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KZN municipalities violate human rights by failing to provide clean water: SAHRC

The SA Human Rights Commission has found that many municipalities in KZN are failing residents by not providing equitable access to clean drinking water. File photo.
The SA Human Rights Commission has found that many municipalities in KZN are failing residents by not providing equitable access to clean drinking water. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

KwaZulu-Natal municipalities have violated residents’ rights to clean drinking water.

That's the key finding by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) after it conducted an inquiry into water challenges plaguing the province.

The inquiry was held in Durban in August last year, where submissions from stakeholders were received. Since 2020 the commission has received more than 600 complaints regarding access to water.

Commissioner Philile Ntuli said this violation of rights is aggravated by a “pervasive sense of neglect, disregard and, in some instances, contempt for people's suffering and their attempts to engage with the municipality through officials and elected representatives”.

She said the extent of the challenges in access to water and the rights violations experienced by communities was evidenced by the complaints garnered by the chapter nine institution.

“The impact on the rights, livelihoods and dignity of communities is particularly aggravated in impoverished communities and vulnerable households. The impact on business results in undermining of employment,” said Ntuli.

The commission further noted the stark disparities between rural and urban communities in terms of access to basic services such as water sanitation, which affects rural residents' rights to equality, dignity and equal access to rights and freedom as guaranteed by the constitution.

It noted the challenges faced by municipalities in redressing apartheid-era spatial planning, which excluded most communities from basic water provision, and the inheritance of ageing and dilapidated infrastructure.

“The commission finds these challenges outlined by municipalities reflect poor planning and management of resources, particularly in relation to non-revenue water and maintenance of infrastructure,” said Ntuli.

It is unacceptable the failure of the state 28 years postapartheid to transform colonial and apartheid-era spatial planning to benefit previously excluded and disadvantaged communities
Philile Ntuli, SAHRC

This, the commission argued, was a result of the reluctance to deal with corruption and non-performance as well as the inability to plan and budget for needs and expenditure.

“It is unacceptable the failure of the state 28 years postapartheid to transform colonial and apartheid-era spatial planning to benefit previously excluded and disadvantaged communities,” said Ntuli.

The following steps were recommended to improve the situation:

  • The monitoring of municipalities and the implementation of the blue and green drop report findings.
  • Municipalities must urgently address long-standing backlogs in infrastructure maintenance. This would include technical measures and reporting to the commission on an annual basis.
  • A district development and ambitious operation, Khawuleza, should be undertaken in a move to bolster service delivery.
  • The commission said water boards should prioritise the development of additional bulk water supply schemes by reporting unreasonable delays to the relevant authorities. “They need to undertake the necessary infrastructure maintenance and replacement to ensure continuity in water services provisioning,” said Ntuli.
  • Water authorities in Amajuba, eThekwini, Harry Gwala, iLembe, Ugu, uMgungundlovu, uMzinyathi, uThukela, King Cetshwayo and Zululand municipalities are advised to meet regularly in their areas and report back to the commission after 12 months.
  • The commission also called for plans to address emerging corruption relating to the water tanker system and overtime. “All allegations of damage to infrastructure and manipulation of the tender mechanism should be investigated,” said Ntuli.
  • The widespread challenge of high water losses from leaks should also be prioritised.
  • The whip should be cracked on non-performing officials, including implementing consequence management.
  • The challenge also calls for bold plans in implementing the national water and sanitation master plan.

 

Fellow commissioner Chris Nissen said the commission will continue to put pressure on officials.

“This is not going to end here. We have the mandate to take action.

“One example is there was a municipal manager who ended up sending someone else as he cited being busy,” he said, adding that this was much to the disappointment of the commission's officials, who had driven for four hours.

Nissen said they would petition the Presidency to get involved if authorities ignored the recommendations. This would be necessary because authorities were undermining the constitution by failing to provide basic human rights. 

He expressed concern that some officials had reneged on Batho Pele principles. Municipalities which had failed to make submissions include eThekwini, Amajuba Newcastle, Zululand, uMzinyathi and uThukela.

Wits University's Prof Tracy-Lynn Field, who is part of the collaborative water master tracker project, described the move as a step in the right direction.

TimesLIVE

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