No to request for flushing toilets

The community had asked the court to force the Ekurhuleni Municipality to provide them with proper sanitation and discontinue the temporary chemical toilet system. Picture: File

The community had asked the court to force the Ekurhuleni Municipality to provide them with proper sanitation and discontinue the temporary chemical toilet system. Picture: File

Published Apr 9, 2024


The Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg has turned down an application by members of the Langville extension 8 informal settlement in Brakpan, to have their chemical toilets replaced with proper toilets with running water.

The community had asked the court to force the Ekurhuleni Municipality to provide them with proper sanitation and discontinue the temporary chemical toilet system, which has been in operation for years.

The applicants claimed the right to flushing toilets and asserted that the municipality was obliged to fulfil this right.

They argued that the municipality provides waterborne toilets to other informal settlements in Ekurhuleni. They contend that there is no reason why they were not being provided with the same, or similar technology.

The reason advanced by the municipality was that the erven was not zoned residential area because it was not supported by the City Planning Department. The residents stated that for as long as the properties they live on were not zoned for residential use, they would have inadequate basic sanitation.

According to them, it was their basic human right to have access to proper sanitation.

Langaville has been in existence for three decades. Two of the applicants said they had lived in Langaville for 30 years and the third applicant, for approximately 20 years.

Initially when Langaville was founded, the settlement consisted only of shack dwellings. It was upgraded around 1999 when, as part of its reconstruction and development programme, the government started building RDP houses among the shack dwellings. The applicants’ shacks are situated alongside the RDP dwellings.

The applicants alleged that municipal bulk engineering services, including a comprehensive sewerage network, extended throughout Langaville township. It provided proper sanitation to the RDP dwellings. However, despite the presence of the facilitating infrastructure, the applicants were denied basic municipal services.

Initially, the applicants used self-dug pit latrines for sanitation. They allege these were hazardous. In 2011 residents living at Ext 3, 6 and 18 Langaville took legal action against the municipality arising from a lack of water and sanitation services.

As a result, the court granted an order compelling the municipality to provide a certain number of water points and chemical toilets to residents.

Shortly after the order was granted, the municipality introduced “interim sanitation measures” to Ext 8, Langaville, in the form of chemical toilets. The applicants complain that this form of sanitation has become permanent and that municipality does not, in the foreseeable future, intend to progressively realise their right to adequate housing and basic sanitation.

The chemical toilets were not suited for long-term use. Initially intended as an interim measure, they had now become permanent, they argued.

Rented chemical toilets were costly and economically inefficient. Public money spent for over a decade could have been used to pay for more permanent and less costly solutions, they said. The applicants argued that installing flushing toilets would be more cost effective.

The applicants repeatedly told the municipality of the defects in the chemical toilet sanitation services and requested proper basic sanitation. Their requests are supported by the South African Human Rights Commission.

The specific complaints in regard to chemical toilets are as follows:

– Residents have to leave their homes to use the toilets. The toilets are not lit and do not lock from the inside. This exposes vulnerable persons to dangerous elements and their personal safety is at risk.

– The toilets do not cater for people with special needs and are shared by multiple households. They fill up quickly. Cleaning and emptying services are irregular and unreliable.

Ekurhuleni said that 37 500 chemical toilets were in use in the municipality. The total allocated budget for the year 2023/24 was R381 225 373.

Although the evidence in relation to the cost of providing chemical toilets was not clear, it must be accepted that amounts spent on chemical toilets,over a sustained period, ran in the billions of rands, the court noted.

It also noted that situation had become entrenched, to the point where the municipality appeared to be currently providing and servicing almost 44 000 chemical toilets to residents in informal settlements in Ekurhuleni - and the number was growing.

“There are at least 160 other households on the affected erven. The order proposed by the applicants would result in demand being made on the first respondent (municipality), at the very least, to supply all the residents on the rezoned properties with waterborne flushing toilets,” Judge Stven Kuny said.

He added that inevitably, thousands of other residents in informal settlements in surrounding areas would similarly demand the rezoning of their properties and flushing toilets.

“Where is the line to be drawn?” he questioned.

He said the admitted facts justified the complaints about the conditions in which chemical toilets were supplied, serviced and maintained. But the orders proposed by the applicants were very general and far-reaching in their application and effect.

“They will not give finality to the disputes. Instead, they will spawn innumerable arguments and further litigation in relation to whether and if so, how the orders sought are to be complied with and implemented,” the judge said in turning down the application.

Pretoria News

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