Inside one of the bucket system toilets. Photo: Boxer Ngwenya

KwaZulu-Natal - The eThekwini Municipality faces a fresh scandal – the Sunday Tribune has uncovered that the city has spent more than R500 million on a new “humiliating” apartheid-era bucket toilet system.

The new toilets have infuriated residents of Inanda, where over 100 have been built. They see them as inhumane, among other things.

The new toilets force residents to use buckets to physically empty their shallow toilet vaults.

But the city’s head of water and sanitation Neil Macleod says while the council has a constitutional obligation to provide basic sanitation, no one is forced to use the toilets.

Recipients of the so-called urine diversion toilets – 80 000 of which have already been built in rural parts of eThekwini – are given buckets, cups, spades, rakes and rubber gloves and pamphlets teaching them how to use the toilets and how to remove remnants of human waste material.

Each time they use the toilets they have to use a cup to pour soil over the excrement.

“When the toilets are full, we are expected to put the waste into the bucket and go and dispose of it just like in the old apartheid days. It is humiliating. It is unbelievable, actually,” said Muzi Sithole, a resident of Mzinyathi in Inanda, north of Durban, whose toilet was completed this week.

“We already have running water. The government must just build toilets that we can flush. But clearly this is how they bluff us. It is not acceptable.”

Sithole, who moved into the area two years ago and had already built his own toilet with a septic tank, said he had tried to complain to one of the installers about the toilet system.

“He tried to tell me these are free toilets and we shouldn’t be complaining. I told him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. There’s no such thing as free, this is taxpayers’ money. It’s our money. Other people get flush toilets but not us. What I’d like to know is what makes them think they can do this to us. We’re really unhappy.”

Fidelis Hlongwa, 75, said the toilets reminded him of the bad old days of apartheid.

“This whole thing doesn’t sound right. It is hard to believe that in this day, when we have a black government, we are expected to handle human waste ourselves. It was understandable when it happened during apartheid, but to have this today?”

Dudu Gcabashe, a field researcher for NGO Umphile Wamanzi, said random interviews had been done with residents in Inanda, Kwa Nyuswa and Hammarsdale, where the toilets were being installed.

While some said they were happy to have them, others simply didn’t use them, preferring to use the self-built pit toilets they already had.

“In my opinion, the municipality is taking us backwards.

“When we ask people whether they can empty the toilets themselves, many say they can’t.

“They’re unwilling to do it, especially the men.

“The problem seems to be with our officials. They have a tendency to take decisions without consulting people. As a result, some people are converting these toilets and installing septic tanks.”

According to the 2011 census, about 9.9 percent of households in KwaZulu-Natal had no toilets, while a further 1.7 percent still used the dreaded apartheid-era bucket toilet system. Up to a million people have no proper sanitation in the province of 10.2 million people.

The census also revealed that 88.3 percent of households in KwaZulu-Natal have access to flush toilets.

Human Settlements deputy minister Zoliswa Kota-Fredericks this week told the world toilet summit that an estimated 1.4 million of 14 million households were without proper sanitation. The government would need to invest about R44.5 billion to fix the problem.

Macleod said the city had already spent R533.7 million on building the urine-diversion toilets and up to 12 000 more such toilets would be built in the next year.

These toilets were a recognised eco-friendly solution, whose technology originates in Europe, Macleod said.

“Our constitution requires that we provide basic sanitation as a right. Any higher level of sanitation is for the cost of the household.”

An on-site flushing toilet with a septic tank required a plot size of 800 square metres to safely dispose of the waste water. Its installation could cost the home owner about R20 000, Macleod said.

“Sanitation is provided in rural areas using UD toilets as an alternative to ventilated improved pit (VIP) type toilets provided by most other municipalities. VIP toilets smell and are expensive and difficult to empty – it costs over R1 200 to empty a VIP toilet. Piped sanitation is not an option as it would be extremely expensive in these areas,” he said.

A UD toilet can be built for less than R8 000 whereas piped sanitation in a rural area would cost over R100 000 per house to install excluding the cost of the toilet itself, he said.

When told some residents were unhappy with the toilets, Macleod said. “Our research does not agree with your findings. The acceptance rate is above 80%, according to independent research. The alternatives of open defecation or using a pit toilet that also has to be emptied are not favoured by most households.”

Macleod said if UD toilets were used correctly the material removed after two years would be dry and odour-free.

He was aware of contractors who can empty the toilets for less than R100.

Research was in progress to find out if the dry waste could be turned into fertiliser. If so, the city would advertise a contract to recover and process it.

Sunday Tribune