The recent open toilet saga had given politicians leeway to play “political football”, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale said on Tuesday.
“It started being a game of which party was responsible and which party was not... that was rather unfortunate,” he told reporters in Pretoria, at the announcement of a sanitation task team to advise the government on open toilets.
“The idea is to sit down and do something about it,” he said.
The open toilets saga embarrassed the ANC on the eve of the municipal elections in May.
The ANC had criticised the Democratic Alliance for failing to enclose toilets in Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats. A court ruling compelled the city of Cape Town to enclose the 1316 toilets.
However, the ruling party itself was later found to be responsible for open toilets in Rammulotsi, near Viljoenskroon in the Free State, and in Tshiame near Harrismith.
Sexwale acknowledged that sanitation was a problem throughout the country.
He wanted to “shut this matter up” once and for all, he said.
“We care about the poor we cannot turn our backs on them.”
The sanitation team, headed by ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, had three months to complete its work.
It consisted of 11 members, who met on Tuesday, and included a medical doctor, representatives of the SA Local Government Association, the water affairs department, the SA Municipal Workers' Union and people living in informal settlements.
The team was tasked with identifying irregularities and malpractice, the scale of the problem, its nature and geographic extent.
It would deal with problems in every province and all municipalities and would report back in January with recommendations on policy, legislation and budgeting.
Human settlement department director general Thabane Zulu said the sanitation task team had been budgeted for, but he could not give figures.
Sexwale praised Madikizela-Mandela as the “president of informal settlements”.
“She is a mother who must cover the wounds,” he said on Tuesday when Madikizela-Mandela was asked about what she brought to the team.
She, in turn, expressed delight at being at the forefront of efforts to accelerate service delivery.
She hoped Sexwale's department would leave a legacy for generations to come.
Speaking on the mushrooming of informal settlements, Sexwale said it was a “game that doesn't end”.
There were 2500 informal settlements in the country, down from 2700 when Sexwale took office.
The province most affected was Gauteng, he said. - Sapa