Khayelitsha toilet contractors not delivering

Fergus Turner
Inspecting toilets in Khayelitsha. Photo by Fergus Turner.
Fergus Turner

“The toilets are not very good. They are unstable and fall over a lot,” says Nomtheto Ndzime, a Khayelitsha resident, about the toilets provided by the City of Cape Town.

On Saturday the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) held a public meeting at Matthew Goniwe Memorial High School in Khayelitsha Site B to discuss the state of toilets in the township’s informal settlements. About 200 people attended. The SJC released details of an audit it did of the toilets in the township. Residents explained the problems they are having with the toilets supplied by the City. For residents of several Khayelitsha suburbs, particularly BM section, access to clean working toilets is a daily challenge. The lack of good sanitation is frustrating and a health risk for residents who rely on the mobile blue chemical toilets provided by the City.

Here are the key findings of the SJC audit:

  • Number of toilets inspected: 256
  • Number of toilets as per government records: 346
  • Number of missing toilets: 90
  • Number of damaged toilets: 170
  • Number of locked toilets: 129
  • Number of toilets cleaned in the last week: 173
  • Frequency with which toilets should be cleaned as per government records: 3/week
  • Average frequency with which toilets were actually cleaned last week: 1/2 times
  • Number of toilets to be secured to the ground as per government contract: All
  • Number of toilets actually secured to the ground as per physical verification: None
  • Number of toilets in an unsuable state: 138

Many of the toilet boxes are unusable because of bad structure quality and lack of maintenance. “Toilets are damaged, overturned, and not cleaned,” said one resident we spoke to who is also a participant in an SJC initiative called Imali Yethu. Imali Yethu monitors the contracts between the City and suppliers and helps people in Khayelitsha to understand them.

The supplier responsible for the toilets that were audited is Mshengu Services according to Imail Yethu’s co-ordinator, Axolile Notywala. “Repair, cleaning, and replacement of toilets should be the responsibility of Mshengu”, he explained.

In February, SJC asked the City to make the Mshengu toilet contract and monthly invoices publicly available so that communities can assess what the government is paying the contractor and what the company’s contractual obligations are. The idea is to compare what the government is paying for with the state of the toilets, and then pressure government to hold the contractor accountable.

The City did give tender documents to the SJC. However, it did not provide the invoices. Councillor Ernst Sonnenberg, Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services, said that the invoices are “not meant to be public” and that making them available would “undermine the private contractor’s business.” In a written response to GroundUp, Sonnenberg did however say that the City is considering the SJC’s request for invoices.

The SJC organised what it calls a “social audit” last week. This involved inspecting the toilets provided by the City. The organisation also ran workshops for residents using the toilets on how to help with the social audit.

I attended a site inspection briefing last week. SJC members explained to residents that the City’s contract with Mshengu meant the company had to provide daily cleaning of the toilets and service and maintain them. Residents huddled together in groups, discussing the tender and debated ways to present their findings. After the briefing, participants went to do site inspections and compared the conditions of toilets with what was promised in the contract. They used a checklist based on the City’s tender requirements to grade the toilets objectively. Participants also used questionnaires to collect the frustrated complaints and observations of other residents.

Ndzime said, “The people are very excited about this project”. She explained that it felt good to be inspecting the sites and doing something about the problem. “People are not happy with the toilets, and some of them have even been locked,” she said, referring to the problem that some residents claim the toilets for themselves, because that way they can clean and maintain them for personal use, but this prevents other residents from using them.

The idea of the “social audit” came from similar social auditing projects in India. Sowmya Kidamba is the Director of the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency, an organisation based in India. She is helping the SJC conduct the social audit. “Social auditing is about providing communities with information so that they can hold government accountable by matching money spent with service realities,” she explains. “Social auditing is successful in India and the government recognizes the project as important to participatory democracy.”

Sowmya explained some of the problems she encountered on the SJC’s social audit. “Toilets are not structurally secured to the ground. They are filthy. These are essential services that are basic human rights being ignored here.” The Tender document states, “All toilets shall be secured to the ground” and that there have to be “consistent cleaning cycles per day.” This is clearly not the case.

In a statement on Monday the City responded to the SJC’s social audit, saying, “[W]e have worked with a number of organisations including the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), who have provided assistance in a City-run project to provide janitorial services to clean flush toilets and standpipes, and report cases where extensive repairs are needed in Khayelitsha. It is therefore disappointing that the SJC, fully cognisant of the efforts we are making, chooses to conduct an informal ‘audit’ pointing out where maintenance is not taking place as it should via public platforms, rather than bring the problem areas directly to the City’s attention so they can be fixed immediately. If indeed we are working towards a common goal of delivering sanitation to those in our City most in need of our assistance, then this strategy of the SJC is perplexing.”

Mshengu did not answer my telephone calls requesting comment.

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TOPICS:  Health Local Sanitation

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