Sanitation will take centre stage in government's infrastructure build programme, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale told Parliament on Friday.
Tabling a summary of the long-awaited report of the Ministerial Sanitation Task Team (MSST) to the portfolio committee on human settlements, Sexwale said the document revealed the neglect government had subjected its people to since 1994.
According to the report, the sanitation backlog in the country currently stood at 2.5-million toilets.
The task team, set up by Sexwale last year following reports of toilet woes in Western Cape, the Free State and Mpumalanga, said the backlog had been halved from five million in 1994.
"It's a critical basic need, the first line of dignity of any human being that we take for granted as we open taps in our houses and as you flush toilets.
"We do this so easily, without realising other people have to hide behind a tree or stand out in the open," Sexwale said.
Provincial visits by members of the MSST showed the ratio of households to toilets in municipalities in all nine provinces.
There was one toilet for every 100 households in the Western Cape following a visit to seven municipalities in the province, the biggest being the City of Cape Town.
In Gauteng, it was established that on average one toilet was shared by 10 households, after visits to three metros, two district municipalities and seven local councils.
The MSST proposed various actions required to solve the toilet problem.
These included the need for better co-ordination and a national plan to tackle the problem.
Sexwale told MPs that a 'Water and Sanitation Master Plan' was being developed by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission.
"The first thing for common people, the first infrastructure before a road and airport and all these things, even before a house, is a toilet."
The minister re-iterated that Cabinet had bought into a paradigm shift, by including sanitation in the major infrasture projects to be rolled out over the next few years.
"It [sanitation] is Strategic Infrastructure Project (SIP) number 18. It's going to require more money than most other projects. The billions that are required for this are staggering."
Sexwale later questioned government's budget priorities since 1994, including the money spent on the arms deal.
He said social unrest would continue if money was spent unwisely and basic services were not provided.
"These are the symptoms of what insurrections are made of."
He said the bucket system, which was still very evident in South Africa, needed to be addressed immediately, or this could spill over into unrest.
"The Marikanas will repeat itself over and over in this country, until we crumble, if you don't address that first line... sanitation with clean running water... now that's dignity."
The full sanitation report would be made public after being tabled to Cabinet next week.
Sexwale dedicated the report to the young people of Makaza in Khayelitsha and the women of Moqhaka in the Free State, who had to make use of un-enclosed toilets. The "toilet-saga", as it became known, made national headlines after communities protested the indignity they suffered by having not being afforded privacy while using toilets.