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Positive results will soon be felt by the people whose dignity has been assaulted by the bucket toilet system, says Human Settlements Minister Connie September.
On receiving the South African Human Rights Commission report on the state of water and sanitation, I promised deputy chairperson Pregs Govender that I would study and respond. I did so in the conviction that on assuming office I swore to uphold the constitution of this beloved country of ours and the SAHRC is an institution borne out of this constitution.
It gives me no joy to acknowledge the parlous state of sanitation in many of our communities, a fact brought home in my first meeting with the SAHRC on assuming office last year. I started a process in September to prioritise sanitation for the remainder of my tenure.
As we celebrate Human Rights Month it is apt to reflect on how far we have come in restoring human rights. That apartheid sought to destroy the dignity of black people is evident in the most degrading lack of basic sanitation services in general and the dehumanising bucket toilet system in particular.
In proactively responding to this evil inheritance, the Department of Human Settlements has implemented an intensive Bucket Eradication Programme (BEP) which will replace the bucket toilet system with water borne sanitation systems.
A partnership between the Departments of Human Settlements, Water Affairs and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, as well as the Department of Science and Technology, has been forged to ensure an integrated and sustainable approach to this complex legacy.
As government we have tirelessly worked in our quest to restore our people’s dignity, through, among other things, the BEP. As President Jacob Zuma pronounced in his State of the Nation address, phase one of BEP will see the eradication of buckets in formalised townships of the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. These provinces have the highest volume of bucket toilets. Phase two will ensure the eradication of buckets in each of South Africa’s nine provinces.
BEP is buttressed by a financial allocation as announced by Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan in his budget speech. A total of R40 billion in infrastructure grants has been made available for among other things, sanitation services.
The bucket system is the unwanted legacy of deliberate neglect. Daily the users of this unhygienic sanitation system as well as workers responsible for the collection and disposal of human waste from bucket toilets are subjected to dehumanising and unhygienic conditions.
Twenty years into our democracy, this inhumane sanitation legacy still poses a challenge. We still have fatal incidents that remind us of the death traps that these toilets can be. Recently 6-year-old Michael Komape died in a pit latrine at his school. Our country mourned with his family.
The integrated planning approach as well as implementation across departments ensures that sanitation service delivery is not reduced simply to a toilet at the expense of other matters related to sustainable sanitation services.
Because of the united approach, particular attention is focused on issues pertaining to environmental sustainability, community involvement, affordability, hy- giene, education, user education, operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment works. Part of the challenge facing the programme is the development of bulk water and wastewater treatment infrastructure where none exist, and the increase in capacity where infrastructure does exist but has not held pace with the growth of water borne sanitation.
The Troika of Ministries plus one (Science and Technology) have integrated working, as well as pooled resources, financial and technical, to ensure that the constitutional promise of the right to water and a safe environment is incrementally materialised.
Importantly this approach also sees that dignity is restored to communities robbed of safe and basic sanitation services. This marked improvement in co-operation between government departments and the three tiers of government not only proactively accords with SAHRC’s recommendations for improved co-operation but also provides a mechanism for speedily unblocking delivery and implementation blockages that may arise from time to time.
State-owned entities and institutions have been appointed as BEP implementing agents, in particular the Water Boards providing bulk water services in the various provinces and institutions like the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency, National Urban Reconstruction and Housing Agency and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Their involvement constitutes the public/private partnerships required to address the prevailing complex sanitation issues. These entities, which report to the Department of Human Settlements, have in an integrated manner implemented the intensive and extensive BEP and have provided effective project management.
The integrated nature of BEP also ensures that local municipalities are involved in the programme at every step of the way thus avoiding a top-down approach. This model of delivery has the added benefit of ensuring that the system is owned at a local government level. This augurs well for future maintenance and operations of the infrastructure being installed.
Contractors on the ground are also being closely monitored for timeous and quality delivery by the BEP implementing agents and in certain instances are being penalised financially for failure. The latter monitoring and evaluation role at ground level that is being played by the implementing agents proactively harmonises with the SAHRC’s recommendations regarding contractors and the need for monitoring their performance.
Throughout phase one of the BEP implementation we have learnt lessons from the past and have heeded the calls from communities to engage with beneficiaries before starting these programmes.
Community engagement has ensured participation in the pre-design stage and also in the pre-sanitation technology choice stage. It is through community participation processes that a one-size-fit-all approach has been avoided and we have now been able to identify families with special needs when it comes to sanitation. So for example in Makana District Municipality, Eastern Cape, we have been able to install toilets which were modified to accommodate disabled residents as a result of comprehensive engagement.
In addition, beneficiaries were consulted on the positioning of the waterborne toilet structures to be erected. All-embracing community engagement is an example of participatory democracy in action. We are further unwavering in improving on our community engagement and participation processes as directed by the SAHRC in its report.
We’ve committed ourselves to giving further effect to its recommendations. We will stand by this pledge.
In the priority provinces significant progress has been made in removing the apartheid scourge of the bucket system. Significantly, in the process we have also been party to job-creation and the empowerment of local contractors, including woman-owned and operated contracting firms.
The BEP in the Western Cape has also progressed. Improved delivery capacity has been added through the appointment of additional implementing agents.
The positive results will soon be seen and felt by the people whose dignity has been assaulted by the bucket toilet system.
A major challenge in the quest to eradicate buckets is the accessibility and presence of water and the accompanying water infrastructure. This is a challenge which, with partners like the Department of Water Affairs, the CSIR, and with the patience and fortitude of our communities with whom we have had ongoing engagement, we are confident of finding workable solutions.
In areas where capacity of water and water supply infrastructure and wastewater treatment capacity are lacking, or where bulk infrastructure is still being developed, or wastewater treatment plants are still in the process of being built, interim, alternative solutions are being implemented and explored.
Improved sanitation, represented by the BEP has reduced child diarrhoea and has contributed to improving overall child health. For women and girls the improved sanitation offers greater dignity, privacy and personal safety.
The bucket eradication programme has brought with it improved health benefits, improved, cleaner and safer environments and the restoration of human dignity to long-suffering communities and this progress is cause for celebration in Human Rights Month.
* Connie September is the Minister of Human Settlements.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.