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Langaville community demands proper sanitation

- Lee-Anne Bruce

Residents of the Langaville informal settlement have approached the High Court to compel their Municipality to provide the area with proper sanitation

Langaville Extension 8 is a settlement which falls under the City of Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality in Gauteng. The settlement is made up of a mixture of formal RDP houses and informal shack dwellings. While the RDP structures have been provided with water and permanent flushing toilets, people living in the shack dwellings only have access to shared taps and chemical toilets. The Municipality has supplied these chemical toilets as a "temporary" measure for almost ten years. In fact, in July last year private companies were awarded a further three year tender to continue providing these chemical toilets. 

The residents of Langaville cannot be forced to use these underserviced, over-utilised and unhealthy forms of sanitation indefinitely. They have long called for a more permanent solution to the problem, which has even been supported by the South African Human Rights Commission. In response, the Municipality has advised that it is unable to provide permanent sanitation in the area as the land is zoned for "community facility" rather than "residential use". Yet, some residents have lived in the area for up to thirty years and have been provided with other formal infrastructure such as electricity. Indeed, the Municipality has the authority to rezone the land, but has refused to do so with no adequate reason. 

Langaville residents have therefore approached the Johannesburg High Court, with the assistance of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies. We are asking for the Municipality's decision not to rezone the land to be reviewed and set aside. We argue that this decision was irrational, inconsistent, arbitrary and unreasonable and served no purpose other than to allow the Municipality to use an "interim" form of sanitation as a means of long-term service delivery. 

Should this application succeed, the Municipality will have to reconsider its refusal to rezone the affected land. In taking that decision again, the Municipality must, we argue, take into account the decades over which the residents have lived in Langaville Extension 8, the formalisation of their process through the delivery of other services, and the sanitation infrastructure which is readily available for the construction of permanent flushing toilets. 

"To date, by refusing to take action which is exclusively within its power and rezone the land, the Municipality has refused to fulfil its constitutional duties," says Ariella Scher, attorney at CALS. "We believe that this route affords the residents an opportunity to highlight the importance of considering the adequacy of services which are provided to communities, and specifically whether such services take into account the nature of that community and its specific context, history and needs."

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