by Lerato Dumse
Women in South Africa face many challenges; however, being a woman in some parts of Makhaza, Khayelitsha must be a nightmare.
The issue was first brought to my attention in 2010, when residents marched against Khayelitsha open toilets erected by the Cape Town government. Attempting to remedy the situation, government then used corrugated iron to create some form of privacy but this failed to impress residents. People in this area have to walk long distances to access flushing toilets and this is unsettling in light of alleged incidents of women being raped while going to the toilet. Another government solution was providing the community with mobile toilets, which is perceived to be an insult.
The recent news headlines on human waste being used, in an attempt to highlight the plight of residents, coincided with my period and that got me thinking a lot. I have never met anybody who looks forward to having their periods, except those suspecting an unwanted pregnancy. So I can’t imagine what this time of the month, which demands privacy must be like for women in Khayelitsha.
Women are forced to take care of their intimate needs in full view of the public. It’s mind boggling to think that a woman has to ‘go’ in public but worse when they are menstruating. What about those that prefer tampons? Do they even have a choice or are they even at liberty to make that choice?
During a discussion on open toilets in Makhaza section, which was a burning issue in 2010, a friend, pointed out that although some rooms in the house might not have doors, the toilet is the one room that always has a door. An article by photographer David Harrison, who has been documenting the toilet issue in Khayelitsha, was published in the Mail & Guardian this April. In the article, he recounts how he finds himself in the middle of an open latrine surrounded by faeces in varying states of decomposition.
“An overwhelming smell assaults my senses; I struggle to fight my gag reflex. Site C residents emerge carrying buckets, containing ‘dirty water’ accumulated in their shacks the night before, which they throw out on to the ground. I have seen how far away many toilets are.” These are the unfortunate experiences of an observer, who like the rest of us is fortunate enough to be able to go home to a flushing toilet. The only time most of us are forced to use mobile toilets is when attending events.
Even then, we try to avoid them, only go in when it’s absolutely necessary. And by the end of the day they are usually in an unhygienic condition. I can’t imagine their condition after a week in Khayelitsha.
Most people were shocked to see and hear how community members were throwing raw sewerage at Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille‘s convoy. How the provincial legislature and other governmental buildings and events were targeted by the sewerage wielding residents. We saw on TV women take turns “demonstrating” how they have to sit on the portable loo in view of all. I am in no way condoning their actions and have no aspirations of joining, based on the “two wrongs don’t make a right” philosophy.
But the truth of the matter is, handling buckets containing human waste with their bare hands is something they experience daily. The only difference is that they are not dumping on the ground. Sitting on the portable toilet on the city’s steps and being exposed during the day was probably not hard to do, as sitting at the city’s steps is much safer than their reality.
All Africa posted an article by Marry-Anne Gontsana on the 5th June 2013.
She gives statistics of a research conducted by the city of Cape Town. It rates Khayelitsha as having the fourth highest number of reported rape cases in Cape Town. “The latest police crime statistics reveal that Khayelitsha remains one of the highest contributing areas to violence against women and children.”
It also comes as no surprise to me that Khayelitsha reportedly has the highest number of diarrhea-related infant deaths of all districts in Cape Town. Water tested from the area show high levels of raw sewerage and of E.coli bacteria, responsible for diarrhea.
How many mothers have to bury their young, I wonder.
Faeces thrown at Helen Zille’s bus
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