bucket toilet imageThe Social Justice Coalition (SJC) has announced its intention to launch a court case against the City of Cape Town over its failure to fulfil the right of access to sanitation to poor, black and marginalised residents of informal settlements.

According to the SJC, there has been a continued denial of access to adequate sanitation to residents of informal settlements. The group believes that this amounts to unfair discrimination and is in violation of the Constitution and the rights to safety, health, dignity and privacy. It is also in violation of the Equality Act, specifically on the grounds of race, socio-economic status, and geographic location.

The SJC has argued that hundreds of thousands of people in Cape Town’s informal settlements suffer daily from a lack of access to clean, safe, hygienic and dignified sanitation facilities.

Several weeks ago approximately 100 members of the SJC marched to the office of the mayor to deliver a petition calling for better sanitation. The petition, signed by more than 5000 Khayelitsha residents, called for the mayor to commit to implementing long-term sanitation infrastructure in informal settlements, with the required increase to capital allocations for informal settlements in the 2016/17 budget.

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille hit back in her budget speech, denying that the City of Cape Town is not spending enough on sanitation.

She stated that, in a world of limited resources, everything has to be planned for and shared among more than 200 informal settlements, and that the city has made many investments where we can to give people dignity.

“When we are not able to provide full-flush toilets, it is for the following reasons: full-flush toilets cannot be legally installed on privately-owned property, in areas of extremely high density, under power lines, on landfill sites, in a road or railway buffer, within servitudes, outside the urban edge, in water retention ponds and floodplains,” she said.

“Up to 82% of informal settlements are either fully or partially affected by one or more of the above-mentioned constraints.”

Despite these constraints, the city’s proposed water and sanitation budget for 2016/17 direct spend in informal settlements is in fact an increase compared with last year: R559.7 million this year versus R503.7 million last year.

Despite this announcement by the mayor, the SJC is continuing ahead with its plans for a court battle. The group made the following statement:

“Our decision to approach the courts has not been taken lightly. It comes after numerous engagements and attempts to work with the City that have been met with outright denialism, deflection and attacks towards the SJC and its members.

“Over the past five years we have been asking the City for a plan for sanitation in informal settlements – a plan that sets out how the City will ensure that the residents of informal settlements across the City have access to adequate and dignified sanitation.

“The desperation and frustration of our members and the community at large at being forced to use dehumanising, degrading and unequal toilet facilities, and in many instances, no facilities at all, cannot be underestimated.”

The social justice group has called on the City to provide the following in order to meet its legal obligations of sanitation provision:

  1. A reasonable policy for the provision of sanitation services, which must include the provision of permanent sanitation services to the residents of long-term informal settlements where this is reasonably practicable
  2. A reasonable plan or programme for the provision of services
  3. A reasonable budget for the provision of such services
  4. The reasonable implementation of the plan.