Shack dwellers too scared to shit

Access to safe toilets is a daily struggle for Island informal settlement residents

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Photo of shacks and filthy water
Resident Anele Dekeda and his neighbours in Island informal settlement put up a notice that says: “Don’t dump shit here.” Photo: Vincent Lali

“When residents knock on my door at night and beg me to borrow the keys to the toilet, I refuse to open the door because I’m scared of being robbed,” says Nkosinathi Xekethwane. When he is available, he lets people know by leaving his door open. Over 15 residents regularly borrow his keys.

Residents who have keys to the few usable toilets in Island informal settlement, beside a bridge on Mew Way, Khayelitsha, say they have to deal with dozens of residents who come to them to use the facilities. Island was established 25 years ago and now has about 300 households.

Xolani Rumbu says that when residents who have the keys are not available, he relieves himself under the bridge. “You must check if there are no criminals under the bridge … otherwise they will rob you.”

Rumbu says that as Island has no electricity or streetlights criminals were active at night. “After 7pm you don’t go to the bridge or the loo even if you have a toilet key,” says Rumbu. Shack-dwellers use a bucket at night and dump the excrement in a filthy “lake” nearby.

“I feel very ashamed to go past residents at the communal tap, carrying the bucket with shit, so I wait until they clear away before I dump my shit in the lake,” says Rumbu.

Anele Dekeda lives near the “lake”. He and his neighbours put up a notice that says: “Sanulalwa ukunya apha [Don’t dump shit here]” (see photo). It hasn’t worked.

Dekeda says he relieves himself under the bridge, but “when commuters riding a crowded train travelling past me shout … I feel humiliated”.

Dekana says thugs robbed him just the other day. “The criminals wait until you pull up your trousers, jump on you from nowhere and relieve you of your belongings.”

Xekethwane says some toilets have been blocked since November last year. “I ask toilet users to personally collect and return the key so that I can see who has used the toilet last and who has messed it up.”

He buys disinfectant and soap and cleans the toilet which he uses. “When it is blocked, I open the pipe at the back and use wires … We have resigned ourselves to breathing the bad smell from the loos because the City of Cape Town is not cleaning and maintaining them,” he says.

Mzingisi Nakanini has the key to a toilet with a broken cistern which he shares with a dozen other shack dwellers. “I bring along a five-litre bucket to flush … I struggle to get water because it comes out slowly and in small amounts from the [communal] water tap,” he says.

Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services, Councillor Xanthea Limberg, says the toilets were last cleaned on 4 January. “The City can confirm that a team from the Meltonrose depot has been sent to the site.”

Limberg says the toilets became blocked because Island residents didn’t report them on time.

Asked about instalment of more toilets, she says that the settlement is very dense and needs to “de-densification” in order to install additional services.”

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TOPICS:  Crime Sanitation

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