Langaville Informal Settlement Case

Application by the residents of Langaville Informal Settlement, Gauteng Province seeking an order for the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality to provide sufficient access to water and basic sanitation. Right to water and sanitation.

Date of the Ruling: 
Dec 6 2011
High Court of South Africa, South Gauteng, Johannesburg Division
Type of Forum: 

In September 2011, the residents of Langaville Informal Settlement (comprised of more than one thousand and five hundred households and four thousand and six hundred residents) represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), requested an order directing the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality to provide sufficient access to water and basic sanitation recognized in the Constitution of South Africa, through the Water Services Act, Regulation 3 of the Regulations Relating to Compulsory National Standards and Measures to Conserve Water (GN R509 in GG 22355 of 8 June 2001) . None of the residents had access to basic sanitation. Some residents relied on hand-dug pit latrines, others used the bushes, whilst others paid a fee to access toilets in the nearby housing settlement. Water supply was one fifth of the minimum supply prescribed by regulations, and sometimes not enough to drink. According to the Water Services Act, basic sanitation should be provided to formal and informal households.

SERI and the Municipality held two engagement meetings, at the request of the Municipality in an attempt to find an amicable solution to the matter. During the second meeting, the Municipality decided to comply with the application in its entirety. Few days later, the Municipality and SERI went on a joint site visit to the informal settlement to identify where the services could be installed. SERI drew up a settlement agreement. Based on the agreement, the Court ordered the installation of eighteen taps and four water tanks, which equaled twenty two water user connections which should provide a basic supply of water to residents of the three extensions in the Langaville Informal Settlement, where applicants live. The Court also ordered the installation of one hundred and thirty one chemical toilets, in order to assure access to interim basic sanitation.

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

According to SERI, the order of the Court has already been enforced. There are three extensions in Langaville: extensions 3, 6 and 18. Before the settlement, extension 3 had one hundred and eighty four households with only one tap that was dysfunctional most of the time. Some residents had to walk more than five hundred meters to reach the tap. After the settlement, the extension got four doubled headed standpipes which equaled eight taps. Extension 6 initially had one thousand and sixteen households with only two taps which were dysfunctional most of the time. In March 2012 it had four water tanks and the Municipality was installing two double headed standpipes and refurbishing the existing standpipe, totaling six taps. Extension eighteen had, before the settlement, one hundred and eight households with no tap or any water connection. By March 2012, it got two double headed standpipes or four taps. Both standpipes were situated within two hundred meters of each of the households.

Significance of the Case: 

The settlement has already had a positive impact on the lives of residents of the Langaville Informal Settlement, who now have access to sufficient water and basic sanitation. SERI believes that the success on this matter will have an impact beyond the rights of the residents of Langaville because they will be able to capitalize on its success by using this litigation strategy in similar matters involving water and sanitation services in informal settlements. In March 2012, SERI was already working with two other communities in Ekurhuleni on access to interim basic services, among other issues. More broadly, the Mazibuko case, previously decided by the Constitutional Court, seems to have established an outer limit beyond which the Constitutional Court is not comfortable - adjudicating the realisation of socio-economic goods beyond regulated or policy minimums or unfair exclusion of particular groups from such goods. But, as clarified in the Langaville case, there is now much greater recognition of the minimum regulated obligations of basic services (water and sanitation) as established by the Water Services Act regulations etc. In the Langaville case, it was enough to launch an application pointing to the municipality's failure to provide these minimum basic services to informal settlers, for the municipality to agree to a settlement agreement that was made an order of the court. The settlement is binding on the parties but is not legal precedent. However, it seems that now this is the standard for the state's obligations regarding water and sanitation, at least to provide the minimum basic services for free if necessary (as was the case in Langaville) to all residents