By Lucia Mutikani and Spokes Mashiyane
EZENZELENI, South Africa, Feb 26 (Reuters) Aaron Lephotho tries to ignore the taunts hurled at him by residents as he lumbers towards a tanker truck shouldering a bucket brimming with human waste.
This is part of Lephotho's daily routine, going door-to-door in this dusty township collecting dozens of buckets filled with excrement from households that, more than 10 years after the end of apartheid, do not have proper toilets.
He pauses briefly to exchange expletives with a youth, who is trying to humiliate him, before dumping the contents into a small tanker.
''This is not a good job, but I am hungry. What else can I do? I have been doing it since 1994,'' Lephotho said. ''We appeal to the government to put in a proper sewerage system. There is even a shortage of buckets here.'' Lephotho and his colleagues wash the buckets, with gloves as their only protection and no masks, before returning them to the various houses -- just some of the almost half a million South African households which still have no indoor sanitation.
Bucket toilets, a lack of running water and patchy electrical connections are among the common complaints of South Africa's poorest residents, who on March 1 will be voting in local government elections seen as a key measure of the popularity of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Some people in Ezenzeleni, a township in the Free State province 200 km from Johannesburg, see no reason to believe that after more than a decade in power the ANC is ready to deliver what they want.
FLIES A NUISANCE ''We don't want buckets, they are a health hazard. The smell is terrible and the flies are a nuisance. Must we accept this and say everything is alright?'' said one woman who declined to be named. ''I don't see any reason to vote.'' ''Who will I vote for, who will change my life? We like the old man (former president Nelson) Mandela and (President Thabo) Mbeki, but the councillors don't care about us,'' she said, kicking one of the buckets lined up on the street and sending its contents splashing onto passers-by.
This kind of discontent exploded into violence last year, when residents of townships across South Africa barricaded streets and stoned cars in protests over poor amenities.
However, the ANC is expected to make a clean sweep in the March 1 vote, repeating its performance in every poll since Mandela led it to victory in 1994. Many people blame local party officials for their plight, rather than the central government.
In places like Ezenzeleni, the ANC's campaign slogan of ''a better life for all'' rings hollow for many.
Due to overcrowding in some of the houses, the 20-litre buckets tend to fill up quickly, leaving residents with no toilet of any description.
Mbeki has acknowledged the need to get rid of bucket toilets, part of a broader plan to harness 372 billion rand (61 billion dollars) in public and private sector funds to improve infrastructure and create jobs. He told parliament this month that bucket toilets must be eradicated by the end of 2007.
But despite millions of rand already allocated to municipalities for basic services each year, the lives of many ordinary South Africans have not changed for the better.
According to the 2001 census, about 1.5 million households had no toilet facilities, while 3 million used pit latrines -- popularly known as the ''long-drop'' in township slang.
CAPACITY CONSTRAINTS Analysts say progress has been made in the last decade and blame corruption and lack of capacity for slow delivery.
Thomas Mogale, a lecturer in public development at the University of the Witwatersrand, said services had improved in the townships since 1994.
''But nobody could have anticipated the scope of the problem and the fact that this is compounded by the ongoing influx of people from rural areas, all of whom have come to expect services to be rendered by local municipalities.'' Local councillors have been accused by opposition parties and members of the community of diverting funds to their own personal use, while in some cases people have been appointed to positions for which they are not qualified.
Opposition parties have also blamed poor service delivery on the government's affirmative action policy, which they say has resulted in qualified white personnel being pushed out. Analysts also agree.
''Human capital -- skills to plan policy and to implement it and build the infrastructure required -- has not matched and moved at the pace that would mean the meeting of the expectations of the municipalities,'' said Mogale.
In an attempt to address this problem, the government has reduced the number of municipalities to 283 from 800 in 1994, in many cases combining formerly black areas -- which had almost no services at all -- with white neighbourhoods which were well taken care of under apartheid.
But the process has proved more complicated than anticipated, said Zandile Nkuta, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Local Government.
''We underestimated how much support was needed in the establishment of municipalities. A lot of them have struggled with capacity issues to deliver what had been set out for them.'' REUTERS PR BS0849