Cape Town's record on sanitation delivery: The facts - Patricia de Lille

Mayor says recent SJC report contained a number of inaccuracies

City is committed to providing the best level of sanitation services possible

The City of Cape Town is committed to providing all residents of the city with the highest level of services possible, including access to dignified sanitation, as part of our efforts to build a Caring City with a particular focus on redress.

Over the last weeks, there have been a number of claims around the standard of sanitation provided by the City. Many of these lack historical context, are inaccurate and betray a lack of technical understanding of the nature and scale of the services provided.

As the latest census figures have shown, the population of Cape Town has grown by close to 30% over the last ten years, the second highest growth rate in South Africa. Despite this, the City continues to provide the highest level of sanitation in the country, with 97.2% of all residents having access to sanitation.

This is due to sustained and large-scale investments in sanitation services in informal settlements. These include massively increased sanitation investment in sewage infrastructure, which rose from R51 million in the 2006/7 financial year, to R130 million in the 2011/12 financial year.

The number of toilets in informal settlements has more than doubled from 10 591 to over 35 000 over the same period. As a direct result of this, the percentage of households with access to sanitation on a 1:5 ratio has increased from 47.1% to 88.2% between 2006 and 2012.

This is despite the fact that the number of households in informal settlements has increased by almost 50 000, from 154 761 to 193 951. In addition, the City has introduced the provision of janitorial services to enhance the maintenance of toilet services - the only service of its kind in South Africa.

We have also installed 67 FreeCall lines in selected areas to ensure residents can report their service delivery queries at no cost to them. A further 20 lines will be connected by the end of July this year.

As we expand access to sanitation, monitoring of our facilities becomes more onerous and complex. We have responded in the following ways:

  • The City has launched the ‘Know your Community, Know your Contractor' campaign. As part of this campaign I have been holding public meetings reminding communities about the various channels available to them to communicate maintenance and other issues to the City as they arise.
  • The Water and Sanitation Department holds monthly meetings with the contractors to assess their performance.
  • Where present, community workers monitor and report on the contractor's services.
  • Spot checks are conducted to verify servicing and check the quality of service. To do this, members of the community are randomly interviewed about service satisfaction.
  • Volumes disposed of at the Borchard's Quarry Wastewater Treatment Plant are recorded. Records reflect the settlements which were serviced, volumes disposed and the condition of the trucks for spillages. Recorded volumes are compared with the total number of toilets on site.
  • Invoices are compared with vehicle tracker reports.
  • The Department has EPWP janitors in the area who assist with monitoring. Currently 845 are employed city-wide to undertake this task.
  •  The City utilises a combination of 220 community officers and environmental health practitioners to assist with monitoring.
  • The Department is investigating the installation of a tracking device inside a chemical toilet that will report every time servicing takes place. This will help reduce payment claims related to services not rendered.

These interventions have greatly assisted us to improve the maintenance of our sanitation facilities.

Recently, the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) undertook an assessment in which they claimed that there have been deficiencies with regards to one of the City's major contractors, Mshengu Services.

This report contained a number of inaccuracies. Amongst these were included the following incorrect statements:

  • The report stated that a number of toilets were missing in the assessment area. All these toilets were, in fact, relocated due to fluctuating needs of the community or were undergoing repairs at the time of their count due to vandalism/maintenance.
  • According to the SJC, the ratio for the provision of sanitation services in the four assessed areas is 1:26. In fact, based on the last count of informal settlements in 2011, the ratio is Greenpoint 1:10, CT Section 1:8, RR Section 1:9 and Emsidweni 1:2.
  • The SJC claimed that Mshengu had failed to clean the toilets in their assessment areas and that a ‘worrying amount of human waste is unaccounted for'. Again, the facts tell a different story. Sewage collected in the areas assessed by the SJC is taken to the Borchard's Quarry Waste Water Treatment Works. Despite the SJC claiming that the City was not cleaning the toilets, detailed tracker records and invoices reflect settlements were serviced, volumes were noted and the condition of trucks were investigated for spillages. The total number of truck entries at Borchard's Quarry recorded correspond with 93% entries reflected on invoices for March 2013 for the four assessed areas. The control mechanism of vehicle tracker records indicates that the trucks which service the units in these areas for March 2013 were active on 86 instances.
  • It appears that the number of toilets assessed by the SJC, was done according to their own random area demarcation, this by definition will not correlate with that of the City, which uses a comprehensive demarcation system. This leads for example to the SJC, claiming that the ratio of toilet provision is 1:26 in the areas they reviewed; it is in fact actually closer to 1:6 - this using even higher population densities than the census found.
  • The SJC claims that Mshengu failed to properly secure any of the toilets provided.  In fact the securing of toilets in terms of the contract is at the discretion of the City's project manager, who ensures, where possible, toilets are secured on level ground within the space constraints in informal settlements. It needs to be understood that in some instances the City must weigh proximity of the toilet to the community, versus the need to fully secure the toilet. Over-securing of toilets, through use of sandbags for example can pose a danger, especially at night.
  • It must also be appreciated that the SJC works in very specific area of the city and only with one toilet typology, in this case chemical toilets. As local government, we have to provide for the whole of the city and the various needs of particular communities. We therefore provide the appropriate toilet typology to suit specific local conditions. These typologies include full flush, chemical, container and portable flush toilets.

