SAHRC steps in as water woes grow

Phoenix residents barricaded the roads demanding water services be restored to the area. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo

Phoenix residents barricaded the roads demanding water services be restored to the area. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo

Published Feb 20, 2024


Durban — The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has expressed concern over eThekwini Municipality’s failure to meet its self-imposed deadline of February 15 to fix water supply issues and has decided to convene a town hall meeting of experts to address the issue.

In its inquiry report, the commission found that the water services authorities, such as the metro, were violating residents’ rights to access clean drinking water. It said it was concerned that not much seems to be done to arrest this ongoing violation of the constitutional right to have access to water in the metro.

“The commission is doubtful that the metro has the capacity to turn this dire situation around.

“This is so, particularly given that a report indicates that the water and sanitation unit of the metro – a key vehicle in water provision – has no strategic business plan in place and is currently beset by a 52% vacancy rate.”

In line with its mandate of taking steps to secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated, the commission said it will on March 6 convene a meeting of water experts who reside in the metro, and who share in the common and mutual interest of finding solutions to the metro’s water challenges.

The HSRC said it will continue to monitor water challenges in the eThekwini metro.

On Monday, the City announced the postponement of a critical repair to the northern aqueduct water pipeline – another blow to residents.

Verulam Water Crisis Committee spokesperson Roshan Lil-Ruthan said high-level meetings were under way between government officials to sort out the problem ahead of the ANC’s manifesto launch, Mayihlome rally, in Durban on Saturday.

Lil-Ruthan said this was an economic crisis impacting businesses as well.

“We consulted with engineers and we told the municipality they did not need a shutdown to repair the valves.

“Maybe the valves are not the problem. They went ahead and issued a statement which they have now backtracked on. They have shifted the goalpost again. I have doubts that this will be resolved this month,” he said.

Lil-Ruthan said engineers were busy with the manufacturing of parts for installation in a step-by-step process. Lil-Ruthan said the community was seething with anger.

The northern aqueduct plays a critical role in providing water to a significant part of eThekwini.

eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said the postponement comes after extensive assessments were conducted by the City’s Water and Sanitation technical teams.

The DA’s Bradley Singh said the reason for the postponement remains unspecified; the municipality has been adjusting dates to suit its own needs, disregarding the impact on residents.

The ongoing water shortages and rationing have led to frustration and anxiety among residents, he said.

“Any delay in addressing the repairs could result in serious consequences. The municipality is already grappling with water shortages. It is evident that the City is facing challenges and requires assistance from experienced engineers and technicians. Without this support, the burden on residents will persist.”

In several community meetings held in Phoenix and Verulam, the municipality had promised to have the water supply to taps in order by February 15. Residents are still without a regular water supply. Residents of Verulam and Phoenix also held public protests.

The shutdown was scheduled for Tuesday (today). To address the water supply disruptions the municipality has been implementing various interventions to improve the performance of the old northern aqueduct – by reducing leaks and replacing defective air valves.

Civic organisation, Voice of Phoenix (VOP) spokesperson, Pastor Mervyn Reddy, said the municipality conceded that they were not in a state of readiness. These types of repairs must be undertaken properly to avoid a temporary fix and a long-term problem. Reddy said VOP was in constant contact with officials and also monitoring repairs undertaken. Reddy said the transparency has allowed for residents to be kept abreast of developments.

“I met with officials. We are unhappy about the unkept promises. However, Voice of Phoenix has said from the onset that we should allow the municipality a grace period to conduct the repairs professionally. If they do not carry out repairs by the end of February then residents have a right to be angry. For now, let’s allow them that space. We will go to court over this matter if it does not get sorted out,” Reddy said.

Phoenix Civic Movement spokesperson Alice Govender said they were extremely disappointed and upset about the way the eThekwini water and sanitation unit communicates.

“It is only after persistent attempts by us that we eventually come to the truth. The Phoenix Civic Movement endeavours to work with municipality officials towards positive change and progress. The municipality has not brought any good faith to the table,” Govender said.

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