Duncan village’s communal toilets pose dangers to health

Communal toilets in C-section in Duncan Village. Picture by Anele Mbi.

The toilets open at 7am and close at 6pm. People who might need to use a toilet beyond this schedule must use their own buckets.

Duncan Village, East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa

C-section or C-block as it is commonly known is one of the oldest informal settlements in Duncan Village. As with other informal settlements, C-section is extremely overcrowded, has bad housing conditions and a lack of basic services. The settlement is made of one- roomed brick council houses that are crammed by shacks all over the place extending onto streets pavements.

In C section access to sanitation and water is of communal nature where a large number of people share a tap and toilet. There are flushing toilets block erected in different areas that are servicing thousands of residents. Although these new toilets have been welcomed by the community, there remain serious challenges relating to access, hygiene and maintenance.

We spoke to Sbongile Ntintili of area 15 who is the head of the household and caring for her three sisters. Sbongile and her sisters were born there and chose to stay because the area is close to employment places and they also do not have to pay for the paltry services they receive. After many years of unemployment Sbongile has just received a two-month contract job from the Buffalo City Municipality to investigate leaking taps and toilets in ward 9. Parts of C Section forms part of Ward 9. Like other women around her, Sbongile’s sole income for many years has been the child support grant.

In this area the toilets open at 7am and close at 6pm. People who might need to use a toilet facility beyond this schedule do not have options but to use their own buckets or to turn to other areas where toilets might be open at night. The closure of toilets at night is one of the frustrations of the residents in the area because going to other areas could be dangerous.

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Safety of the communal toilets cannot be guaranteed, especially for children because there is no security and municipal workers are not always available at the site. There are only two municipal workers at the toilet site, male and female, and both of them stay outside the area. Sbongile’s sister Siyaxolisa who is doing grade 11 at John Bisseker High in Parkside reported that another toilet in the nearby Area 17 was closed down after a woman was raped there. Since other toilets are not working and closed there is an overuse of the functioning ones. At Area 15 there could be more than five hundred people using only five toilets. This obviously leads to more toilet breakdowns, blockages and overflows in the informal settlement.

At the time of visiting Area 15 two of the five toilets were not working for some months. There are hand-basins outside the toilets but no water for people to wash their hands. The frustrated male worker told us that one time he brought his own tap but that tap been vandalized. “The supervisor of the toilets at Buffalo City Municipality made several promises that they will come to fix the toilet and install new taps but we have not seen them until today”, he said. The municipalities also do not provide cleaning chemicals, soap or toilet paper for the toilets and workers are left on their own with no support. People are forced to use newspaper because they cannot afford toilet paper. The workers were also frustrated that their salaries are far below those of other municipal workers in town even though their work in C Section is much more demanding.

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The appalling conditions of communal toilets together with huge piles of uncollected dirt can give rise to ill health especially amongst children. Despite being a vast area with more than five thousand households, C Section has virtually no healthcare facilities. People are forced to look for health services in the nearby areas of Parkside, Braelyn and Gompo.

The health committee in Ziphunzana Jabavu clinic told us that sicknesses such as TB, HIV&AIDS, Hepatitis, Chickenpox are common in the township. The huge piles of rubbish, dirty toilets, water pollution, violence, poverty and high levels of alcohol and drug abuse are all part the causes of ill-health.

In terms of the Constitution the people of C Section like any other community deserves development, dignity and a better life. C section is facing huge sanitation problems and these are linked to inadequate housing, over-crowdedness, poverty, decaying infrastructure, poor maintenance and dirt.

The people in the area need to start organizing for development from below to ensure that all the promises and socio economic rights in the constitution are realized.

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