Water award mocks our suffering

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IOL NM_nm toilets11 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS An outside flush toilet. Picture: Courtney Africa

Basic services have got worse in Inanda since 1994, says Gcina Makoba. She argues that the poor have been left to face new miseries.

 

Does the eThekwini Municipality deserve to win the Stockholm Water Industry Award, which will be granted to its water and sanitation department this week?

In Inanda, we residents expect “development” to at least include adequate access to water; flush sanitation; a well-built, decent-sized house; affordable electricity; waste removal and air clean enough to breathe. But, especially in wards 44, 55 and 56, we are going backwards. At the end of apartheid, even these basic services were better supplied and cheaper in Inanda.

Something changed in 1994 – and it was not just our liberation from racism. There was a trade-off, it now appears, leaving poor people facing new miseries.

Our communities are now very concerned with the polluted air we breathe, with raw sewage flowing into our streams and with the small size and fragility of the RDP houses built here in 2011. The stream running through our wards was once clean and clear, but it is now doubtful whether there are any animals living there. Fish and riverine animals that had been common have since died.

Besides our sewer crisis, the worst service might be the communal toilets within shipping containers that have recently been installed in Durban’s townships and shack settlements. In ward 56, 150 houses are sharing two containers with just two showers and three toilets each. About 500 houses in ward 44 share four communal toilets, and 320 houses in ward 55 share four communal toilets. There are numerous challenges that accompany these toilets, including cleanliness and queues, and most of us are not happy about them.

Listen to the voices of my neighbours, such as Lindani, 39: “Using these toilets is an insult to us, telling us directly that we have no value. I have never used these toilets ever since they came because I am angry about them. They were imposed on us.”

The container communal toilets are not accessible to the greater part of our community. They have restrictive opening and closing times. They are not secure spaces in any case and lead to increased crime, such as rape.

Many containers also have broken taps which is a health hazard because it is impossible for us to wash our hands after use. The toilets themselves are often blocked. Some are closed, which leads to males and females sharing the same toilets.

Most of us, especially those living where these container toilets are placed, feel that our lives are more difficult since these were introduced. Because they do not have sufficient drains, water is directed into the yards of nearby houses so we are soaked in water day and night and our children cannot play in the yards. In some cases, our houses are falling apart due to water coming from these toilets.

As another Inanda resident living next to a communal container toilet, Bongiwe Mnqaba, 56, told me: “If we had been consulted about these toilets, we would have disputed this type of development. We expected flush toilets per household, not this. If taps are broken it can be that people are sending the message to the municipality that we do not want these toilets.”

Another neighbour, Mxolisi, 18, complained: “Now that a dead body was found (hanging in a container toilet) early this year, everybody is scared to go there… I think they can now be removed because they have turned out to be useless. Even more, tsotsis are hiding there to mug people who are coming from work.”

Then we have an unnecessary financial expense because we pay R2 for 25 litres of water which we must buy, because, by the time we reach home at 7pm the communal taps are already closed (it used to be 9pm).

Most of the people who are living in Inanda’s RDP houses, which do have individual water taps, have a problem with the high billing costs.

The new water meters being installed are not for everyone. For most of us, there are no standpipes nearby to provide us with water, so we end up diverting the pipes to our yards so that we can get access to water.

The municipality must remember that we decided to connect water on our own because we were neglected. Water is a basic need and a human right.

We are waiting for a meeting where these new meters will be discussed, but if they impose these the community is likely to remove them from each and every house, as they are tired of water and sanitation being imposed on them.

While others in eThekwini have their flush toilets inside their houses, 80 000 households in black communities are denied this right by the municipality as they were given the “urinary diversion” toilets in small rooms outside the house without water.

These are similar to the old-style bucket system and are now recognised as a failed experiment.

The greatest fear of this type of “development” is that it is permanent. The question in our Inanda wards remains: How long will our community be forced to live under these conditions, if a world water award makes our politicians smug?

* The eThekwini water and sanitation unit, serving the Durban metropolitan area, has been named the winner of the Stockholm Industry Water Award this year, “for its transformative and inclusive approach to providing water and sanitation services”.

The Mercury

* Gcina Makoba is a Dennis Brutus Community Scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society and was in a panel discussion on Durban water and sanitation policies, projects and politics at the university on Monday.

* The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.



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