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Court ruling ends Cape Town's 'toilet wars'

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With a high court ruling, Cape Town’s brutal – and farcical – “toilet wars” have come to an end.

A court today ruled that the city government must build enclosures around government-provided toilets in the poor black township of Makhaza, ending a two-year dispute that had become a heated political issue between the country’s two largest political parties.

It might seem like a small matter, but with local elections planned for May 18 across the country, the court decision is likely to become a matter of national political discussion, if not significance. Cape Town is run by South Africa’s second-largest political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), an opponent of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

The dispute began in 2009, when the DA installed some 1,316 toilets in Makhaza and other informal settlements in the Khayelitsha township on the condition that local residents build their own enclosures as a way to make Cape Town tax dollars stretch farther. Residents built walls around all but 51 toilets, demanding that the city foot the bill.

As a compromise, the city government attempted to build corrugated tin structures around the remaining 51 toilets last year, but members from the ANC Youth League routinely tore them down, turning the toilet tiff into a political showdown. The matter inevitably became a matter of some embarrassment for the DA and a cause célèbre for the ANC.

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