WASH: It should be a basic right but for many it’s a luxury

The right to dignity for children without water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Looking back at a journey that started in 2012… I thought I was going to be a resource to others about children’s rights instead others became instrumental in reminding me that the right to dignity – via access to water and sanitation – is far from ‘real’ for many in South Africa. I learnt from local organisations in remote areas how the plight for basic needs is still part of the fight in a democratic South Africa.

More than two decades after our Constitution was passed, with its most progressive stance around justiciable socio-economic rights, many communities are still second class citizens. I question my own power as a child rights expert and citified development worker.

Our mission was to preach (or convert) others to accept children’s rights – to be safe from development workers in our own organisations, be referred to recognised abuse services and let them share power as equal citizens. Instead I was led to question my own self righteous power and citified superiority. I, the activist that travelled in lofty circles, slightly part of the in-crowd of this field – no one is more surprised about this than I am. But so idealistic in my aspirations of what was possible for the children of South Africa.

After all I grew up in a township, I am not a suburban Model C kid with a twang. But rural South Africa is very different from what I thought it was. The charming small towns that I drive through on holidays have even more remote areas in their vicinity with their natural beautiful but housing forgotten people – or worse purposefully ignored.

If I felt ire with the abuse of children, I felt outrage about these choices made by those in power. Why are we, my countryfolk, forced to live in such abject poverty with little regard for their right to dignity? Why is there no access to water, no proper sanitation? I don’t buy the progressive realisation argument anymore, because the resources are available! The choices made about those available resources are creating this reality… of a third world country within a first world country…of abject poverty where there is extreme wealth…of second class citizens within one of the most progressive Constitutional democracies in the world!   I am a more aware activist for this experience, more humble and I am eternally grateful for the journey of self discovery.

Christina Nomdo, Executive Director, RAPCAN 8 June 2015