Safe Toilets Could Prevent Sexual Assault and Sickness, Say South Africa’s Poor

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“Sorry. I was delayed – a woman was raped on her way to the toilet this morning,” said Alakhe Mbuku. Distressed and arriving late, Mbuku, from Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township, had been due to deliver her speech at the sanitation summit on Thursday called by the Social Justice Coalition. But that was all she said.

The SJC had brought together religious leaders, trade unionists, politicians, technical experts, township residents, and Cape Town’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, the person that Mbuku’s speech had been meant for.

The risk of rape and sexual assault – as Mbuku said – comes hand in hand with the sickness that comes from poor sanitation. Campaigners at the summit said more than 10 million South Africans are affected.

Safe, hygienic toilets – sanitation and waste disposal – is a basic human right. The issue has sparked more than 500 protests since 2004 by poor people across South Africa. And this issue is now drawing civil society groups into action in the same way that the controversy over South Africans’ access to HIV drugs did in the 1990s.

“Up to 500,000 people in Cape Town do not have access to basic sanitation. In some cases in Khayelitsha as many as 500 people are expected share one chemical toilet,” said Gavin Silber of the SJC.

He said that while the government, since the end of apartheid in 1994, has halved the number of households without sanitation, 10.5 million South Africans still remain without ready access to toilets.

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