Residents got to see the mayor like theyve never seen him before - and may never see him again - dressed in the traditional municipal workers green garb and toting a large bucket containing human waste.
This happened on Tuesday, as the mayor and a municipal task team finally launched into action to rid areas in Grahamstown of the bucket system that has been lingering, along with its smell, for years. I am happy that life will be much better from now on, said kwaNdancama resident Sidney Toto, whose house was the first to be worked on in Makanas bucket system eradication project.
As he spoke to Grocotts Mail, workers were digging up the ground in his yard so that a flushing toilet can be installed. He spoke about what it has been like without a proper toilet. "Dogs used to dig their way into the bucket, and it would release a strong smell into our yard. My health often suffered from this," he said.
The deadline for the municipality to eradicate the bucket system was in December 2007 for formal areas built before 1994, according to Makanas municipal spokesperson Thandy Matebese, but one of the stumbling blocks in their way was the discovery of human remains in the ground in that year, in kwaNdancama.
These bones are thought to be the remains of soldiers who fell during the Frontier War of 1819. Matebese said that different phases of dealing with the bucket system began in 2003. Currently the eradication is 80% complete in formalised areas, except for places like the kwaNdancama and Eluxolweni settlements where 33 and 69 houses still use the system.
Buckets are still used in a total of 207 households in informal settlements in Makana, he said. But last year the Makana Council approved to release R2.6 million from their reserves in order to move the project along faster, in addition to millions already spent.
Last year also saw frustrations provoked by the bucket system spark a number of protests, and the topic was even aired on the SABC 1 programme Cutting Edge. This subsequently attracted interest from high profile politicians like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who came to Grahamstown last year as the leader of the Ministerial Sanitation Task Team.
President Jacob Zuma also visited the city last July to receive the key to the city, and according to the mayor he was also briefed about the local infrastructure problems. Peter said that he made a commitment during the mayoral imbizo sessions last year to have the bucket system fully dealt with by Christmas, but due to internal commitments, we couldnt do this, he said.
The municipalitys technical services chairperson, Nomhle Gaga said that she was happy that the eradication was now back on track because she too knows what it is like to live with the bucket system. I grew up in this situation and it embarrassed me, she said.
She also mentioned that the areas name, kwaNdancama, means a place where hope is lost, and that is how the residents there have been feeling for years.