In a nation that is working to advance and develop, it is depressing to realise that a significant portion of South African homes still do not have access to adequate sanitary facilities. 

The General Household Survey data from Stats SA show that as of 2021, approximately 15.1% of homes, or more than 2.7 million families, were either without access to toilets or were left to rely on antiquated bucket systems. It is clear that the situation has gotten worse over the past 20 years when comparing the current level of 15.1% to the 12.6% recorded in 2002. 

The progress and development of the country as a whole are hampered by this regression, which also endangers the health and dignity of millions of people. The time for South Africa to address this issue is now. Comparing the current figure of 15.1% to the 12.6% recorded in 2002, it becomes clear that the situation has worsened over the past two decades. 

This regression not only compromises the health and dignity of millions but also hinders the overall progress and development of the nation. It is high time for South Africa to address this crisis and ensure that every citizen has access to safe and hygienic sanitation facilities.

A Matter of Human Rights:

Access to sanitation is a fundamental human right that is essential for maintaining health, preserving dignity, and empowering individuals and communities. It is enshrined in international conventions as well as in the South African Constitution, which guarantees the right to a safe and healthy environment. Yet, the fact that a substantial portion of the population continues to experience the indignity of lacking proper sanitation facilities is simply unacceptable. We can’t ignore this problem any longer because it feeds the vicious cycle of social inequality, poor health, and poverty.

The Cost of Inaction:

The effects of poor sanitation are extensive and have an impact on many facets of society. The use of bucket systems instead of proper toilets poses serious health risks and raises the incidence of diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, and other waterborne illnesses. The burden falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable members of society, including children, women, and the elderly. 

Additionally, lack of proper sanitation hinders development and economic growth. Healthy and productive communities are built on a foundation of good hygiene practices, including access to clean toilets and safe water sources. Without these essential facilities, productivity suffers, educational opportunities are compromised, and progress is stifled.

It is crucial that we prioritise sanitation and commit to comprehensive action to address this pressing issue. The Department of water and Sanitation must take a leading role by allocating adequate resources, implementing effective policies, and working in collaboration with stakeholders to ensure the provision of proper sanitation facilities to all households in South Africa.

It is crucial to make investments in infrastructure development, such as constructing and modernising sewage systems, water treatment facilities, and toilets. This requires targeted interventions in underserved communities, where the need is most acute. Focus should be placed on leveraging technology and innovative approaches to develop sustainable, cost-effective solutions that can be implemented at scale.

It is also necessary to launch public awareness campaigns to inform populations about the value of good sanitation and hygiene. To ensure long-term sustainability, initiatives should emphasise behavioural change, including the promotion of hand washing, waste management, and toilet use.

Collaborations with non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, and the private sector should as well be established in order to pool resources, skills, and ideas.

It is inexcusable that millions of households still lack access to suitable sanitation facilities in a contemporary and forward-thinking South Africa. We must acknowledge that this is not just a matter of convenience or infrastructure; it is a matter of human rights, health, and dignity. We must commit to eradicating this disparity and ensuring that every South African has access to safe and hygienic sanitation facilities. By doing so, we will foster a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society, where the basic needs of all citizens are met, and no one is left behind.


Tawanda is a research analyst for the Centre For Risk Analysis (CRA). He is primarily involved in writing chapters for the Socio-Economic Survey of South Africa, a reference guide on major trends in various social and economic fields. Tawanda’s other responsibilities include writing opinion pieces, assisting in research projects and reports and liaising with the media. Tawanda holds an Honours in Business Management from the University of Limpopo and is currently studying towards his Masters in Business Management.