I've been posting a lot lately about travel, and historical buildings, and architecture. Those are a lot of fun for me and a welcome break from routine. After reading the recent publications on social justice over at the Activist Reader, I thought it was time to spend some time revisiting an issue from my last trip to South Africa. Whilst there, I wrote an essay about the Toilet Wars for another publication. I decided to follow up and see what was happening. This is the background to the Wars, and tomorrow, I'll talk about what I learned about it first hand.
There truthfully is not any way to describe the South African townships that really enables one to visualize it if you have not seen it for yourself. Even pictures don't fully allow comprehension of the vastness of the informal "shanties" or "shacks" that are home to those who are living in poverty. Most of these homes have inadequate, or no, hygienic access to water, toilets, or sanitation facilities. These conditions were created under the apartheid government, but the Constitution of South Africa written for the new democracy, describes the right to housing, water, electricity, etc. The African National Congress was elected on those promises. Fully 17 years after the ANC took control of the government, there are still hundreds of thousands of South Africans without access to basic needs.
The ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) were allies in fighting apartheid. In 1994, the ANC in taking power promised to correct the situation of the millions of South Africans without sanitation. The DA, who hold power in Cape Town municipal government, started putting plumbing and toilets next to each shack several years ago. The local residents were expected to put enclosures around the toilet--the concrete sheds you see in the pictures above. For whatever reason, about 7% of those residents in that township either did not, or could not afford to, enclose the toilets. There were "open air" toilets in use in areas near Cape Town, as well as in other parts of South Africa. This most private and personal bodily function of any of us, and people are expected to use a toilet with no concealment for this need.
With the coming of the World Cup in 2010, The DA erected tin enclosures around the remaining open air toilets in the township near the city--no one wanted pictures of that making the international news. The ANC Youth League tore them down, saying they were insufficient and an insult to human dignity. In response, the DA removed the toilets altogether. Thus, began "The Toilet Wars."