Activist group accuses City of failing to monitor toilet contracts

| Fergus Turner
Auditing toilets. Photo by Sowmya Kidambi.

On 27 April the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) held a meeting in Khayelitsha to report the results of an audit of toilets provided by a supplier contracted to the City of Cape Town. On 10 May the SJC released a written report of the audit’s findings.

The audit was carried out from 22 to 26 April. It was conducted by the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) in conjunction with an Indian organisation and with the participation of residents of the affected communities. The City has yet to respond directly to these findings.

A social audit is, according to the SJC report, “a structured way of measuring, understanding, and reporting on funds destined to benefit a community.” A social audit is conducted by community participants and is meant to improve the performance of government.

The City contracts Mshengu Services, a private company, to service, clean, and maintain chemical toilets in and around the townships of Cape Town. The SJC has been monitoring the chemical toilets serviced by Mshengu. The goal of the social audit was to find out to what extent Mshengu is meeting their contractual agreements. The participating residents inspected the physical state of chemical toilets using a checklist. They also gave questionnaires to residents. This data, along with various testimonials from residents provided the evidence for the social audit’s findings.

The key findings of the audit were:

  • Mshengu has received at least R126 million over approximately the past three years to service and maintain temporary chemical toilets. Only 256 toilets were found and inspected in the four areas audited (RR-section, Taiwan, Greenpoint, Emisindwini). According to the Mshengu contract and a letter to the SJC from the Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services, Ernst Sonnenberg, there should be 346 toilets in the four areas. This implies that 90 toilets are missing.

  • Only 68% of toilets inspected during the audit had been serviced in the previous week.

  • 54% of toilets inspected were unusable and 66% were damaged and had not been maintained.

  • Despite the contract requiring that all toilets be safely secured to the ground, none were secured, and residents complained that toilets were easily toppled over by weather or vandalism.

  • The contract provides for community liason officers but the audit could not find evidence of their existence. This makes it hard for residents to communicate problems to Mshengu.

The investigation concluded that Mshengu is failing to meet the obligations of its contract.

The SJC hoped that the findings of the audit and the results of the public hearing would pressure the City to deal more seriously with sanitation in Cape Town townships. The organisation called on the City to take immediate action to service and maintain the toilets and improve communication with residents. It called for the City to give plans and timelines showing how it will review the complaints lodged against Mshengu.

“The City has acknowledged the situation and have admitted to bad monitoring”, says Axolile Notywala, a spokesperson for the SJC. He criticised the City for not yet presenting a plan for dealing with the problems raised in the audit. The City has however released a statement criticising the SJC for making the results of its audit public.

Notywala also said that the SJC had sent their report to Premier Helen Zille’s office. The Premier’s office has confirmed receipt but not responded. The Premier’s office has also yet to respond to questions sent by GroundUp.

The Mayor, Patricia De Lille, together with Premier Zille, briefed the media this past Sunday about plans to eradicate the bucket system. The briefing committed to the provision of 12,000 additional portable flush toilets. But Notywala is unconvinced, “[The Premier and Mayor] did not actually respond to the real problem at hand, which is the failed service provision by private contractors. The Mayor plans to roll out portable toilets but these are maintained and serviced by contractors who are not being monitored and are failing to maintain toilets, so the problem is just not being addressed.”

Councillor Sonnenberg explained to GroundUp that the press briefing was not concerned with the SJC’s audit. “It was about the eradication of the bucket system.” Sonnenberg said that the City would be responding directly to the SJC. He said, “The City however continues to improve all of our systems and is currently investigating a microchip tracking system for the chemical toilets. This is over and above the monitoring systems already in place.” Sonnenberg described these: community workers monitor contractors and delivery notes, there are spot checks as well as regular visits by environmental health practitioners to “all settlements at least once a week” and “monthly meetings with the contractor.”

Mshengu did not respond to requests for comment.

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TOPICS:  Sanitation

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