We will today communicate directly with the SJC, responding to all the relevant concerns they have raised.

One of the City's other major contractors, Sannicare CC, have recently undergone a labour dispute between themselves and a number of their now former employees.

Whilst the City cannot directly intervene in this dispute, we have stepped in, in order to proactively minimise the effect of the dispute on our residents and to deal with criminal conduct. We have facilitated a series of meetings between the affected parties and are working tirelessly to help resolve the issues at hand.

It must be understood that at the heart of the dispute is a demand that Sannicare workers be paid the equivalent of a 16-hour work day. This demand has rightly been rejected by Sannicare, as it is a violation of the relevant labour legislation.

We have also held meetings with affected ward councillors, disgruntled workers and communities to engage with their concerns and find ways to assist. Where we can, we have deployed City staff to clean unserviced Sannicare toilets.

This has regrettably been met in some areas with violent resistance, with City staff having been attacked and vehicles being set alight. It is for this reason that we have applied for, and been granted, an interim interdict against former Sannicare employees who have attempted to prevent City staff from going into affected areas to provide services.

In some areas, including Europe, Boystown and New Rest, members of the community have helped to escort City officials to service toilets in their area. This kind of proactive action by the community must be applauded.

The City of Cape Town will not send our staff into areas in which violence against them has been continuously threatened. Such areas at this time include Kanana, Barcelona, Kosovo and Block 6. As long as threats of intimidation and violence against City staff and community members are on-going, we cannot service the toilets in these areas.

In order to further improve the rollout of sanitation in Cape Town, the City has committed to providing Portable Flush Toilets (PFTs) to areas that need it most.

We have, in the past weeks, provided approximately 600 in the Sir Lowry's Pass area, in which some households were identified as using the bucket system and an additional 1 300 to other areas across the city. This is in addition to the 11 307 that have previously been rolled out.

A PFT provides the same privacy, dignity and safety as a normal full flush toilet. PFTs are allocated to a single household for use within that household, and are therefore largely protected from vandalism.

The waste is flushed into a container underneath the flush unit, as with a normal flush toilet, to minimise odours. Each PFT is provided with two waste containers. One is attached and the other is used as a replacement when the first is full, or being serviced. The PFTs are serviced three times a week.

In some areas, such as Boy's Town and KTC, large parts of the community have resisted the City's efforts to provide families with PFTs.

Whilst the City is determined to give all residents access to dignified sanitation, we cannot force people to accept our assistance. Service delivery remains a partnership that can only be truly effective if both the City, and individuals in the communities themselves, play their role. This includes community members assisting us to keep the facilities in good condition and reporting any problems as they arise.

If we continue to receive resistance to our efforts in a community, the City will be obliged to move our focus to areas where the initiatives are welcomed.

I would like to publicly call on the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to assist us in educating residents about the benefits of portable flush toilets (PFTs) and to assist us to eradicate the small number of bucket toilets still in circulation.

The fact remains that the provision of services, particularly sanitation, is complex for a number of reasons. These range from the community dynamics in an area and the political influences that exist there, to the suitability of the land for infrastructure development and safety regulations.

We welcome community feedback. In fact, it is a requirement if we are to truly meet the needs of as many residents as possible. But we cannot be distracted by those that spread misinformation, who claim to speak for entire communities, who threaten violence or who destroy City property that belongs to all residents.

We will continue to do everything we can to meet the challenges we face and use all possible resources to provide as much as we can for the people of the city. In this regard, we will not be deterred.

Statement issued by Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Patricia de Lille, June 5 2013

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