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SAHRC Water Inquiry: KwaZulu-Natal must be placed under a state of disaster


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SAHRC Water Inquiry: KwaZulu-Natal must be placed under a state of disaster

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28th September 2023


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Madame Speaker on behalf of the people of KZN I want to take the opportunity for allowing the DA to table this matter. I would have hoped that as the governing party, the ANC would have tabled this SAHRC report. Sadly, it appears that this damning report is not important to the ANC.

I believe that we should collectively hang our heads in shame, we have failed the people of this province. This is not my opinion but that of the SAHRC. It is important to note that the SAHRC is an apolitical, non-racist structure that compiled this report, an independent report, that gives it all the gravitas it deserves. Nobody can shy away from these findings.


Allow me to quote from the report:

“The extent of the challenges in access to water, and the rights violations experienced by communities, evidenced by the complaints tabled by residents and communities across the province of KZN, is profound, and indicative of systemic failures in water provisioning, and the violation of multiple human rights.”


“This violation of rights is aggravated by the pervasive sense of neglect, disregard and in some instances, contempt, for people’s suffering, and their attempts to engage with their municipality through officials and elected representatives,” the report found.

The SAHRC inquiry into water service delivery revealed that critical infrastructure is collapsing due to rampant neglect, lack of investment, corruption and a lack of skills and capacity to maintain it to meet spiraling demand for the commodity.

The Commission’s provincial office received more than 600 complaints regarding success to water. These complaints relate to wide-spread water shortages in communities, in some instances no access to water for more than seven days, inconsistent water supply, water disconnection, lack of alternative measures such as provisioning of water tankers, poor water quality, polluted water in some instances and water billing issues. This has not only affected the community at large. It has also affected schools, businesses, and a wide-range of other organizations across the province.

eThekwini metro municipality, Ugu District Municipality and uThukela District Municipality make up the vast majority of the complaints, accounting for 92.6% in total. The report further reveals that;

• 86% of water-supply systems did not comply with chemical determinants standards
• Only 8% of water supply systems were considered to have ‘excellent technical skills”, leaving 92% with poor and non-existent technical skills
• Importantly, water safety planning - a key factor in risk management -was very poor across KZN, with the province average relating to this indicator sitting at a damning 24%.

For a number of years, many KZN municipalities have performed poorly. According to the 2021 State of Local Government Report, out of KZN’s 54 municipalities, 11 were declared dysfunctional, 20 were at medium risk, and only one was stable. Further, of all South African municipalities under administration at the time of the release of the report, 39% (10 out of 26) were in KZN. A lack of scarce skills, intra-and inter-political party issues, poor financial management, corruption and fraud, and weak civil society involvement in governance were named as key contributors.

In the latest municipal audit, the Auditor-General of South Africa found that audit outcomes in KZN reflected a net regression over the term of the previous administration. This as a result of inadequate leadership action in responding to key risk areas, political infighting, instability in key positions, inexperienced officials, and lack of enforceability and consequence management.

"Preventative controls and consequence management need to be further strengthened to trigger sustainable audit outcomes. Leadership and management must also pay closer attention to service delivery.” (Auditor-General, South Africa, 2022: 69)".

According to SAHRC Commissioner Chris Nissen the report found that municipalities and water authorities across KZN had violated the rights of citizens to access clean water. However, those guilty of failures “came up with excuses” for their failures when they met with the Commission. He went on to state: “There were lots of complaints (from municipalities) about ageing infrastructure and vandalised infrastructure but we cannot live 30 years into democracy and not budget for maintenance and repairs.”

Further shocking findings within the report include;
• eThekwini District Municipality, with areas such as Newlands West, Tongaat, Durban, Umlazi, and Lamontville experiencing water interruptions on a daily basis
• eThekwini water loss is up to 52% unaccounted for
• Tongaat residents recorded some 85 days after the floods where they did not have drinking water on tap. In one instance, community members went 21 days without water. Schools were closed. People in the area would gather water at swimming pools, impacting on their dignity
• 126 days after the floods, the residents of Tongaat still did not have water on tap. The SAHRC reiterated that the municipality’s failure to enact appropriate emergency measures impacted on the dignity of residents whose rights to healthcare, sufficient food, and water have been violated
• Areas such as Newlands West, Verulam, Tongaat, Lamontville, and Obed Kunene all experienced ongoing water interruptions for a period of 80 days. Others reported water outages for periods of 15 hours. In Ntuzuma B, a complainant reported a lack of access to water for over a year
• Ugu District Municipality in Margate and Hibberdene where no water has been available for five months. Local businesses are also severely affected by the ongoing water shortages, particularly those in the tourism industry, which is the primary source of business for the South Coast. The Ugu Ratepayers Association (URA) made a submission to the Commission, and further submissions to the KZN Legislature, tabling this at a Sitting with COGTA. The URA alleges that the COGTA MEC tore up a petition containing 1 800 signatures from the community over the ongoing water crisis.

A concern raised by residents within eThekwini municipality is that while it is reported that there is insufficient water to be piped to residents’ homes, water is still being delivered to certain communities through water tankers and standpipes. It is interesting to note that eThekwini failed to respond to the SAHRC’s correspondence and meet this deadline of 19 October 2022.

Nobody can deny that water tankers have become another corruption opportunity in our province. There are, nonetheless, insufficient water tankers to meet communities’ needs. These areas are frequently far removed from urban areas and there are restrictions imposed of five litres per person. Community members also report that tankers appear irregularly, and that they never know when these will arrive, so that they cannot plan accordingly.

Further key findings within the report include;

• The Commission finds unacceptable the failure of the state, 28 years’ post-apartheid, to transform colonial and apartheid-era spatial planning to benefit previously excluded and disadvantaged communities

• The Commission finds that in respect of the KZN Water Master Plan, Municipalities are not adhering to the guidelines to reserve 8% of their annual operational budgets for operations and maintenance

• The Commission finds that stakeholders such as the DWS, COGTA and the KZN Legislature, all of whom hold constitutional and legislative oversight and monitoring responsibilities for the delivery of water services by municipalities have failed in effectively ensuring that municipalities and water service authorities do not violate the residents of KZN’s right to access clean drinking water.

The DA calls on the Premier and members of the executive to immediately effect the following steps to address the ongoing water challenges in our province;

• 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

• Adopt measures to strengthen inter-governmental relations across the spheres, particularly pertaining to the role of the Office of the Premier, the Legislature and COGTA in monitoring the work of local government

• COGTA must review the funding model for municipalities and consider the provisioning of a special grant to effect upgrades and rehabilitation of critical water infrastructure

• In appropriate instances, COGTA must enact measures to declare a state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002, to escalate the immediate restoration of water services

• COGTA must, where appropriate, invoke powers in terms of Section 139 of the Constitution, to put municipalities under administration for failing to deliver water

• COGTA must ensure the KZN Water Master Plan considers the regression in municipality performance, and identifies “radical measures” to confront this, “including fraud and corruption, and intra-political party fighting within the public service”

• District municipalities must create dedicated customer services divisions with call-centres to receive and refer complaints. Municipalities must “urgently address the emerging corruption relating to the water tankering system and overtime system, investigate allegations of damage to infrastructure and manipulation of the tender mechanism”. They must implement consequence management measures for failure by officials to perform and;

• Finally, the KZN Legislature must conduct oversight to ensure the implementation of the recommendations of the report.

Our province can no longer continue in this downward trajectory. The people will have the opportunity to save KZN when they go to the polls in 2024.


Issued by Francois Rodgers, MPL - Leader of the DA in the KZN Legislature


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