Nina Manzi- Cape Town WASH Bus Project



This report will showcase Cape Town, South Africa and why it has become the focus of our most recent WASH project funding. It will begin with a general background of the Cape Town from the issues faced to the founding of the South African branch of Viva con Aqua, our main partner. Following this will be a deep dive look into our current WASH project in Cape Town, the Wash Bus. This will include the origins, design, and execution of the project as well as what can be expected in the future. A special thanks to Lucas Concee for providing on-ground coverage in Cape Town and illuminating many of the insights shown in this report.



South Africa, especially Cape Town, has faced a myriad of issues, both stemming from historical injustices to current socioeconomic instability. Cape Town, like many Southern African cities was facing a major drought in 2018, leading extreme water insecurity. A looming Day Zero in which there would be no water for consumption within the city seemed to be on the horizon for Cape Town. In this situation, the gap between the impoverished and the wealthy were prevalent with the building of private wells, purchasing of inflated-priced water bottles, and even paying water-usage fines being undertaken by those who could afford to while those who could not were left in the hands of the government.


It is then no surprise that Love Foundation had a hub born out of this water crisis with the Cape Town hub being founded in 2019. The four founding members hit the ground running, organizing beautiful parties and yoga sessions, but hit a wall with the pandemic. However, our main partner, Viva con Aqua turned its sights to Cape Town and founded a branch in 2020. Along with this branch, Viva con Aqua opened Villa Viva, a multi-purpose guest house, networking platform and creative hub to be utilized by both Viva con Aqua team and the Love Foundation hubs. Thankfully by then, sufficient rain fall had provided the Cape Town region with plenty of water, avoiding the Day Zero catastrophe. 


While water security is something to be celebrated, it was not the end to the issues facing Cape Town. From the start of the pandemic in 2020, homelessness has been rising with some local estimations of 300 percent increases. Similar to the water insecurity situation and many of the issues faced in South Africa, it comes down to the have’s and the have-not’s, whether that be political power seen in deeply racist history or the current wide gap between socioeconomic groups.




While there are a few names for this idea, Soapbox bus, WASH bus, etc, the idea is very straightforward: provide those experiencing homelessness with access to fully working bathrooms. This simple, yet crucial part of every day life cannot always be accessed by those living on the streets and can widen the barrier to re-enter into society. In providing this service, this project aims to restore dignity and eradicate preventable diseases experienced from a lack of hygiene. It can also display a better way of approaching homelessness; 45 percent of the city’s homelessness budget is used to incarcerate and harass the homeless population.

To get an initial design for the WASH bus, Absolute Ablutions was the first organization to consult. With a specialized focus on mobile sanitation trailers, they designed the perfect bus for our project, complete with four showers and four bathrooms. Additionally, the paint job on the bus was designed by an urban art organization, Baz-Art to reflect the day-to-day lives of those experiencing homelessness.

The final key partner in this project is U-Turn, an NGO focused on shaping a path back into society for the homeless population of Cape Town. U-Turn developed a voucher program that allow those in need to earn vouchers by cleaning up trash which they are able to use on food and clothing. With this system, those with these vouchers can use them for the WASH bus. This way it avoids the feeling of receiving a “hand out”, rather someone experiencing homelessness could feel a sense of accomplishment that may be missing from their day to day life.


This WASH Bus was initiated at the end of 2021. However, a major roadblock was hit with the city government as this project required access to city water. Although this hindered the project, it did not stop there and the first WASH bus rolled out on July 2022. Appropriately named, “Nina Manzi”, meaning mother of water, the bus served those in the Claremont neighborhood for the pilot program. Since then, it has expanded to two other neighborhoods, Muizenberg and Michelles Plain. During the first months, there was a noticeable disparity between the amount of men versus women using the services. To welcome more women to use the facilities, there are separate entrances for both men and women.

This project has received a great deal of local media coverage, interviewing those using this bus. Some users have very expected responses, with many using the shower facilities before a job interviews and one user reporting “feeling fresh and ready to go,” after a fresh shower. However, this can be an emotional experience for some. One women who has lived on the streets for 30 years said, “I just cried underneath the water”. These reports show the social benefits of this project by providing the opportunity to restore confidence before job interviews. However, it also displays the mental anguish and anxiety homelessness can bring and how powerful providing the services of the WASH bus may be in relieving those mental conditions.  

With the success of the pilot program, the WASH bus has revealed a new tool to improve conditions for those on the streets of Cape Town. While homelessness has a myriad of interconnecting issues and potential solutions, this seemingly simple initiative of providing washrooms could prove to change the existing views on how to proactively help people out of homelessness. Rather than the traditional punitive measures taken by the city, this process strives to welcome back those isolated from society with a hot shower as well as the job training offered by U-Turn. In line with past Love Foundation WASH projects, the realities of water inaccessibility and lack of hygienic resources are met with practical, community-oriented solutions. We expect to see the continued success of the WASH bus in helping to pave the path back into society for those experiencing homelessness. Additionally, we hope that that this project’s success can be a factor in reshaping the perception of homelessness and the city government’s policies to combat it to a certain degree, Who knows? Maybe this paradigm shift even travels beyond the cultural and administrative borders of Cape town? It is certainly desirable and necessary.

For more information, check out the sources below:

Our Main Partner: 

Local News Articles:


While Viva con Aqua and Love Foundation carried out a WASH project known as WINS (WASH in Schools) in the 2020, the homelessness epidemic facing Cape Town was something that could no longer be ignored. The main objective identified was the re-socialization of people experiencing homelessness who deal with the immense anxiety of street noise, insecure housing, and potential financial debt. From this, the idea of the WASH bus was founded.