By Jackie Mapiloko

During school holidays my parents would ship me to a relative’s house in Evaton, a tiny settlement in the Vaal Triangle. My ageing relative was landlord to about 20 families who lived in shacks in a yard, which she had inherited from her mother. As the landlord, or ”ma-stand” as she was fondly known in her small community, she lived in a mud house in the middle of the yard.

So visiting them made me feel like true royalty — the girl from Soweto who lives in the mud house with a colour TV.

Well, my excitement was always short-lived because of the toilet situation. Every single person in the yard, including the royal family from the mud house, used one toilet.

The pit toilet was made from corrugated iron sheets and erected 30 feet from the mud house. Not a good location on any day, especially in summer.

On a blazing hot day, the iron sheets would get so hot that it became impossible to sit on them. At night, the horrors of a snake or rat crawling up the pit left one squatting behind a bush instead of risking your life in the toilet. The last time I visited my relative, a two-year-old kid had fallen in the pit. By the time she was discovered … well, I’m sure you can imagine the state she was in when the paramedics pulled her out.

I’m reminded of my visits to Evaton every time I read about the never-ending war between the ANC and the Western Cape government over the “no wall” toilets in Khayelitsha. In its defence, the DA said the community had agreed to the idea and that they would build their own walls.

But the ANC is having none of that, it accused the Helen Zille-led party of using old apartheid tactics against the people of Khayelitsha. Well, fair enough.

But the ANC’s constant rantings don’t sit well with me, considering that my now very very old relative back in Evaton still has the very same pit toilet she used the last time I went there. The only difference now is its rusty colour.

She and her tenants will never have the opportunity to relieve themselves in a dignified place after casting votes for a party which promised them a better life.

Instead of cleaning their own backyard first, the ANC is so quick to point fingers and cry foul over what happened in Khayelitsha. Their valid points against the DA make them look like hypocrites in the eyes of many South Africans who will leave this earth without ever flushing a toilet in their own homes.

When I think about the people of Khayelitsha and many other communities with the same problem, I feel so bad for complaining about my own toilet situation, which I still find very uncomfortable and embarrassing.

Even though we have running water and walls, I still feel that the privacy element of the whole process is non-existent. You see, 70% of the people living in Soweto still use outside toilets that are separated by a thin wall from their neighbour’s one.

There’s nothing more irritating than a neighbour disturbing a perfectly flowing rhythm by asking “how was work today?”.

If you choose not to answer, you are stuck on the other side quietly listening to the horrible sound effects until they’re done. And if you are brave enough to answer, the discussion goes from politics to what you ate last night that left you so constipated. No wonder our society has so many psychological problems.

One can never understand the shame and disgust of walking into a smelly and germ-infested toilet until you do. It’s even more depressing when you don’t have a choice or when your next option is even worse than the first.

That’s the hard choices that the people of Khayelitsha have to deal with every day. For them a toilet seat with no wall is better than what they used to have. Though the politicians continue to throw stones at each other from their glass houses, the people of Khayelitsha will put an iron sheet around their toilet seats and carry on with their lives.

They have no other choice, no matter how degrading and inhumane their situation is. But as I said, I will not complain anymore. I will say hello to my neighbour and chat about Julius Malema and Bafana Bafana while we try to ignore the embarrassing sounds from each side of the wall.

At least in the end, we get to flush!


  • amaBhungane are the investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit, public interest initiative to produce better investigative stories and plough back through internships and advocacy. On this blog, amaBhungane -- seasoned and award-winning journalists -- will penetrate the world of smoke and mirrors to bring you the story behind the story.



amaBhungane are the investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit, public interest initiative to produce better investigative stories and plough back through internships...

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