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SAHRC finds against several Government entities for violating public’s right to water and sanitation

Attention: Editors and Reporters

20 December 2013


The South African Human Rights Commission has found against various local municipalities and a provincial department of education for not providing access to the constitutional rights to water and sanitation.

Despite several commitments the Commission received from Government to develop a proactive strategy to address the lack of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, there are poor communities who still do not experience these fundamental human rights. In a 2011 complaint, the Commission ruled that the Presidency’s Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) provide a report on the status of the right to sanitation and the plan to effect the rights to water and sanitation.  DPME’s report revealed that an estimated 16 million poor people do not have access to adequate sanitation, and 3.5 million poor people do not have access to clean drinking water. The impact on all other rights, including health, education and safety and security (especially for women and girls) is devastating.

The DPME and other departments participated in the Commission’s public hearings across all provinces. They heard the numerous problems that poor communities experience. In the Commission’s Legal hearing with director generals from departments such as Water Affairs, the Commission raised the problem of Government only responding when communities protest. A proactive strategy would ensure immediate short term solutions linked to longer term sustainable solutions.

Deputy Chair Pregs Govender noted that “ Given the ongoing complaints on water and sanitation being dealt with by the Commission, such a proactive strategy has clearly not been put into place.  We therefore call on government to fulfill its commitments,. We call on the relevant government authorities to provide a temporary water supply to affected communities during this festive period while a longer term plan for ensuring access to water is developed.  This will help to honour Madiba’s memory by advancing his vision of a just and equal society”.

Details of the Findings

In the five complaints received, the Commission found that these entities violated the residents’ right to dignity by neglecting or failing to take reasonable steps to provide residents with sufficient clean water, and adequate sanitation.

The Commission received complaints from residents, and individuals who felt that their respective local municipalities and the North West Provincial Department of Education violated their rights by not providing them with adequate access to water and sanitation as enshrined in the constitution.
The five complaints that the Commission recently dealt with in line with its Constitutional mandate to investigate human rights violations, are:

Madibeng Local Municipality
Complaint received from residents of Klipgat C, an area falling under Madibeng Local Municipality, who alleged that the community had been without water supply for a period of five weeks and the municipality failed to address the problem despite being made aware of it.

Setsoto Local Municipality

The Commission launched an own initiative investigation after observing suspected rights violations. The Commission dispatched investigators to conduct an inspection in Mantwabeng Senekal regarding allegations of undignified sanitation and poor workmanship in the building of toilets for residents. During the investigation, residents complained that the water supplied is unclean and not suitable for human consumption. They were forced to boil the water first before using it.

Matjhabeng Local Municipality

The Commission was alerted to service delivery protests through the media and proceeded to dispatch investigators for detailed information. The broadcast highlighted the plight of residents in relation to service delivery in Phomolong including lack of access to water and sanitation.

Emalahleni Local Municipality

Residents lodged a complaint with the Commission alleging that the Emalahleni Municipality violated their rights by failing and or neglecting to provide them with adequate, clean and safe water supply. The complainants alleged that residents had no access to water for six days or longer.

North West Department of Education

The complaint lodged alleges that the North West Department of Education failed to provide access to sanitation at Polonia Primary School in Makaw Village in Garankuwa. As a result the pupils at the school were subjected to unhygienic and unsafe conditions on a daily basis.


In all these complaints the Commission found that the respective municipalities and the Department of Education violated the right to dignity, right to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.

In addition the Commission found that these entities failed to adequately conceptualize, plan and implement their projects, which resulted in the residents being forced to use underdeveloped service infrastructure.


The Commission has recommended that the four municipalities put interim measures in place for the provision of adequate, uninterrupted water services to the residents before 25 December 2013.

In addition, the government needs to provide a framework through which meaningful and ongoing consultation with the residents will be undertaken. Government is required to provide the Commission with reports in relation to the progressive realisation of the right to water and sanitation services in these areas.  These findings have been communicated to the parties, who have 45 days to appeal these findings.

The Commission remains deeply committed to ensuring that people who are poor access their rights to water and sanitation in the country. Since 2009, the Commission has investigated, made findings and ensured action on complaints related to the lack of access to water and sanitation, beginning with its rulings in the unenclosed toilets complaints in Makhaza and Rammulotsi, where the Commission found that both municipalities had violated the right of people to dignity, privacy and clean environment. We are at the end of 2013 – it is time that Government ensure that people who are poor experience their constitutional rights.


Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission

For more information, please contact

Isaac Mangena
Spokesperson, SA Human Rights Commission

For comments email info@sahrc.org.za [Back]

- See more at: http://www.justice.gov.za/legislation/constitution/index.html#sthash.vQme5ODl.dpuf

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