THE ‘TOILET WARS’ AND THE POLITICS OF SANITATION IN CAPE TOWN
Professor Steven Robins, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, University of Stellenbosch
This two-lecture course will first provide an overview of the history of sanitation in Europe before considering the politics of sanitation in Cape Town. It will start with the ‘great stink’ in London in 1858 when the English Parliament was brought to a standstill by the stench from the river Thames that wafted through Parliament’s windows. It will draw attention to what writers such as Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo wrote about the overwhelming smells of nineteenth century London and Paris. From this international historical perspective on sanitation, the course will then turn to changes in sanitation arrangements in South Africa, concluding with a discussion of the recent ‘toilet wars’ in the Western Cape. The second lecture will focus on role of the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) and community activists in transforming sanitation into a highly political matter of public concern. The lecture will also look at the role of humanitarian agencies such as the Gates Foundation in trying to resolve sanitation crises in the developing South through its ‘Reinventing the Toilet’ programme, a global initiative that has also been introduced in South Africa.
1. The history of sanitation politics: from the ‘great stink’ to the ‘toilet wars’
2. How poo became political in South Africa