Human Rights Commission slams eThekwini over water supply

 ·25 Jan 2024

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has said that the failure by the eThekwini Municipality to provide adequate running water amounts to a violation of human rights.

“The commission remains concerned with the ongoing violation of the constitutional right to have access to water and the length of time it takes the respective authorities to restore water supply to affected residents/communities,” said the SAHRC.

Areas such as Phoenix, Verulam, Tongaat, Umdloti, Umhlanga, Newlands West, oThongathi, Durban, uMlazi and Lamontville have found their taps running dry on almost a daily basis, and for days, weeks, months, and years at a time – like Ngonyameni near Umlazi, Durban, which has been without running water for five years.

The situation escalated after protests were seen in Verulam and Phoenix this week, which have been without water for more than 90 days.

The SAHRC released a statement last year announcing its intention to probe the municipality after becoming inundated with reports, with engagements picking up again this year following the increasing issues.

Head of the KwaZulu-Natal water inquiry, commissioner Philile Ntuli, said that municipalities lacked planning and were not addressing ageing infrastructure.

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

SAHRC deputy chairperson Chris Nissen said in a statement at the end of last year that excuses from the various entities responsible ranged from “30 years was not enough to fix the problems”, to old infrastructure and vandalism.

“We also discovered that even when they provided water by tankers to different communities, we found that was also a problem as it was more a business, spending more money on procuring tankers than actually fixing the infrastructure,” said Nissen.

“The commission finds the challenges outlined by municipalities and Water Services Authorities WSA reflect poor planning and management of resources, particularly with regards to nonrevenue water and maintenance of infrastructure,” he added.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has said that it is working with the eThekwini Metro and uMngeni-uThukela Water to resolve the issue. Minister Senzo Mchunu called for eThekwini to “urgently come up with long lasting interventions in response to ongoing water and sanitation services in the municipality.”

“Being without water is a sensitive and emotional issue and we understand the anger and frustration. We apologise for the inconvenience and have instructed those dealing with work to do so with urgency the matter requires,” said Mchunu.

The SAHRC said that it would regularly meet with residents and affected stakeholders to find plausible solutions to the service delivery grievances.  

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