The Link Between Functioning Toilets and Justice

In Khayelitsha, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Cape Town, residents play near toilets that are crumbling, clogged, and dirty. This lack of access to proper sanitation is not just a health hazard—it’s a crucial issue for development, safety, access to justice, and human rights.

The South African constitution guarantees the right to equality and dignity, and also an extensive list of socioeconomic rights, the realization of which is frustrated by a lack of access to basic sanitation facilities. Millions of South Africans still lack access to basic sanitation, including at least 500,000 in Cape Town. 

According to a recently released report [PDF] from a community-led social audit, a collaboration of the Social Justice Coalition and Ndifuna Ukwazi (Dare to Know), with technical assistance from the International Budget Partnership (IBP), accessing basic sanitation is still a daily struggle.

The report found that 26 percent of the toilets in Khayelitsha’s informal settlements do not work, with 15 percent of them blocked, 12 percent without water, and 6 percent without a sewage pipe. According to IBP, “In some cases, as many as 10 to 26 families were sharing a single toilet.”

The report’s key findings also showed a lack of proper worker safeguards: janitors do not have proper training, protective gear, or the required cleaning equipment, and only one in eight cleaners is inoculated against disease.

The lack of adequate sanitation services results in ill health and compromises safety. As the report notes, “Some residents are left to use open fields and bushes and become most vulnerable to criminal attacks, especially at night.”

No one should have to fear assault, rape, or murder while going to the toilet, yet this is an everyday reality for many South Africans and the world’s poor.

In our commitment to end poverty and ensure human development, community-led social audits offer one powerful way for the poor to seek access to justice from both the state and private providers of public services.

By attempting to verify public service delivery and facilitating transparency and accountability, the community-led social audit approach has been successful in exposing—and, over time, reducing—corruption and enhancing basic services in India and Ghana, and elsewhere in the global South.

In South Africa, the community used a social audit to investigate how ZAR 60 million (about US$5 million) of public resources was utilized.

The audit included the residents of Khayelitsha and various partners in inspecting 528 toilets and interviewing 193 Khayelitsha residents and 31 janitors. The report convincingly calls for specific and workable government actions to rectify gaps in services that are provided by the private sector via the local municipality.

The power of a community-led social audit shows why access to justice should be an element of the UN’s post-2015 sustainable development goals agenda. Access to justice is the vehicle for the realization of the right to development, providing practical and substantive content for its achievement. The community-led social audit is not just a victory for transparency and good governance, but also shows that marginalized communities can ensure that development is meaningful in their lives. It gives citizens the power to participate in decisions that directly affect them.

Demanding that fundamental rights be realized is not only imperative for development but also a constitutional and legal obligation that falls on the state. In other words, there can be no development without justice and freedom.

It’s time we ensure sustainable development starts with those who are most affected. With justice, we can do just that.

8 Comments

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This is so true. MK Gandhi, in his pursuit of justice and experimentation with truth, used to clean toilets of other people, and particularly those of the lower caste / poor people in India at that time.

Regards,
Sam

Though i believe in Social Auditing it still remains a watch dog approach rather than prevention or pride

....as a non-profit who partners with villages to build and maintain their own Day Care Center and Early Learning Centers keep them functioning at the highest level as it is an expression of what they did. If someone is not doing their job they live in that village but what i have come to see is that in the end it is pride in all things they built that keep service day care center school running. Pamela Parlapiano www.motherstomothers.net

Most African countries have Sanitation problems.
Open defecation is a behaviour among both urban and rural duelers resulting in contagious diseases which basically affect children. It is a high time we all come together to help ensure basic transformation in providing/supporting toilet facilities as a way reducing associated diseases. With this, safety, justice and human rights issues are assured.

This short video demonstrates among other things that communities are most effective when folk work WITH each other rather than TO or FOR others.

let the governmemt help them construct a toilet

ISSUES SURROUNDING THE DISPOSAL OF ANY TYPE OF WASTE INCLUDING THAT OF SEWAGE IS LITTLE OR NONE OF A PRIORITY TO GOVERNMENT,MEANING THEY CAN NEVER MEET THE CHALLENGE AS IT IS DEMANDED.SO WE REQUEST THAT WE IN THE NGO COMMUNITY STIMULATE ENTERPRENEURSHIP IN THAT AREA,LIKE RUNNING AN IDEA PROPOSITION COMPETITION,WITH PRIZE TAGGINGS AND AT LEAST 25% SUPPORT FOR SUCH PROJECTS
CONDUCTED NATIONWIDE FOR ANYONE WITH CREDIBLE IDEA IN THAT AREA

Outstanding that there is an African city that is able to supply millions of informal settlers with toilets, and keep more than 70% of them functioning in that kind of environment. The levels of alcoholism, violence and vandalism in these areas has to be experienced first hand to be believed. How does it all get paid for??

OSF's work on social audits and accountability mechanisms needs to be much better known. We could use that perspective in a donor community bent on "results" but lacking in political understanding of how justice can be achieved. Surprising that the article contains not a word about women and girls, and how the lack of sanitation affects them in particular.

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