promised.

We trust that Cllr Sonnenberg will now uphold his responsibilities as MAYCO member for Utility Services, begin to engage constructively on the janitorial and other sanitation services, and work towards improving access to clean, safe, and dignified sanitation for all.

Notywala and Kramer work for the SJC.

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