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Cape Town’s botched toilet contract

The City of Cape Town is being shortchanged on a R140-million contract to supply and maintain chemical toilets in Khayelitsha, a social audit revealed at the weekend. Photo: Courtney Africa

The City of Cape Town is being shortchanged on a R140-million contract to supply and maintain chemical toilets in Khayelitsha, a social audit revealed at the weekend. Photo: Courtney Africa

Published Apr 29, 2013


Cape Town - The City of Cape Town is being shortchanged on a R140 million contract to supply and maintain chemical toilets in Khayelitsha, a social audit revealed at the weekend.

The audit, conducted by members of the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) with assistance from the International Budget Partnership in Washington and the Society for Social Audit in India, looked into the supply and maintenance of toilets by Mshengu Services in four sections in Khayelitsha: Greenpoint, CT Section, Taiwan and Emsidweni. Angry residents presented their findings at a meeting with city and provincial authorities and representatives of Mshengu in Khayelitsha at the weekend.

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The audit revealed:

* Of the 346 toilets supplied to these areas, 256 were found.

* 170 of them were damaged.

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* 138 were in an “unuseable” condition, said residents.

* None of the toilets had been fixed to the ground as the contract required.

* Neither the toilets nor the areas around them were being cleaned as required.

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* Instead of five families a toilet (the city’s norm), on average 17 families used each toilet.

The contract, for 5 014 chemical toilets in informal settlements across the city, was awarded to Mshengu in June 2010 and ends this June. So far R125m has been spent but the SJC and residents say conditions are being flouted.

Representatives of the city and Mshengu came under fire as residents rose one after the other to complain about toilets in a dismal state, missing or locked facilities, and the failure of the company to meet its obligations. They said the contract stipulated that the toilets be cleaned three times a week but the company came only once or twice and only removed waste, without cleaning the toilets or around them, as required. They said Mshengu had undertaken to employ residents to clean the toilets but had not done so.

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Children played in the rubbish around toilets, they said.

People whose houses were close to the toilets complained of the smell and flies.

Zukiswa Qezo from RR Section said: “The toilets are unstable. Many of them are situated on hills so it’s easy for them to fall over.

“If there is a problem the community doesn’t know who to go to because there is supposed to be a community liaison officer but no one knows who those people are.”

Nokhawulezile Mahlaba said: “On hot days the smell in those toilets is so unbearable you can’t even go in to use them. Women get infections and children get rashes, so we rather go in the bush or use buckets.”

Zikhona Manzi said there should be 86 toilets in her area, Greenpoint, but there were only 23, of which six were useable. Others were locked by families.

“The contractor should clean inside the toilet and also 2m around it, but this is not happening. Women are getting infections all the time. And people with disabilities or wheelchairs can’t access these toilets.”

“We need our people to be employed to clean the toilets because the people who are supposed to be doing it just lie around and sleep, then go home, and we see that happening a lot,” Nomzi Mpukwana said.

Gisela Kaiser, executive director for utility services for the city, told the meeting Cape Town was faced with a growing demand for sanitation.

“With more people moving into the city, our daunting task will continue. We have set a target for five families per toilet, and it is quite worrying to hear that 26 families use one toilet.

“Informal settlements are crammed and we have to dig trenches to install proper services. As the city we need to find a way to de-densify settlements so we can put in services.”

She said the city had 35 000 toilets to look after and admitted that sometimes things “do fall through the cracks”.

Kaiser said the information from the social audit was news to her and the city would investigate. She said authorities would check whether the contractor was cleaning the area around the toilets but urged parents to take responsibility for their children, prompting an angry response from the Treatment Action Campaign’s Amelia Mfiki.

“We have no gardens. Our children play in front of the shacks,” she said to applause from residents.

Asked why the city was apparently not monitoring the contractors, Kaiser said: “We can’t check everything. I don’t have time to go through every contract.

“We are not perfect but that doesn’t mean we don’t care.”

Zackie Achmat, director of Ndifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know), said his organisation had been asking the city for information on the sanitation issue for months and though the city had supplied the contract awarded to Mshengu, the city authorities had so far not made invoices and receipts available.

The organisations have launched a Promotion of Access to Information (Paia) application to obtain the invoices from the city.

Sydney Esau, operations director of Mshengu Services, said he could not answer residents’ questions.

But, he said, Mshengu did employ local people.

Mshengu picked up, repaired and replaced toilets “at great cost to the company” when toilets were damaged or locks stolen, Esau said.

Asked, “Do you have these toilets in your areas?” he replied, “Yes, we do,” to shouts of disbelief from residents.

Zak Mbhele, spokesman for Premier Helen Zille, said he commended the social audit as an “exercise in active citizenship and civic action to reveal detailed information about problems the communities were experiencing”.

“It is clear that there are expectations on the part of residents which are not being met by the sanitation delivery programme.”

He said further dialogue and engagement were needed.

He would write a report on the social audit results and present it to Zille to take up with mayor Patricia de Lille.

[email protected]

Cape Times

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