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Cape Town to flush out open-air toilet debacle

The city of Cape Town on Tuesday started enclosing controversial open air toilets in a shantytown that sparked tit-for-tat South African political “toilet war” scandals.

“City officials are already on the ground to start the physical construction of the toilet enclosures for the residents,” said newly elected mayor Patricia de Lille.

The Cape High Court in April ordered the country’s only major opposition-led city to build shelters for 1,316 toilets built in 2009, which it said had violated the right to dignity for residents in the city’s shack-filled east.

The issue sparked widespread outrage and protests after surfacing last year and was used by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as a political point-scorer ahead of local government polls in May.

But the ruling party was also left red-faced days ahead of the May 18 vote after it was found guilty of the same offence in one of its municipalities.

Officials started with building the concrete shelters on Tuesday, mayoral spokesman Solly Malatsi told AFP.

The opposition Democratic Alliance, which runs Cape Town, had defended its actions by saying residents had agreed to enclose their own toilets. Malatsi said the city has budgeted for 1,316 shelters, added that some households have already built their own.

Earlier attempts at shelters to cover the toilets were torn down after the scandal broke and ignited protests, with shocking images of the lack of privacy offered by the toilets.

“This is a positive step forward in our efforts to close the chapter of the Makhaza toilets with dignity and in a lawful manner,” said De Lille.

According to the national statistics agency, about 6.6 percent of households in South Africa in 2009 had no toilets or used “bucket toilets” — chamber pots emptied periodically by the municipality.

That figure is down from 12.6 percent in 2002.