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Residents of Vaalkamers in Kliptown, Soweto, say they are not confident that they will go to the polls on the 1st of November as they are still subject to the use of the toilet bucket system and have been living in decrepit structures since the dawn of democracy.

The area is densely populated, impoverished and in squalor. It is home to just over 200 families who rely on illegal connections for their electricity supply. It is situated just a stone’s throw from Walter Sisulu Square, which commemorates the adoption of the Freedom Charter there in 1955. 

Even after three generations, young and old still share a few communal toilets. Everything still looks the same and no change has taken place for many residents. Makhosi Sibiya is an unemployed mother of three who stays in Vaalkamers in a cracked, old one-room structure with her mother and kids. She says nothing has changed ever since she moved here 25 years ago with her now sick, elderly mother. “We are still using bucket communal toilets here and there are unfortunately very few of them. In certain cases, 15 or more families depend on one toilet. They are not cleaned as frequently as they should be. Even the janitors are not assisted with any cleaning material; they do all this work with their bare hands,” Sibiya told Elitsha.

She said the promise of proper toilets has been ongoing for many years, while their councillor barely visits the area. “They came here two weeks ago with their door-to-door promises because of the looming elections. We were clear to them that we are not going to vote for anyone if the quality of our life is not being improved. Some of us should have been moved to RDP houses by now; they have been singing that song for years. In Vaalkamers, we just live to survive; no one deserves to stay in a place like this one,” Sibiya said.

Since the start of the lockdown, no one has come to the rescue of the desperate people of Vaalkamers. A local church once came to deliver food parcels. 

Some of the few communal toilets that residents in Vaalkamers use.

Democratic Alliance ward councillor for the area, Peter Rafferty, last year in June promised that he was just waiting for about 100 chemical toilets to be installed in Vaalkamers. A year later he still doesn’t know what happened to the toilets that were supposed to be installed. “We have a serious issue with the shortage of resources in Johannesburg, and it is not fair to the people on the ground.

“This is now beyond my control to be honest. The City of Joburg is not coming forward with a straight answer about where the delay is. And these decisions are not only taken by me, I have people superior to me. The situation of the areas like Vaalkamers and Angola in Kliptown is also stressing me, because that place is golden to the political history of this country. To see Kliptown decaying like that is heartbreaking. I would just appeal to the community to be patient while we look for permanent solutions; I know this will take longer,” said Rafferty.

Vusi Ngcobo has been a resident in Vaalkamers for over 10 years, and he says he won’t be voting in the upcoming elections. “There is nothing worth voting for in this place. I feel like we have been long forgotten by the government. The toilets are not even enough to cater for all of us to be honest. They do not have taps close to them.  It is even embarrassing to tell people that I stay in Vaalkamers… I have not registered to vote and I will not be voting at all. Nothing is moving here. What will I be voting for if I sleep and wake up breathing human waste every day?” asked Ngcobo. 

When Elitsha visited, residents said the bucket toilets, which are normally emptied every week, had not been emptied in a while. A response by the City of Johannesburg will be added when it is received.