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Langaville community forced to continue using chemical toilets indefinitely

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS represents residents of Langaville who approached the High Court to prevent the temporary provision of chemical toilets becoming permanent

Residents of the Langaville informal settlement approached the High Court with the assistance of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) last year. They sought to compel the City of Ekurhuleni to rezone the region as a residential area and provide proper sanitation. The High Court has handed down judgment which dismisses their application without costs.

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 interspersed between 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 via private companies as a “temporary” measure for over twelve years. In fact, the three-year tender for these chemical toilets was renewed for a fourth time in July 2022.

It is unconstitutional to expect residents of Langaville to use these underserviced, over-utilised, unsafe 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 of the residents have lived in the area for up to thirty years and have been provided with other formal infrastructure such as electricity. Only the Municipality has the authority to rezone the land itself and has refused to do so without adequate reason.

Langaville residents therefore approached the Johannesburg High Court to assert their rights to adequate housing, with the assistance of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS). They asked for the Municipality’s decision to continue issuing the tender for chemical toilets (based on its decision not to rezone the land) to be reviewed and set aside. We argued that this decision was irrational, inconsistent, arbitrary and unreasonable, and that it served no purpose other than to allow the Municipality to use an “interim” form of sanitation as a means of long-term service delivery. 

The High Court this month handed down judgment dismissing the application without costs. Though the Court agreed that chemical toilets are only an interim measure in terms of the Municipality’s own policies and have nevertheless become permanent for the residents of Langaville, the judgment raises concerns about the budget available for providing the area with flushing toilets, which the Municipality claimed has already been allocated elsewhere. The Court also agreed with the Municipality that the applicants would be “queue jumping” the lists for provision of formal housing if they were to be given permanent flushing toilets. Though the order finds that “the government departments and agencies responsible for these decisions can and should be held to account,” it does not go as far as to hold them accountable.

“We are obviously disappointed with this outcome,” says Ariella Scher from CALS. “The Constitution provides for socio-economic rights to be realised progressively. The provision of temporary chemical toilets for over a decade is certainly not progressive, and violates the Municipality's own sanitation policies. In any event, our clients have lived in Langaville for decades without any indication that the Municipality seeks to move them to more formal dwellings, and so the effect of this judgment is that the provision of chemical toilets will now continue indefinitely. Our clients have no intention of “queue jumping”, but are simply seeking state provision of the dignified, permanent forms of sanitation to which they are entitled. We are currently reviewing the judgment with our clients and will decide on a way forward with them.”

CALS is represented in the matter by advocate Sha’ista Kazee and we send our thanks to Matseleng Lekoane and Amelia Rawháni-Mosalakae, for their assistance on the matter.

Read the full judgment in the matter here.

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