By Sowmya Kidambi
When it comes to human needs, safe, clean, and functioning toilets are one of the most basic services that any government can provide. In South Africa, unlike in many other countries, the right of access to toilets, water, and other sanitation services is enshrined in the constitution. It is in this context that the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and Ndifuna Ukwazi (NU) have been trying to engage the government of the City of Cape Town on sanitation using the well-known social audit methodology. The City’s dismissive response may however, force them to move from these cooperative tactics to more confrontational means.
“Our toilets are dirty”
The SJC and the NU, two community organizations from Cape Town, have just released a report with the support of the International Budget Partnership on the deplorable state of communal toilets provided by the City of Cape Town in “informal” settlements. The report, “Our Toilets Are Dirty,” is based on the results of a July 2014 social audit of the janitorial program established by the City to clean and maintain the communal toilets, for which it spends ZAR60 million (US$5.3 million) annually.
The social audit—an on-the-ground assessment of the janitorial program – was conducted by some of the poorest and least powerful people in the city, the residents of Khayelitsha. I have been a part of their preparations for this and previous social audits and witnessed first-hand the situation of the people living in these informal settlements.
The report reveals poor planning and management, which has resulted in the failure to ensure basic sanitation services for those living in Khayelitsha. The following points are a sample of the social audit’s findings:
- – one in four toilets do not flush;
- – approximately one in every two toilets is “dirty” or “very dirty” both inside and out;
- – one-third of residents report that janitors clean the toilets only once a week, not each day as the city says; and
- – Janitors are not properly trained or outfitted with safety equipment and clothing, and only one in eight are inoculated against disease.
Social audits: An opportunity to engage constructively
Social audits seek to engage citizens and communities directly in monitoring the delivery of public services and holding government to account for poor performance, mismanagement or, in some cases, outright corruption. Pioneered by the Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) peasants and workers movement in India, social audit is a powerful tool to substantively engage the users of a public service in how that service is delivered, and thus draw on their direct experience and knowledge of what the community needs. The process has been found to be so powerful that in India the Government has made it the official monitoring and evaluation mechanism for multiple service delivery and development schemes.
This of course is possible only IF governments seize the opportunity provided by such processes to further engage and use the information generated to make improvements in how it delivers services.
The June social audit is the latest effort in nearly five years of work by the SJC and its partners to get the City of Cape Town to meet its obligation to provide adequate sanitation services to the residents of Khayelitsha. Some of these efforts bore fruit, as in early 2012, when the city rolled out the janitorial program for maintaining communal flush toilets. Sometimes they didn’t, as when the City failed to develop an implementation plan (with input from civil society and residents) for the program.
When reading the SJC report, it is quite clear that the reaction of the City is out of proportion. Instead of using it to improve areas of service delivery that are currently tardy and strengthen processes of participatory democracy, it opted for a largely political reaction.
Currently, there is a golden opportunity for the City of Cape Town to engage in an open minded and more meaningful way with those who desperately need these services and would like them to be delivered. With an open effort to work with the community to fix what is broken, the City can better meet its obligations, hold contractors and city departments accountable and go a long way in pulling into the centers of power those who have so long been locked out. Doing so would be a confidence building measure showing that the City is there to deliver for those vulnerable people, who need it the most. Such a dynamic engagement between government and the people it serves can reap benefits in terms of development far beyond the toilets in Khayelitsha.
What’s next when governments refuse to cooperate?
Social audits rely on the cooperation of governments. They should provide the necessary information, respect citizen organization efforts and engage where necessary. When they are not forthcoming, what is left for residents and citizens organizations is to pursue other tactics to get the process of citizen engagement started. In response to the City of Cape Town’s refusal to engage and its resultant deadlock, the SJC is therefore, seriously considering litigation and other more confrontational tactics. Such litigation would be supported by the findings of a recent South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report that the City’s long-term use of temporary sanitation facilities and lack of a plan for sanitation delivery violated the rights of residents of Cape Town’s poor and working class communities. The SAHRC thus instructed the City to develop a comprehensive plan for sanitation within 6 months.
Director, Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency (SSAAT), Department of Rural Development, Government of Telangana & Andhra Pradesh, India
Sowmya is currently the Director of SSAAT (Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency), Department of Rural Development, Government of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (India) set up to facilitate the social audit of Government Schemes. She began working with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) based in Rajasthan, India since 1998. MKSS played an important role in the formulation and passage of the right to information and the employment guarantee laws in India. She subsequently worked with the erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh from 2006 onwards to institutionalize the social audit process as part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work (Urban and Rural Community Development) from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, India and a Diploma in Human Rights from Columbia University, New York.