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Late Bab’Ndlovu brings sanitation plight to life

“When I am here, there is a bucket I use to lift myself to reach the seat. Sometimes when I am alone, I try to get in but I have to come up with a serious plan. This toilet is too small for my wheelchair and this floor is slippery, as you can see,” Bab’Ndlovu murmured as he explained the difficulties he faces.

We all crammed into a white Hyundai i10 - two Planact staff members, two community leaders and a filmmaker. Our destination was Bab’Ndlovu’s shack in Steve Biko, Etwatwa in the City of Ekurhuleni.

We had been in Steve Biko just a few months ago. We meandered through the informal settlement until we finally spotted his shack near the edge of a ridge, a few metres from the Etwatwa and Daveyton railway line. The corrugated iron roof of his neatly designed off-white painted shack was worn and turning brown from rust.

The last time we were here was when we interviewed the head of this home - the late Bab’Ndlovu - during a community-led monitoring process (also known as a social audit) of the chemical toilets that this settlement uses.

The social audit interview was with a volunteer from Thembelihle, another informal settlement near Lenasia. Bab’Ndlovu looked visibly frail as he came out of the shack with his ‘bedhead’ and spots of untrimmed grey hair.

He rolled carefully in his worn out wheelchair with one of his amputated legs protruding from under a blanket. You could not make out his words if you didn’t lean in closely. His daughter stood at the door, observing us while we scribbled down his answers to the questionnaire.

Bab’Ndlovu had settled in this area over 20 years ago after land grabs in 1993, with the promise of the settlement being proclaimed a township when he was still working at the railway station.

Bab’Ndlovu like everyone else in the community, used a portable, green and white chemical toilet that the residents have come to call ‘tupperware’ because of the rubber-like material it’s made from that stinks on hot days.

The provision of these toilets by the City of Ekurhuleni was a temporary sanitation measure. However, a wheelchair unfriendly toilet brought more problems than solutions.

His constitutional right to basic sanitation had indeed been met, however, this was done on a piecemeal basis and his special need for a wheelchair friendly toilet had not been factored in.

Bab’Ndlovu died a few months after our interview with him. He died still hoping for a decent toilet that he could use without help from his daughter.

This time we were here in his memory. We were met by his daughter and wife who represented what was left of his legacy. They both accepted a framed picture of the him from our last visit during the social audit.

His unfulfilled wish for dignified sanitation represents that of ten other informal settlements across Ekurhuleni. This community had taken on a challenge to press on with the social audit and gather facts on the state of their toilets.

Planact, a community development organisation, the International Budget Partnership South Africa and the Social Audit Network collaborated with volunteers from the settlements to conduct the social audits.

[WATCH] Planact captured Bab’Ndlovu’s plight here >

Written by: Chelsea Ndlovu-Nachamba


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Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.