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On eve of World Cup, South Africa's 'toilet wars' reveal volatile politics

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“The larger issue here is the constitutional right, and one of the most important rights, to dignity, and the way in which toilets were provided were an aberration of that right,” says Aubrey Matshiqi, a senior political analyst at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg. “The idea of having open-air toilets is an ANC idea, it was ANC that started building the toilets without enclosures. But both the ANC and the DA were guilty of letting the people of Khayelitsha go without services for too long.”

Toilets, not roses

This much is certain: Neither party has come out smelling like roses. The Democratic Alliance – once seen as South Africa’s best hope for an opposition party that could keep pressure on the ANC – has made Cape Town a showpiece for what it would like to do if given the chance to run South Africa. Its leader, Helen Zille, a former investigative journalist and liberal opponent of apartheid, was seen as the kind of person who stood on principle and wouldn’t brook nonsense from her own party or from the ANC.

But now that her party’s government is in charge, this toilet scandal is hurting her public image.

“We have come to the conclusion that the best way to instill a sense of ownership and an ethos of respecting property is for each family to contribute to the construction and maintenance of their own toilet,” wrote DA party leader Ms. Zille, herself a former Cape Town mayor. “But this type of intervention, which encourages self-reliance and initiative, does not suit the ANC Youth League, who would rather ensure that people remain passive and powerless recipients of government handouts.”

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