MTHATHA  -  For residents of Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape, basic sanitation services remain a failing and recurring nightmare, with  raw sewage running  down the streets of the town, no running water for weeks at a time, and patients at the local clinic forced to relieve themselves in an open field, nothing out of the ordinary.

Efforts by the local municipality have borne little fruit and the town, its residents and businesses have come to accept this as their normal and have learned to adapt.

A hawker, who earns a living by selling cooked food in the town, said because there were no proper  toilet facilities in the town, informal traders would relieve themselves in the nearby bushes or use pit  toilets in private properties if they were on good terms with the landlord.

“It is difficult to run a business in our town due to insufficient water supply. When taps are dry we buy  water from private suppliers to continue smoothly with business. However, we are not sure how  clean their water is. We have raised the matter with our local municipality but they just tell us that  water and sanitation is handled by the O.R Tambo District Municipality,” the hawker said.

Government departments operating in town are also affected by the poor sanitation. At the local  Flagstaff Clinic, patients use an overgrown field behind clinic structures as an open air toilet because  the plastic mobile restrooms at the facility are in bad condition and are generally filthy.

Branch manager at U-Save Shoprite, Siya Somfiya, said it saddens him when he is unable to help  customers who ask to use their restrooms. 

“At times water could be unavailable for over three weeks and we are forced to lock our restrooms  and find alternative measures when nature calls. Even the truck drivers who deliver goods at our  stores are always complaining about the situation in our town,” Somfiya said.

The shop manager at Pep Stores said they buy water from commercial water suppliers which they  use for drinking and flushing. 

“We buy from local commercial water suppliers without knowing how safe it is to drink their water  which they fetch from streams. But we have no choice. We use water tanks when the taps are dry,  and rely on rain water we collect in the wet seasons. We make sure that there are buckets filled  with water to flush after using the restrooms,” he said.

O.R Tambo District Municipality Mayor Nomakhosazana Meth said there is a waste water  sewer project underway in Flagstaff to address the challenge of poor sanitation in the area. 

“The Flagstaff Waste Water Sewer Project is aimed at addressing all sanitation challenges in Ingquza  Hill Local Municipality. The public participation and consultation processes for the project started  back in 2001 and the actual implementation of phase 1 of the project began in 2012.

“There were glitches that led to halting the project. The then appointed contractor passed away.  Now we have appointed another contractor to continue with phase 2. The project is worth R60 million and it is our duty as the district municipality to ensure dignified water and sanitation services  are rendered to our communities,” Meth said.

But project challenges remain as local residents are not happy with the site chosen for  phase 2. 

“The community is still reluctant about the project, saying that we should find an alternative site for  it. We are still in engagements with them to address the matter,” said Meth. 

- ANA-Health-e News