Frequently asked questions about sanitation in South Africa

How many households have proper toilets? How has access changed since 1994? How do people who share toilet facilities rate their quality? We answer three frequently asked questions about sanitation in South Africa.

1. Who has access to sanitation?

In 2017, 82% of households (13.3 million) had access to improved sanitation, according to Statistics South Africa’s latest General Household Survey. Improved sanitation means “flush toilets connected to a public sewerage system or a septic tank” or “a pit toilet with a ventilation pipe”.

In 2002, the first General Household Survey found that 62% had access.

The Eastern Cape province has shown the biggest improvement – from 33% of households in 2002 to 85% in 2017.

Share of households with access to improved sanitation by province in South Africa
Province 2002 2017
Limpopo 26.9% 58.9%
Eastern Cape 33.4% 85.3%
Mpumalanga 50.7% 67.6%
KwaZulu-Natal 50.9% 80.8%
North West 54.1% 71.3%
Free State 64.7% 85.1%
Northern Cape 75.5% 87.7%
Gauteng 88.9% 90.5%
Western Cape 92.2% 94.1%

Source: General Household Survey (2017)

Who still doesn’t have access?

About two in 10 households headed by black people didn’t have access to improved sanitation in 2017, according to data provided by Stats SA. Less than 1% of households headed by Indian/Asian people or white people were in the same position.

Share of households without access to improved sanitation by race of household head (2017)
Race of household head Share
Black African 21.5%
Coloured 3.1%
Indian/Asian 0.8%
White 0.2%

Source: Stats SA

Three percent of households across the country still use bucket toilets or have no toilet. This is down from 13% in 2002.

The biggest decrease since 2002 was in the Eastern Cape. Households using bucket toilets or with no toilets dropped from 37% to 4%.

Households in the Western Cape, where 5% of households had no toilets or used buckets, were the worst off in 2017.

2. Who had access to sanitation in 1994?

A 1993 survey by the Southern Africa Labour Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town found that 52% of households had access to flush toilets at the time.

The 1996 Census is Stats SA’s earliest reliable source of data on sanitation, as there were problems with its 1995 October Household Survey.

But the census groups households using flush and chemical toilets together (51%), so it doesn’t have a comparable number for the share of households with “improved sanitation”, as found in the General Household Survey. This is according to Niël Roux, Stats SA director for service delivery statistics.

3. What problems do households using shared toilet facilities experience?

The General Household Survey asks households using shared sanitation facilities to identify problems they have experienced in the previous six months.

Poor lighting was cited most often, followed by poor hygiene.

Sixteen percent of households said their physical safety had been threatened.

Top 10 problems experienced by households sharing sanitation facilities in South Africa
Problem Share of households
Poor lighting 24%
Poor hygiene 22%
Long waiting times 19%
Toilet pit or chamber full 19%
No water to wash hands 18%
Physical safety threatened 16%
No water to flush the toilet 14%
Poor maintenance 13%
Inadequate enclosure 12%
Toilet blocked 6%

Source: General Household Survey (2017)

This package is part of a journalism partnership with South African newspaper City Press. The project aims to ensure that claims made by those in charge of state resources and delivering essential services are factually correct. In the run-up to this year’s national and provincial elections, it will be increasingly important for voters to be able to make informed decisions. This series aims to provide voters with the tools to do that.

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