An SJC member and Khayelitsha resident was stabbed in the face on Saturday whilst trying to relieve himself in a clearing alongside the N2 highway.
Makhosandile “Scarre” Qezo, who lives in RR section – an informal settlement in Khayelitsha in which there are approximately 3000 households and only 240 toilets – had walked across Lansdowne Road and was relieving himself behind a bush in the clearing alongside the N2 when two men attacked him.
“One of the men screamed ‘Where’s the phone?!’ and swore at me”, he said. Before he could “pull up his trousers or respond” the man stabbed him in the face. “After he stabbed me, I tried to grab him but grabbed the knife and cut my hand. He then threw sand in my face so I couldn’t see him.”
Witnesses of the assault, which occurred just after 7am, attempted to come to Makhosandile’s aid. As they approached his attacker fled, taking his cell phone with him.
This harrowing ordeal was endured all because Makhosandile needed to use the toilet – the most fundamental of human needs and rights – but had no toilet to go to. “There are no toilets nearby”, he said, “except those that are locked”. Flush toilets in RR section (as in many other informal settlements) are self-allocated by the community to a number of households, who restrict access to their toilet through the use of a padlock. This often results in arbitrary, uncoordinated, and unfair distribution resulting in some toilets being reserved for a small number of households whilst others are shared amongst scores of households.
Aside from most toilets being locked, many are broken and have not been serviced by the municipality for months or even years. This leaves many people like Makhosandile without a toilet, forcing them to resort to the dangerous and undignified recourse of relieving themselves in the bushes or clearings far from their place of residence.
For Makhosandile to get to the nearest clearing, he must cross the busy Lansdowne Road, a hazardous activity in itself. Last year another SJC member – fourteen year old Zanele Xaki – was seriously injured and required invasive abdominal surgery after being struck by a car when crossing the same road to go to relieve herself at night.
Even once the road is safely negotiated the remote nature of the clearing leaves people extremely vulnerable to assault. The SJC has collected testimonies of numerous people who have recently been attacked in similar circumstances. The attack on Makhosandile was far from an isolated incident.
Police apprehended the assailant on the scene. The SJC will monitor the case as it develops, and ensure that the course of justice is followed.
This incident again demonstrates how people living in informal settlements continue to live with unacceptable levels of risk to personal safety and health, be it day or night. It further illustrates how basic and routine tasks that many take for granted are luxuries for a significant portion of Cape Town residents.