'Clean water is constitutional right' - Rural village takes municipality to court

Close-up Of Leakage Tap With Dripping Water Drop
Close-up Of Leakage Tap With Dripping Water Drop
Image: 123RF / Andriy Popov

Vuyiswa is one the residents of Mmangweni‚ a rural village in the Eastern Cape‚ who - with the help of the Legal Resources Centre - have filed an application in the Mthatha High Court against the O. R. Tambo District Municipality and other government actors‚ seeking a court order requiring the municipality to urgently deliver clean water to the community.

"Sometimes I use my sleeve as a sieve‚ putting it on the mouth of a bottle and drinking the water through my clothing. When I do this‚ I see small dirt particles on my sleeve afterwards. I also use coffee filters at home to try to clean the water. Despite my efforts to clean the water‚ my children get rashes on their skin and their stomachs run."

"The residents are in desperate need of water‚" the LRC said on Thursday.

Sketching the background to the village's water woes‚ the centre said that since becoming the Water Services Authority in 2003‚ the District Municipality has never supplied Mmangweni with water.

"The water that residents currently drink and bathe with‚ seeps from the ground near an open space where livestock also drink and defecate. Tests show that the water is infested with E.coli. Residents suffer rashes‚ stomach aches and diarrhoea from drinking the water and bathing with it."

In addition‚ to collect water‚ they walk long distances up and down steep slopes from their homes to the watering point and back‚ weighed down by heavy containers of water. One resident’s home is over one kilometre away from the watering point‚ said the LRC. At the watering point‚ residents wait long hours‚ depending on how many people are in line before them and how slow the water trickles from the ground.

One mother of four‚ an applicant in the case‚ reports waiting from 2am to 6am to collect enough water for her family.

Some days‚ particularly in the winter when it hardly rains‚ there isn’t enough water for the residents’ basic needs‚ said the LRC.

"Learners go to school hungry because there is no water with which to cook or they don’t go to school at all because there is no water with which to bath."

A teacher at one of the schools told the lawyers: “I see learners from Mmangweni in my classroom who are quiet and lethargic. I ask them what’s wrong and they tell me they had to leave home without eating because there was no water for cooking . . . I ask learners from Mmangweni why they haven’t done their homework and they say they didn’t have time because they were at [the watering point] late at night waiting for water. I ask learners why they have been absent from school and they say it is because there was no water for bathing and they were dirty‚ or they say there was no water for cooking and they were hungry."

In June 2017‚ a resident-run committee notified the District Municipality of the residents’ plight. Despite efforts over the following year by the committee and the LRC to engage the District Municipality‚ no water has been delivered to Mmangweni.

The community now seeks a court order requiring the Municipality to abide by its constitutional obligations.

Said the LRC: "Section 27 of the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to access to sufficient water. The District Municipality is responsible for ensuring the realisation of this right for the people within its jurisdiction. The court application will hopefully result in a court order directing the District Municipality to supply‚ at minimum‚ 25 litres of water per person‚ per day‚ and to submit to the court a written plan for providing water on an urgent basis to all people within its jurisdiction who desperately need water."

Nyandeni Local Municipality is opposing the application and the court will decide on June 28 whether it will hear the matter on a semi-urgent basis.

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