women with disabilities and informal settlement sanitation policy briefOn 16 August 2019, SERI released a policy brief entitled ‘Women with Disabilities and Informal Settlement Sanitation: Implications for Policy and Practice’. The policy brief was developed as a resource that would accompany the documentary, ‘The Struggle to be Ordinary’. The purpose of the policy brief and documentary are to raise awareness and build knowledge; it was to influence change in our attitudes, our thinking, our policies and our practices, as practitioners, as government officials, as decision-makers, budget holders, urban planners, activists, and most importantly, as people.

The policy brief provides an outline of the legislative and policy framework pertaining to water and sanitation provision to people with disabilities living in informal settlements covering international law and local legislation and policy. It then provides an overview of the state of sanitation in informal settlements and then goes on the set out the challenges that women with disabilities living in informal settlements face in terms of accessing adequate sanitation.

One of the biggest challenges with sanitation in informal settlements is that municipalities often only provide temporary or emergency services which are not intended to be used for longer than six months. This is largely because the upgrading of informal settlements is not being implemented. Currently, the water and sanitation services provided in informal settlements are not easily accessible especially for women and girls with disabilities because they are poorly located, often the outskirts of informal settlements. These sanitation facilities are also rendered inaccessible because:

[They] often lack space to accommodate a wheelchair, an assistive device or caregiver and also lack the ramped access and support structures such as toilet seats and handrails. The lack of required space and other necessary requirements compromises the rights to dignity and privacy of people with disabilities living in informal settlements.

view of Slovo

In light of these observations, the policy brief proposes two key actions:

Housing and sanitation legislation and policies need to be revised to align with international human rights instruments especially the principles of accessibility and reasonable accommodation as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and;

The Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) and the Emergency Housing Programme must be implemented in line with the accessibility and reasonable accommodation standards of the UNCRPD.


  • Download the policy brief here.
  • View the documentary here.



Lydia Mandela FlagOn 16 August 2019, SERI partnered with the South African Cities Network (SACN), the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP), and Constitution Hill to launch a short documentary on sanitation for women with disabilities living in informal settlements entitled, ‘The Struggle to be Ordinary’. This documentary was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and was produced together with twospinningwheels productions and the Pegasys Institute. The film raises awareness of the intersection of gender, disability and basic services in informal settlements in South Africa.

StbO Launch Alana2The launch was attended by members of the Slovo Park Community Development Forum (SPCDF), residents of the Harry Gwala Informal Settlement, national government officials representing departments of Social Development, Tourism, Human Settlements, city officals from the Cities of Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg, representatives from Joburg Water and members of civil society from NGOs and other practitioners.

SERI’s director of research and advocacy, Alana Potter, introduced the documentary by foregrounding some of the important statistics that reflect the lives of women with disabilities and their struggles to adequate sanitation services:

Households headed by people with disabilities are 5% more likely to lack access to improved sanitation facilities or piped water than the general population. The 2011 Census found that just less than half (45,2%) of households headed by persons with disabilities had access to a flush toilets and more than a third (37,1%) used pit toilets.

The screening of the documentary was followed by an open panel discussion. Panellists included David Morema (NUSP), Shelley Barry (twospinningwheels), Susan Mkhwanazi (SPCDF and the women’s forum), and Dr Phyllis Dannhauser (University of Johannesburg). The discussion was facilitated by Rehana Moosajee (The Barefoot Facilitator).

The discussion began by looking at the significance of the film. Susan Mkhwanazi reiterated the challenges faced by women in Slovo Park but noted that they too did not have a full understanding of how fellow residents with disabilities experience these same challenges. The film shed some light on their plight and helped to amply the voices of women with or directly affected by disabilities in Slovo Park.

StbO Launch Shelley Rehana Susan

Tim Fish Hodgeson from the International Community of Jurists lamented South Africa’s ableist culture that permeates society in that “almost all social services are deprived of people with disabilities, up to 600 000 children with disabilities are not in school today and less than 1% of people with disabilities are employed.” He argued that a lot more could be done to meet the needs of people with disabilities but an honest acceptance of South Africa’s ableist culture would need to be a starting point.

Lydia Lenyatsa, one of the women whose stories make up the documentary, highlighted the economic and life-threatening impact that poor access to sanitation and other basic services in informal settlements has had on her life:

I need a ventilator to breath. There's no electricity. They gave me a cylinder to last a month but if it runs out I could lose my life and I need to be there for my kids, so I had to connect to illegal electricity. It would cost me R500 a month.

The key message to come out of both the film and discussions is the urgent need for government to upgrade informal settlements in situ by making every effort to engage disabled people, particularly disabled women, in making decisions that directly impact their lives.  

The documentary was developed as an advocacy tool which social justice organisations can use to press for universal access to safe, dignified sanitation and the concomitant advancement of the human rights of women and girls with disabilities. SERI’s hope is for the documentary to raise awareness, build knowledge and to influence a change in our attitudes, thinking, policies and practices. 

The documentary is accompanied by a policy brief which sets out the implications for policy and the legal framework that governs over access to sanitation for women with disabilities living in informal settlements.

  • View the documentary here.
  • Download the policy brief here.

Marikana Commeration Press 

Commemorating the 7th anniversary of the Marikana massacre 

Friday, 16 August 2019 will mark the 7th anniversary of the Marikana massacre. 

