The government promised to eradicate the bucket system by 2007 but five years after that deadline, Silvertown (SST) in Khayelitsha still waits – though no longer patiently. Its story shows why community struggles are still a main route to delivery.
Silvertown came into being in the late 1980s as a temporary expansion plan by the former Lingelethu West Council. But despite South Africa’s claims of meeting Millennium Development Goals in water and sanitation targets, residents still wait for the two-decade-old plans to move beyond the drawing board.
Like hundreds of other service delivery battles fought across South Africa, the SST ‘bucket struggle’ is not always straightforward. Claims are that the tender award process to provide bucket services was less than democratic: the tender was awarded to Nothemba Ncoliwe, a member of the SA National Civics Organisation (SANCO) and the ANC, with close ties to ANC councillor Amos Nkomeni of Ward 93. Given community resentment, Ncoliwe has employed outside staff, even though the unemployment rate in SST is 39 percent overall and higher among the youth. Councillor Nkomeni denied that the community had problems with the bucket system, claiming only certain individuals had problems with it, who contested him last year during local government elections and had now joined the DA, UDM and COPE.
This year, the Progressive Youth Movement (PYM) and the Democratic Left Front (DLF) – the movements of the toilers, the working class and the poor – started organising the entire community in protest. They launched a campaign demanding houses and jobs, and pledged a ‘ruthless struggle’ against this filthiness and embarrassment of the bucket system.
The PYM and the DLF demands are underpinned by the City’s neglect: it failed to spend R4bn in the last year, which could have been used to build houses, toilets and other services. Plans to develop the area have lagged for over 20 years, while the Cape Town stadium and other mega projects were pulled off in record time.
As community member Theodora Luthuli said, ‘There is something wrong in South Africa – the poor are neglected on behalf of profits. It is our tax money but in return it is not helping us – instead, profiteers are benefiting.’
In April PYM marched in protest against the bucket system, handing over a memorandum of demands to the mayor’s office. The City then called PYM and the community to a meeting but it was regarded as undemocratic, because there was no opportunity to engage and City officials merely lectured on their plans.
PYM then launched a series of actions, including public burnings of the buckets.
A PYM member Noxolo Ngqiko was attacked and assaulted on night by employees of the bucket service provider. Though this was witnessed by police officers, including a Col. Nyalambisa of the Harare police station, nothing was done to stop it. A case of assault has been opened, resulting in the arrest of friends of councillor Amos Nkomeni. In retaliation a case was opened against Noxolo Ngqiko, accusing her of damage to property. She was also taken into custody for allegedly throwing stones at the bucket-collection truck. Another PYM member was also arrested. Both were only released after legal intervention by the DLF.
After further demands, City officials agreed to build one flush toilet for every five houses but only in areas of SST that are on public land. Those on private land would have to be relocated.
PYM and the DLF don’t endorse communal toilets and demand that the City buys back the land it sold. If not they will take to the streets again to intensify their struggle against the City and against ‘ruthless profiteers who stand in the way of decent services for all’.
A small victory has been achieved in this struggle, however, as the City is surveying the land for the installation of toilets. This is one step in our struggle to overcome a national crisis.
Zama Timbela is a member of the DLF and PYM.