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SA Human Rights Commission blasts KwaZulu-Natal municipalities over water crisis

South African Human Rights Commission's Philile Ntuli delivering the findings and recommendations by the SAHRC into the KwaZulu-Natal water crisis following an inquiry last year. Picture: Screengrab.

South African Human Rights Commission's Philile Ntuli delivering the findings and recommendations by the SAHRC into the KwaZulu-Natal water crisis following an inquiry last year. Picture: Screengrab.

Published Sep 19, 2023


The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Monday blasted several KwaZulu-Natal municipalities and water service authorities in the province following an inquiry into the challenges around access to water, after it received around 600 complaints from KZN residents.

These complaints ranged from failure to access water to struggles to access it.

Several municipalities within the province, who are tasked with delivering clean drinking water as per the Constitution, failed to execute their duties and thereby violated a basic human right, the SAHRC said.

Head of the KZN water inquiry Commissioner Philile Ntuli, said it was unacceptable that 30 years into South Africa’s democracy, residents still could not access clean drinking water.

The SAHRC presented the 155-page final report in Durban on Monday following the inquiry last year, from August 15 to 19.

In some worst case scenarios, the SAHRC found that people in KwaZulu-Natal were sharing water sources with animals. Picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/African News Agency(ANA)

“The Commission finds that in KZN, municipalities in general and Water Service Authorities (WSAs) in particular have violated residents’ right to access clean drinking water, as provided for in international, constitutional, and statutory provisions,” the report said.

Upon delivering its report, the SAHRC made several recommendations to the municipalities and water service authorities that were failing to deliver water, one of which stated that a department must declare a state of disaster if the water situation is found to be dire.

The following recommendations were aimed specifically at the department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA):

“Guided by Section 62 of the Water Services Act, with Section 154 of the Constitution, the department is to pay more focused attention to monitoring the effective performance of water service institutions in the province.

“The department is to further invoke where appropriate powers in terms of Section 63 of the Water Services Act to take over the water services function in parallel with COGTA powers in terms of Section 139 of the Constitution to put municipalities under administration for failing to deliver water.

“The department must review the funding model for municipalities and consider a special grant to effect upgrades and rehabilitation of critical water infrastructure and report to the Commission within twelve months from the date of this report.

“In appropriate instances, the department must enact measures to declare a state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 so as to escalate the immediate restoration of water services and to effect necessary repairs, damages as well as damaged or neglected infrastructure,” Commissioner Ntuli said.

It should be noted that these issues do not indicate a complete lack of water, but rather lengthy periods of weeks or in worst case scenarios, months, where residents go without access to clean drinking water, the Commission explained in its report.

In most cases where complainants spoke about the lack of access to water, they also noted a poor response from municipalities.

“The impact of resulting water shortages is felt acutely by local schools, hospitals, old age homes, crèches and businesses, and emerging health crises are seen, exacerbated by the presence of sewage,” the report read.

Statistics South Africa shows that during 2021, 46.9% of KZN households reported a water interruption.

The municipalities named by the SAHRC for having severe challenges with access to clean drinking water are Amajuba District Municipality, eThekwini Municipality, Harry Gwala District Municipality, Ilembe District Municipality, Ugu District Municipality, Umgungundlovu District Municipality, Umzinyathi District Municipality, uThukela District Municipality, King Cetshwayo District Municipality, and the Zululand District Municipality.

The SAHRC urged these municipalities to fast track their water service delivery and come up with solutions in terms of its maintenance plan as well as implementing an appropriate customer service plan.

The Commission also noted the announcement made by eThekwini Municipality to host the World Water Conference in 2025 and said it hoped that the dialogue would be used constructively given the challenges within the municipality.