It's Not Just about Toilets, It's about a Complex Urban Puzzle

Cape Times (South Africa), May 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

It's Not Just about Toilets, It's about a Complex Urban Puzzle


BYLINE: Diana Sanchez Betancourt

The controversy around the toilets situation in Khayelitsha, specifically the recently released social audit performed by the Social Justice Coalition puts in the spotlight important urban governance challenges in Cape Town.

First, it highlights some of the possibilities and challenges of citizen oversight mechanisms (like social audits) and secondly, the need to see beyond the issue of sanitation to look at the broader challenge of informal settlements upgrading in the country.

The UN estimates that at present 61 percent of South Africans live in urban areas, and that this will grow to 71.3 percent by 2030 and nearly 80 percent by 2050. Recognising the rapid and complex urbanisation of South Africa the Cities Support Programme was designed as a mechanism to respond to the implementation support needs of four critical areas: governance and planning, public transport, climate resilience and human settlements management. According to the support programme managed by the National Treasury, urban densification and apartheid spatial patterns are not currently being addressed in South African cities, with spatial planning often reproducing the status quo.

Indeed, far from being an isolated implementation problem, the toilet situation in Khayelitsha is part of a complex urbanisation puzzle. What is really at the centre here is not the issue of toilets, but the challenges around informal settlement upgrading, mainly the lack of leadership and clarity on how to go about it.

As the support programme framework document (2012) warns: "Change is needed now, if we are to systemically and sustainably attack urban poverty, create jobs and support growth. We need to establish a common vision for our cities."

In a highly fragmented social urban space like Cape Town, where language, history, culture and race are major obstacles to meaningful engagements between communities and public officials, social audits should not only be welcomed but treasured since if properly used they could become even more useful mechanisms.

Social audits, as explained by members of highly recognised organisations in a previous article ("City would be ill-advised to flush away the results of the Khayelitsha social audit," Cape Times, May 10) serve as important tools to improve urban governance. They offer a powerful mechanism to identify loopholes in service delivery processes and to get insights into community needs and dynamics. …

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