Instead of celebrating 17 years of freedom on Wednesday, about 2 000 Khayelitsha residents marched through the city centre demanding toilets and decent sanitation.
In recent months, the local government has come under attack in what has been dubbed the “toilet saga”, as thousands of Khayelitsha residents do not have proper toilet and sanitation services.
Residents say up to 15 families have to queue to use one toilet, which also exposes them to hygiene problems and crime.
On Wednesday, the Social Justice Coalition, based in Khayelitsha, held a protest march after a number of speakers addressed them at St George’s Cathedral.
“We call on the city to recognise as a matter of urgency the need for public maintenance and existence of sanitation services in Khayelitsha. The city must initiate a public consultation plan and implementation of the plan and a budget to ensure that every informal settlement in Khayelitsha has access to basic sanitation services,” Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said.
Marchers packed the church on Wednesday, many wearing T-shirts which said: “1994 queuing to vote, 2011 queuing for clean and safe sanitation”.
Vuyiseka Dubula, from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), told the crowd: “It is the day we celebrate 17 years of liberation and we are discussing a basic right – sanitation – it is not a privilege. It is tragic so many years after our liberation that 10.5 million people across the country do not have access to water and basic sanitation – that goes against humanity. We want to remind the government that our constitution allows us the right to life, dignity and safety,” Dubula said.
TAC chairman Zackie Achmat started his speech by asking the crowd to stand and observe a moment of silence for Andries Tatane, who was killed by police during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg two weeks ago.
Achmat said: “We must celebrate this day, but we must also be angry but not violent. If we look at our mothers and fathers, we see the hope has gone out of their eyes. We cannot suffer the way they have, our anger must be translated to a peaceful call for change.”
Khayelitsha resident Mabel Somdle said: “Seventeen years after we voted for our rights, I am still queuing for basic services. This makes me feel like I no longer want to vote because not much has changed. We have waited long to use the toilet and we have to walk far. It is dangerous at night, there are reports of woman getting raped at those toilets.”
Residents marched to the civic centre to hand over a memorandum for mayor Dan Plato’s attention.
They held up posters asking for their dignity to be restored through adequate water and sanitation services. One protester held a bucket with “dignity in our lifetime” written on it. Dubula said it was “sad that people were still forced to use the bush or the bucket”.
When protesters arrived at the city council offices, they held a demonstration by forming a snake-like “queue for toilets”.
The memorandum was signed by more than 10 000 people calling on the city to improve the state of existing sanitation services and to put a time-frame in place to provide each household with basic sanitation and water.