'Every time I need the toilet, I have to crawl to the nearby bushes'

By Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

For at least 19 000 South Africans living with disabilities, daily indignities are just part of their normal life as disabled people remain largely left behind in the country’s quest for sanitation and water.

Since childhood, Shonisani Makhado has depended on crutches to assist him to walk and – like almost seven percent of disabled South Africans – Shonisani has no toilet. When nature calls, he must crawl out into the bush surrounding his home to relive himself.

“It is so painful knowing that every time I need the toilet, I have to crawl to the nearby bushes,” said Shonisani, who lives in the village of Nzhelele outside Makhado in northern Limpopo. “Some people who are not even disabled have got two governments toilets in their homes.”

According to the 2011 census, about 2.8 million South Africans live with some form of disability and the households they head are less likely to have access to any form of toilet or piped water than the general population. About 13 percent of households headed by disabled people did not have access to piped water, according to the census. This figure was about five percentage points higher than that found among general households.

When the South African Human Rights Commission conducted its national hearings into water and sanitation services, the commission came upon a young, wheelchair-bound woman. She told commissioners that to go to the bathroom, she had to wheel herself across a busy road before abandoning her wheelchair at the entrance of a public toilet.

With no toilet, Shonisani Makhado says he has to sometimes crawl into the bushes to go to the bathroom.

Because the public toilet was not wheelchair accessible, the woman was left to crawl on her hands into the toilet. It is an image that stuck with the commission’s deputy chairperson, Pregs Govender, who recently recounted the woman’s story at a press briefing in Johannesburg.

The commission’s subsequent 2014 report found that 1.4 million households had no sanitation services. The report added that this backlog was acutely felt by society’s most vulnerable including people living with disabilities who often also lacked access to disability-friendly services.

Shonisani said he has tried to apply to the Makhado Local Municipality several times for a toilet unsuccessfully.

“I have been applying to the government to build me a pit toilet for years with no success,” he said. “They (the municipality) just keep on making empty promises all the time.”

“They know that I am disabled and I cannot build myself a toilet,” he added. “I have since lost hope in them.”

About 86 000 households in the municipality lack proper sanitation, according to its 2014/15 Integrated Development Plan (IDP). While the plan states that all poor households should have access to a ventilated pit latrine on site, it does fails to state how many of these will be installed in the next year.

Makhado Local Municipality Spokesperson Louis Bobodi said that the municipality had not previously received complaints about Shonisani’s lack of a toilet. Bobodi promised that the municipality would investigate Shonisani’s claims and if they were true, would ensure he received a toilet.

- Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is an OurHealth Citizen Journalist. This post was originally published by Health-e.