Between the lines
AND ON THE EIGHTH DAY
someone said -
we'll have a city here
(town, township, settlement, whatever)
pointing at a blank spot in his eye,
his finger dripping decrees onto whatever lay beneath it,
and you were standing just to one side of where the decrees fell,
maybe you were reading a novel or counting birds,
or thinking of how to fit utopia through the eye of a storm,
but the decrees ran towards you following the incline of the land,
they pooled at your feet, your face was reflected in them -
what did you do? - Karen Press
Design Capital and bicycle lanes for the suburbs and 'toilet warfare' for the poor in the sprawling townships of greater Cape Town. That pretty much sums up our tale of two cities.
Last week the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) released its damning report on the state of sanitation in the greater Cape Town area, entitled simply, 'Our toilets are dirty'. It made for unpleasant reading. The first reaction of the city and its officials was the usual one which goes something like this: the SJC has abused its position, misrepresented the facts and broken trust with the city.
A subsequent spat has broken out between the SJC and the city regarding the social audit. Ernest Sonnenberg,Mayco member for 'utility services' has questioned the validity of the social audit process in particular questioning the SJC's motives.
Of course the city's relationship with social movements has been acrimonious given the intractable housing challenge which has seen it go head-to-head with the Ses'Khona People's Rights Movement in a number of ways. To tar all community groups with the same brush, as Sonnenberg seems to be doing, is somewhat disingenuous.
The SJC has a history of attempting to engage constructively with the city on the question of sanitation over a number of years. But in between the white noise and distraction of political wrangling and attacks, two things have been lost sight of: the facts and figures relating to sanitation in poor outlying areas of our cities, the places where bicycle lanes and design capitals don't reach and, of course, the simple fact that people are living there. The lexicon of 'utility services' seems ironically designed to reduce issues of dignity to utility and all the shallow rhetoric which goes along with 'service delivery' speak.
The real issue here is that hundreds of residents attended public hearings with officials from the City of Cape Town in attendance as part of the SJC social audit process. Social audits are a perfectly legitimate way of communities gathering information about the state of services in their local communities. It has been used to great effect by the MKSS social movement in Rajasthan in India and elsewhere around the world. It is a crucial way of holding those in power to account and allowing residents to articulate their concerns.
That is what the SJC did and the sanitation situation in Khayelitsha is, as the SJC rightly points out, 'dire'. In most cases janitors, even though they are meant to clean designated toilets daily, clean them only one day per week. Only 7.3% of residents audited said that their toilets were cleaned daily despite reassurances by the city that toilets would be cleaned daily. In addition, most janitors are not compelled to work on weekends it would seem. Almost half the toilets inspected were 'dirty' inside. If a picture tells a thousand words, the pictures of toilets are an assault on the dignity of the people of Khayelitsha; broken toilet seats, filthy seats and floors covered in rubbish. In addition, it was found that over a quarter of the toilets did not flush.
And one could go on listing the pretty grim facts around sanitation, none of which make for good reading.
It seems entirely unfortunate that the City of Cape Town has taken a combative stance on an issue which is clearly one in which the poorest and most vulnerable in our city are living in ways which diminish their dignity. It matters not that this is happening in 'other ANC-run provinces and cities' as city officials like to remind us. Section 10 of the Constitution states that 'everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.' It is often the case that those in power, when faced with criticism seek to find 'straw men' to attack. The SJC and the people of Khayelitsha are not the enemy here and the city would do well to recognise that and seek to find common solutions to what is a socio-economic crisis.
We appear obsessed with being 'world class' and expanding the CBD to ensure that tourists and well-heeled suburbanites have a bigger, better Waterfront or Convention Centre and more places to sip lattes and cocktails. Yet what truly world class cities do is care for their homeless, their poor and their vulnerable and they create inclusive spaces. No amount of talk of 'design capitals', economic boards and talk-shops will deal with the challenges of exclusion and indignity the poor of our city face unless we accept the reality. And that reality is that our futures, rich and poor, black and white are inextricably linked.
Motho Ke Motho Ka Batho Babang.
I am a person because you are.Your poverty and indignity in the township is mine in the suburbs too.
Judith February is a senior associate at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).