The mineworkers and their families have yet to see real justice. Only eight police officers, including Major General William Mpembe, in his capacity as former North West deputy police commissioner, have been charged for crimes related to the massacre. The eight have been charged for the deaths of three striking mineworkers and two police officers who were killed on 13 August 2012 and for failing to disclose a death in police custody and for lying to the Farlam Commission. 

Thirty-four mineworkers were shot and killed on 16 August 2012. The police oversight body, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), determined that all of these deaths were caused by police actions. Despite being in possession of dockets since 2017, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has, as yet, failed to prosecute anyone for the deaths on 16 August 2012. 

The Marikana Support Campaign, Right2Protest Project, Right2Know and SERI have partnered to commemorate the massacre and to demand justice for the families of the miners by hosting a march to the Mankwe Magistrates Court in Mogwase on Monday 12 August 2019 at 9:00 am

The purpose of the demonstration will be to: 

1)raise awareness about the trial of Major General William Mpembe and his co-accused.General Mpembe is currently the head of security at Tharisa mine and continues toundermine the rights of protestors, including through the use of strategic law suit againstpublic particitipation (SLAPP suits);

2)call for the prosecution of officers implicated in crimes committed on 16 August 2012; and,

3)call for the release of the Expert Panel Report on Public Order Policing recommended bythe Marikana Commission policing to investigate training, equipment, regulations andglobal best practice in managing both peaceful and non-peaceful gatherings, andavoiding the use of force unless strictly necessary and proportionate to the threat posed.The report as completed and submitted to the current Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, inApril 2018, but has yet to be released to the public.


Contact details: 

  • Rehad Desai, Marikana Support Campaign:083 997 9204 
  • Thami Nkosi, R2K:062 624 5992 
  • Busisiwe Zasekhaya, Right2Protest:081 583 8888 
  • Nomzamo Zondo, SERI:071 301 9676


  • Read the full statement here
  • Read the full statement by the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) here.


The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), in partnership with the South African Cities Network (SACN), the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) and Constitution Hill, invite you to the launch of a short documentary on sanitation for women with disabilities living in informal settlements entitled, “The Struggle to be Ordinary”. The film raises awareness of the intersection of gender, disability and basic services in informal settlements in South Africa.

Lydia Mandela Flag


In the lead up to the launch of the documentary, we have produced a short media interview with Lydia Lenyatsa, who lives in Slovo Park informal settlement, south of Johannesburg.

Lydia is a physically disabled mother of three who has lived in Slovo Park informal settlement for 20 years. She relies on the use of crutches to move around and on an oxygen mask to help her breath. She shares a pit latrine toilet and standpipe with other households in her community. As the toilet is outside of her home, Lydia has to ask someone to accompany her when she needs to use the toilet. She also feels it is unsafe for her or for her children to use the toilet by themselves at night as it is next to a road. If there is no-one around to escort her to the toilet, she often does not go at all.

Informal settlements are characterised by profound inequalities in access to basic services such as water, sanitation, health and emergency services, and electricity. According to the South African Human Rights Council, difficulty accessing safe water and sanitation services impacts severely on the access of other human rights such as health, dignity and education and this impacts disproportionately on women, girls and people with disabilities. Women, in particular, are impacted as the caregivers for people with disabilities.

Government efforts to provide access to improved water and sanitation facilities in informal settlements have largely failed to take the specific needs of disabled people into account. People living with disabilities continue to face numerous challenges to accessing sanitation in informal settlements, including relying on shared toilets and chemical latrines, crawling to inaccessible sanitation facilities, inaccessible hand-washing facilities at toilets, the use of alternatives such as the bucket system to avoid travelling to distant sanitation facilities during unsafe hours, and physical violence while trying to access facilities outside the home.

Under the Constitution of South Africa, "everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms." The rights of people with disabilities are protected by the Constitution.

Water and sanitation services in informal settlements must be improved to meet the specific needs of disabled people, specifically women and girls.

  • Watch the video interview with Lydia Lenyatsa here
  • Download the invitation to the launch here.

RSVP  for the launch to Thato Masiangoako (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) / 011 356 5865 by 9 August 2019.




On Thursday the 25th of July, the International Development Law Unit (IDLU), Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) co-hosted a dialogue titled, “Access to Housing Finance and the Right to Housing” at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University). The dialogue was attended by roughly 24 participants from academia, civil society and the private sector and consisted of presenations followed by an open dialogue session. Alison Tshangana (Centre for Affordable Housing Finance) and SERI board member Jackie Dugard (Wits University) served as presenters at the event. 

Dugard’s presentation entitled, “The problem of sales of execution by the banks”, tracked a number of concerning cases through which sales of execution have been used to deprive people of their homes for minimal amounts of debt. She used the example of RDP housing to demonstrate that emphasising the importance of private title is not an adequate solution to addressing inequality. She explained that for the majority of South Africans, RPD housing is viewed as a form of social security and not equity. Dugard also argued that in order to protect a person’s right to housing, sales in execution should be used as a measure of absolute last resort.

Tshangana highlighted the realities of the relationship between accessing finances and obtaining a house in the South African market highlighting research conducted by the Centre for Affordable Housing Finances which revealed that only 6.9% of the South African population could access housing finance in the forms of mortgage bonds or loans. Tshananga further noted that low income households are generally unable to secure housing through the property market even if they are eligible for subsidies through programmes such as the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (FLISP). She attributes this reality for forcing many low income households into informal sale arrangements with little to no consumer protection.

Download SERI’s guide on Preventing or Opposing a Sale in Execution.

sales in execution

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