Sanitation Summit: “Our dignity is undermined”

Bulelani Ngovi
Preg Govender, Bandile Mdlalose, Joconia Rahube. Photo By Bulelani Ngovi.

“Lack of access to water and sanitation is an insult to human dignity,” emphasised the Social Justice Coalition (SJC)in a National Sanitation Summit held at Community House in Salt River yesterday.

The SJC, who organised the summit, alleges that the national government is failing to tackle the issue of accessibility to water and sanitation in the country.

“The state of sanitation in South Africa is one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed urgently by our government,” said SJC General Secretary Phumeza Mlungwana, She explained that the aim of the summit was to develop a People’s Plan for Sanitation and Dignity which the SJC hopes to finalize in six months.

The summit also provided an opportunity to engage with the recently released South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) water and sanitation report titled, Report on the Right to Access Sufficient Water and Decent Sanitation in South Africa: 2014.

Pregs Govender, the Deputy Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, said the report found that lack of planning, monitoring and accountability by the government was the major factor for the lack of water and sanitation in South Africa.

“The government is failing to address this issue, especially among poor municipalities,” said Govender. “Poor communities are invisible when compared to the wealthy ones. There are toilets with no lights and they are inaccessible. And the amount of water allocated to them is inadequate.”

Amongst the report’s findings were:

  • Approximately 11% (1.4 million) of households (formal and informal) still have to be provided with sanitation services (these households have never had a government supported sanitation intervention);

  • At least 26% (3.8 million) of households within formal areas have sanitation services which do not meet the required standards due to the deterioration of infrastructure.

  • The areas with greatest maintenance needs are in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape.

  • Based on an assessment of the provision of water services, 23 municipalities (9% of the total) were in a crisis state, with an acute risk of disease outbreak and a further 38% were at high risk of deteriorating.

Govender said the Minister of Human Settlements welcomed the report but, said Govender, “The Deputy Minister of Water Affairs received the report in March but she tore it to shreds.”

Other speakers of note at the summit included Bandile Mdlalose, General Secretary of Abahlali Basemjondolo; Joconia Rahube, brother to Osiah Rahube, a protester who was shot and killed by police during water protests in Madibeng, Limpopo; Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town.

Mdlalose said the state of access to water and sanitation in South Africa leaves much to be desired. “I’m concerned that after twenty-years of democracy we still have no access to water and sanitation. Our dignity is undermined,” she said. “Because of griminess of the places we live in we get infected by man-made diseases. We get infected by diarrhea, TB and other diseases. These diseases are caused by our government. Water and land are a gift from God. So why are we being deprived of them?”

Joconia Rahube poured out his heart describing how hurtful it was to lose his brother in a water protest in Mandibeng on the 13th of January this year, “Losing my brother in that protest hurt me very much and I’m still hurting,” he said. “Our government is very corrupt, so people resort to the only language it understands; embarking on a protest. I just hope that all those who are corrupt will be incarcerated because of SJC’s work. A township in South Africa seems like an Island, it is isolated. Our government does not give it precedence when delivering basic needs.”

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba appealed for a fair and just government. “Over sixteen million people in South Africa do not have access to sanitation,” he said. “How long should South Africans tolerate this situation? Why is this issue skewed in terms of race and class?

“As a person of faith I demand that we be treated fairly and justly. As churches we promote these values … Let’s work together to bring about equality for us all.”

The elements of the draft plan formulated at the summit called for the government to be open, engaging and accountable to civil society and communities so as to create a decent life for all.

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