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SAHRC's response to Department of Water Affairs regarding report on Water and Sanitation


23th March 2014

Attention: Editors and Reporters

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) would like to respond to the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) following the release of its report on the right to access water and sanitation, last week.

The report, entitled “Water and Sanitation, Life and Dignity: Accountability to the People who are Poor” was presented to government officials, including the Deputy-Minister of the Department of Water Affairs, Ms. Rejoice Mabudafhasi, and the Minister of the Department of Human Settlements, Ms. Connie September, at a public launch in Cape Town on Tuesday, 11 March 2014.

On Wednesday, 12th March, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms. Edna Molewa, labelled the SAHRC’s report as “outdated”, “baseless” and “misleading”.

The SAHRC is disappointed by the DWA’s response to the report as the findings of the report were informed by the views of the communities that the SAHRC visited in all the nine provinces. The hearings were attended by community members, who presented oral and written submissions on the challenges that they face on a daily basis in accessing water and sanitation. Civil society leaders and government officials, including DWA representatives, were also invited to the hearings.

It is important to note that the SAHRC did not aim to do a representative sample study that illustrated the level of access to water and sanitation in the country as a whole. This has already been done in numerous studies, including the 2011 Census by Statistics South Africa. Instead, the SAHRC aimed to assess the level of access to water and sanitation in the poorest communities in each province in the country. The SAHRC also wanted to speak with people in these communities to listen to their experiences in accessing basic services.

The purposive methodology used by the SAHRC does not negate the findings of the study, particularly the experiences of the poorest communities in the country. On the contrary, the study provides a unique look at the reality faced by rural communities that is not illustrated by national and provincial statistics.

It is important that national departments, like the DWA, take note that despite the improvement in access to water and sanitation at a national level, the poorest people in the country have not benefitted from these improvements and feel helpless and ignored. Often, their complaints are not even responded to by ward councillors, local government or provincial and national government. The SAHRC understands that the provision of services like water and sanitation is the competency of local government. However, in the many areas where the inadequate provision of basic services has reached crisis proportions, like Mothotlung in the Madibeng municipality, the Minister of Water Affairs can and should intervene to ensure access to water and to realise the dignity of people in those communities.

Further, the SAHRC embarked on a comprehensive process of verification of the findings and recommendations of the study with all relevant government departments, a process which the departments of Water Affairs, Human Settlements and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs participated in (via meetings and subpoena hearings).

The SAHRC study did not assume that the provision of sanitation is the responsibility of the DWA, but specifically delineates the competency of different government departments and different spheres of government. The report does however note with the concern, the lack of collaboration between different departments and spheres of government, to the detriment of communities.

The SAHRC would like to encourage all relevant government departments to study the findings of the report and assess ways in which operations can be improved, to ensure access to services for all people, especially those that have been historically disadvantaged and are tired of living undignified lives in deplorable conditions.

Issued by the SA Human Rights Commission
Isaac Mangena
071 884 8273

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