Toilet tussle

The Rocklands ablution facilities will be open for 24 hours a day as part of a pilot project, which was approved by sub-council earlier this week.

A proposal to have a 24-hour ablution facility on the Sea Point promenade has stirred debate among the community, with some residents supporting the initiative while others are saying it will have negative consequences.

Ward 54 councillor Shayne Ramsay has pledged R150 000 of leftover ward allocation money for the trial project for the next six months.

Ms Ramsay said the project was approved in a Sub-council 16 meeting on Monday November 20. She added that it was a trial worth doing.

“Shortly after being elected as councillor, I expressed publicly that I would like to open the toilets on the promenade and on the beaches on a 24-hour basis.”

Last year Ms Ramsay landed herself in hot water when she posted offensive comments about the homeless on Facebook which made headlines and for which she later apologised (“Ward councillor in hot water for homeless rant”, December 1 2016, Atlantic Sun).

“I unreservedly apologise to everyone I offended, particularly the homeless South Africans in Cape Town,” Ms Ramsay said at the time.

She said one of the most common complaints she has received since taking up the position of ward councillor was about displaced people.

“Keeping the toilets open would therefore relieve some of the tension between ratepayers and the homeless.

“On the beaches in mid-summer, the sun sets around 9pm but the toilets close well before then. This means that tourists are (sometimes) forced to knock on residents’ doors to request to use their private toilet. Clearly there is a need for public toilets to be open later and at least one open all night. I never expected to receive any complaints about this initiative at all.”

She added that previously there was no security to monitor activities in the toilets that were open. “During this trial period, there will be security on duty every night to ensure the safety of visitors and workers in the Rocklands ablution facility as well as preventing any illicit activities.”

Ms Ramsay said if it proves to be a success, they will endeavour to find funding for the project from the City budget on an ongoing basis.

Sea Point resident Theodore Yach, said that he feels the initiative will give displaced people dignity. He also said it will keep the area hygienic, saying it is a win-win situation.

“I commissioned the report (“Solutions to Homeless” by researcher Gail Eddy) because I have become increasingly concerned about the attitude of some people in the community. The level of apartheid-type thinking is quite frightening.”

He said the community needed to be pro-active in engaging with displaced people. Mr Yach added that there needed to be a holistic approach into solving the issue of homelessness. “I think it is a brilliant idea,” he added.

Mr Yach said the three main things that the pilot project would bring was a sense of dignity to the homeless, that security services would spend less time in dealing with anti-social behaviour as well as keeping the streets more hygienic.

When asked whether the initiative would have negative consequences, he said: “This is nonsense. There are already displaced people in the area. It is our duty as a community to engage with them.”

Another Sea Point resident, Marthe Muller, also supported the initiative. “I think it is an excellent idea. Research has shown that the two most important things for homeless people are a bathroom and locker room.”

Ms Muller, who is also the chief operations officer of South African Women in Dialogue, said to the area remained a very “untransformed community.

“The humanity of people is the most important thing. The wealthy need to look at the legacy of apartheid and see how far we still have to go.”

Ms Muller added that there was also a lot of greed and development in the area and not enough focus on things such as social housing. “There are also many homeless people who suffer from mental illness and there needs to be more financing for that. Taking care of people’s souls is simply the most important thing.”

Sea Point resident Kerry Hoffman of the Souper Troopers organisation, which works with displaced people, also supported the idea. She said it was a good first step to get the basics right to people living on the street. She added that she would also like to see a safe space in the area as a possible next step.

However, there were some residents who did not think that this was a positive initiative.

Paul Jacobson, of the Atlantic Seaboard Action Group, said the R150000 would be wasted on the project.

“Of all the priorities that we as a community have highlighted, like the necessity for more law enforcement, more traffic officers, more social workers, and so on, your administrators decide to supply toilet facilities 24 hours a day. Even with a lack of water supply you still feel comfortable with this imitative.

“Residents, visitors and tourists strolling on our promenade or going to the beach only require a toilet facility during normal day hours and not at night.Therefore, we must assume that these facilities are intended for homeless people after hours. I remind you that it is the intention of this City, social development, law enforcement and shelters not to encourage life on the street. In that regards, we as a community, have gone to a large expense to educate the public and tourists not to support begging but rather shelters and NGOs. We have encouraged the locking of our municipal bins.”

Mr Jacobson, in an email to the ward councillors, also said: “By providing an ablution facility on the promenade you are going against your own directive and that of your social development experts and this can only but encourage life on the street.”

Former Ward 54 councillor, Jacques Weber, also had his say on the issue on Facebook last week. In a Facebook post he said: “ I truly fail to understand or see how a toilet or the operations of a 24-hour toilet will encourage homelessness within the area. If residents believe that the number of homeless will increase because this ward has one 24-hour toilet in operation – I think they are dreaming.”

Mr Weber’s post further read: “Everyone seems to have missed the most important part of the concept and that was ‘trial’. If we don’t try things, we will never know and will never develop as a ward. We live in an area that is constantly changing and therefore we have to try new things that aids making this ward a better place.

“Yes R150 000 is a lot of money to operate a toilet but the reality is that we live in a country where you have to place manned security/ staff or you won’t have a toilet or washbasin come the next morning. So, if the concept does not work – six months later, revert to the old way – simple.”