Challenges with communal toilets in Nkanini

Communal toilets in Nkanini informal settlement. A car crash wrecked the two on the left. Picture by Mzi Velapi.

On average 6 families use one toilet in Nkanini.

Khayelitsha, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Thulani Mbaba and his wife Iminathi have been staying in Nkanini informal settlement in Khayelitsha since 2007. Like most informal settlements in South Africa, the area is overcrowded. For years, the area has depended on illegal connections to get power, with many homes connecting to the railway lines to get electricity.

The area started in 2002 when the Chris Hani railway station servicing the area was completed. Landless people from all over Cape Town came to settle in the area. Law enforcement often clashed with the new settlers, but could not prevent the inevitable.

The people were determined in their struggle and today, Nkanini consists of more than ten informal settlements on this low lying area. Nkanini has two types of toilets, communal flush toilets and portable toilets. Just a few metres from Thulani’s door there are 7 communal flush toilets. Two of the toilets have been razed to the ground. “A car that was speeding veered off the road and knocked down two toilets and it has been more than a week now with no word from the councilor as to when they are going to be fixed,” said Thulani.

Because the toilets are communal, everyone even a total stranger has got the right to use the toilets. To have some control of who uses the toilet some people in the community use padlocks to lockup the toilets and they then share the keys with their neigbours.

Thulani feels that this is wrong because “the toilets are for everyone to use and the fact that they are on the pavement means that they belong to the whole community.”

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However, Thulani says that some people leave the toilet dirty especially on weekends. Thulani and his wife Iminathi have a 7-month old baby. Iminathi says that the fact that the toilets are communal poses a danger to women in terms of security and their health. “A person can come in at any me when you are vulnerable and either mug you or rape you, and also as women it is easy to get an infection from a dirty toilet.” The toilets get blocked because people use newspaper as they cannot afford expensive toilet paper.

On the other side of the road, opposite the Mbabas, Phumlani Dyonase lives in a two-roomed shack with his wife, sister and daughter. Phumlani is unemployed. There is a Somali Owned shop behind Dyonase’s shack and about 10 metres from his door, there are flush communal toilets. Phumlani says that an average of 6 families use one toilet in Nkanini. He told Elitsha that one of the toilets is blocked and has been like that for more than 10 days.

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