By Vincent Lali
Khayelitsha shack-dweller Zusiphe Rwayi, 29, uses a bucket to relieve herself. She has to get up before 3:30am to empty the bucket in the toilet of a nearby house before the owner leaves for work. She and seven other households also draw electricity from that house, and have to coordinate their cooking hours so that the electrical connection does not trip.
Rwayi’s is one of 35 households in Zwelitsha, Khayelitsha, who have been dependent on their neighbours in RDP houses for sanitation and electricity since 2006.
Her boyfriend works as a security guard.
She uses a 200 metre electrical wire to draw electricity from the house nearby. But when GroundUp visited her, the electricity box in the house had tripped.
“I will cook and eat after the house owner has returned from work around 9pm today,” she said.
She said usually when the box tripped and she could not cook she went to buy bread. “But today I can’t because I have no money.”
The house owner goes to work at about 3:30am and comes back at about 9pm on weekdays.
“Some of us cook during the day while others are still at work. If we cook all at once, the electricity box trips,” she said.
Shack-dweller Mthetheleli Suku, 32, lives with his girlfriend and three-year-old child.
He uses a 500 metre electrical wire he bought for R280 from a local hardware store to connect to a nearby house. The house owner charges a monthly fee and disconnects the wires from his box when the couple does not pay.
“We don’t always have the fee, so we sometimes go for about five days without electricity,” Suku said.
He said he had used many toilets belonging to various residents in the informal settlement since he arrived.
“After you have used one toilet for some time, the owner suddenly refuses to let you use it and you try another owner,” he said, adding that house owners get tired of shack-dwellers who have no toilets and don’t like it when the shack-dwellers’ friends or relatives use their toilets when visiting.
Suku and his girlfriend have taught their three-year-old boy to use a bucket and they dump the waste in a nearby stormwater drain.
But some of the stormwater drains have been closed up by house owners who don’t like the shack-dwellers to throw waste or dirty water in the drains, says shack-dweller Vuyokazi Shushwana, 37.
“The residents say the dirty water smells and invites flies into their houses,” she said.
Shushwana, who is unemployed, pays R150 a month for electricity from a nearby house to use her fridge and microwave and for lighting.
“The house owner demands that I pay the money at month end. He is strict about the payment, so I stress when the month nears the end,” she said.
When possible, she uses a toilet belonging to a house owner.
“When the house owner locks his toilet and gate and goes to work or somewhere else, I use the open field,” she said.
She prefers to wait until nightfall to walk to the open field so that residents don’t see her. But she is afraid.
“Sometimes I get scared to go to the open field at night, so I use a bucket and ask house owners to allow me to dump the faeces in their toilets in the morning,” she said.
She sent her children to the Eastern Cape because, she says, she does not want them “to have to walk around the township asking for the use of toilets like I do”.
“Besides, kids would mess up other residents’ toilets and get me into trouble with them.”
Rwayi said she often had to beg house owners for water to cook, wash clothes and bath. There are no water taps in the area.
“Every day house owners lock their gates and go to work, leaving us without access to water until around 9pm,” she said.
“My laundry is piling up and I don’t know where I will get water to wash it. I don’t even have clean clothes to wear.”
Mayoral Committee Member for Area East, Councillor Anda Ntsodo, said toilets in this area could only be installed once “de-densification” had taken place, he said.
Community leader Mzuvukile Ntlonze said he had been asking for this since last October. “I have been asking city officials to remove between 10 and 12 shacks to create space for toilets,” he said.
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