SAHRC does not understand practical realities of service delivery - Patricia de Lille

Cape Town mayor notes that city has tripled number of toilets in informal settlements since 2006

City responds to inaccurate and misleading HRC report

In light of recent media reports, I would like to take this opportunity to correct a number of misconceptions related to the release of a report by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) on sanitation provision in Khayelitsha.

Contrary to the claims of the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), the HRC has only made recommendations on the matter. These are not instructions, nor are they are rulings against the City of Cape Town.

Our initial review of the HRC report indicates that there are a number of shortcomings in the approach of the HRC. In fact the HRC in making its recommendations displays an inexplicable lack of understanding of the legislative, financial and other factors which determine service provision.

It is particularly astounding that the HRC can argue that the City's provision of chemical toilets constitutes unfair discrimination. Ironically, their report was released on the same day that Minister Lindiwe Sisulu praised the provision of said typology to the Sanral evictees in Lwandle.

Furthermore, chemical toilets are used by municipalities throughout South Africa. Is the HRC arguing that their provision in every such instance constitutes unfair discrimination? Unless they do so, in these cases it will create the impression that they are deliberately targeting Cape Town.

More to the point it appears that the HRC simply does not understand the practical realities of service delivery. Of course the City would like to provide full flush toilets on a 1:1 ratio, but this is simply not possible given very real practical constraints. 82% of informal settlements in Cape Town are partially or fully affected by physical and other constraints, which determine the kind of sanitation typology that can be provided.

These constraints include the following:

Informal settlements located on privately owned land. In such cases the City can only provide sanitation on the periphery of the land, as we are precluded by law from providing services on privately owned land.

High levels of density in some informal settlements means that we are physically unable to install the infrastructure required for full flush toilets.

Many informal settlements have developed on land where the water table is high and therefore the installation of full flush toilets is physically impossible.

What is also astonishing is that the HRC has criticised the City for aiming for a standard for toilet provision on a 1:5 basis. No other municipality in South Africa voluntarily imposes a higher standard for access to sanitation, with 94% of households currently serviced at this ratio. The HRC clearly does not understand that the national guideline does not even specify a ratio of any sort.

In order to meet this self-imposed higher standard, we use a range of different sanitation types to suit the circumstances on the ground. Contrary to the HRC's findings, we do so in full consultation with communities, especially as it relates to the location of such toilets.

The HRC's argument that there is discrimination based on the provision of chemical toilets is completely exposed when it is considered that, for example, there are over four times the number of full flush than chemical toilets provided in Khayelitsha.

The breakdown is as follows:

Full flush: 4 730 (another 500 planned to be installed this year)

Chemical: 1 020

Portable flush toilets (PFT):  8 600

Container: 380

The City only provides chemical toilets in Khayelitsha and other informal settlements as a last resort i.e. when the factors listed above preclude the  provision of full flush toilets. It must be further stressed that the City also provides PFTs to any community that requests them. This service is by definition provided on a 1:1 basis.

Furthermore, it also needs to be understood that across informal settlements there are twice the number of full flush toilets (12 000) provided than chemical toilets (5 800).

The HRC has also ignored the fact that the City of Cape Town has successfully implemented a sustained strategy aimed at improving sanitation provision in informal settlements over the last eight years.

This has seen the number of toilets provided in informal settlements increase from 14 000 in 2006 to over 44 500 this year. This strategy is clearly working, as evidenced by the recognition from national government that the City provides 100% access to adequate sanitation.

Finally, while I respect the important role of Chapter 9 institutions, it needs to be understood that they are there to underpin our democracy, not to undermine elected governments and their electoral mandate. I would expect the HRC to learn in this regard from the Public Protector who fearlessly executes her Constitutional role free from political influence or considerations.

I would also have expected this level of a lack of understanding of how government functions from the SJC, who deliberately misrepresent information to secure the funds necessary to underpin their annual R2,7 million salary bill - over 60% of their annual spend. Also from organisations such as Ses'Khona, which is an essential part of the ANC's ‘ungovernability' campaign in the city.

It is clear that the ANC's election campaign has started in earnest on all fronts; this just makes us more determined than ever to provide the best level of service possible to all residents, as part of our broader effort to build a caring and inclusive city - unlike the ANC and the HRC who seemingly only have the race card left to play.

This article by Patricia de Lille first appeared in Cape Town This Week, the online newsletter of the Executive Mayor of Cape Town.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter