The sanitation crisis has escalated to President Jacob Zuma’s doorstep.
More than a quarter of households across the country have to live with toilets that stop working soon after they are installed and 11 percent of households – almost 1.4 million – do not have basic sanitation facilities at all.
This is according to a national study carried out by the Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation.
The cabinet lekgotla this week decided that seeing to the country’s long-term water and sanitation needs would now become a strategic integrated project, along with the 17 other major projects that make up the multibillion-rand infrastructure build programme announced by Zuma in his State of the Nation address in February.
Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation deputy director-general Ahmed Vawda briefed the National Assembly’s oversight committee on Human Settlements on the alarming state of sanitation across the country.
Vawda told MPs that although the sanitation backlog had been reduced from 52 percent in 1994 to 21 percent in 2010, there had been a “reversal, in terms of adequacy”.
He said the goal of achieving universal access to sanitation by 2014 was at risk.
The department conducted its investigation into the state of sanitation at the request of the SA Human Rights Commission.
It found that in 26 percent of households in urban settlements where facilities had recently been fitted, they were already falling apart due to “a lack of technical capacity to ensure effective operation, timely maintenance, refurbishment and upgrading”.
“Approximately 11 percent of households [both formal and informal] still have to be provided with sanitation services.
“These households have never had a government-supported sanitation intervention,” Vawda told MPs.
Municipalities were struggling to provide adequate facilities mainly because they spent only 30 percent of their sanitation budgets last year, and the money was often used on other unrelated projects, said Vawda.
Almost 3 million households were in crisis, as some had no water facilities to allow for sanitation to function effectively while others had no systems at all.
Vawda said an amount of R90.8 billion was projected to be available, but only R50bn was required to solve the problem.
However, the problem was that funds were being used for other purposes, he said.
“Spend the money where it’s supposed to go and we will solve the problem,” he said.
The chairwoman of the Human Settlements committee, Beauty Dambuza, echoed Vawda’s sentiment this week, saying extra funding was not necessary.
“We don’t think there’s a need for an increase in budget,” she said.
Funds were merely not being used, or were being used incorrectly, said Dambuza.
She said if all the conditional grants allocated to sanitation infrastructure – from various departments involved such as the Department of Water Affairs – were actually made available, this would solve the problem.
Responsibility for sanitation was handed to the Department of Human Settlements in 2009 when its name was changed from the Department of Housing and its mandate broadened to include provision of sanitation, which was previously handled by the Department of Water Affairs.
The committee felt there should be “integrated planning” between Human Settlements and Water Affairs because while sanitation had been transferred to Human Settlements by Zuma, Water Affairs still shared some of the responsibility legally.
The failure to completely transfer responsibility to Human Settlements meant “the function of providing facilities was transferred but funds [were] not… and legislation has also not been reviewed”, Dambuza said.
DA spokesman on Human Settlements Stevens Mokgalapa has called on Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale to stop “ducking behind task teams and commissions”. He accused him of not “actively doing anything to address the sanitation backlogs”.
“On two occasions, he disappointed the Human Settlements committee by failing to present the National Sanitation Report, which was due in January of this year,” Mokgalapa said.
“It is time for the minister to take a bold step and tell us what he is going to do to address the sanitation problem in this country.
“We have had enough reports, diagnoses and commissions. We now need solutions,” Mokgalapa said.
Dambuza said the task team appointed by Sexwale to assess the state of sanitation, headed up by ANC MP Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who has been absent from Parliament for several months, would present its findings to Parliament on Wednesday.
Based on the team’s findings, the committee would make recommendations to Sexwale as the responsibility to implement rested with his department.
“Human Settlements is the leading department, it must lead,” said Dambuza.