lodge complaint button
commissioners button
programmes button
provinces button
publications button
calendar button
fraud hotline button

Water is the source of all life

24 March 2024

IT IS WIDELY established that human rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. Similarly, consensus exists that water is the source of all life and therefore the right to water is the force that sustains the intrinsic connectedness of all human rights.

However, in South Africa this vital right is under siege due substantially to neglected infrastructure.The nation is grappling with a growing crisis as the availability of this essential resource increasingly diminishes – leading to inequalities
and adversities. The unfolding crisis is on full display in the rising number of community protests against water shortages. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, communities living in the eThekwini Metropolitan are particularly despondent with increasing reports of water protests. In recent months, there have been increased protest action in areas such as Phoenix, KwaXimba, Verulam, KwaNyuswa and oThongathi, among others.

More recently, protests have disrupted the water functions of the metro, further destabilising the system. In certain areas, protests have been reported to feature arson, thefiring of rubber bullets, and injuries.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is responsible for upholding the dignity and well-being of citizens, and is inundated with complaints that highlight the failures in water provision in the province.
In response to the growing crisis, the commission has intensified its strategic interventions in line with
its constitutional mandate.
In August 2022, the commission, by means of an investigative inquiry, investigated the extent of the challenges experienced by communities and the systemic nature of the violation of human rights. This entailed assessing the extent to which the organs of state have respected, protected, and fulfilled the right to sufficient water, including assessing the reasonableness of measures adopted to ensure the progressive realisation of the right to sufficient water.
The findings of the water inquiry exposed a landscape marred by systemic shortcomings where providing water is impeded by management practices, a lack of strategic planning and a notable absence of accountability and leadership within municipal structures.
Essential elements crucial fordelivering services – such as maintaining and investing in infrastructure – often get overlooked, worsening the situation for communities already struggling with water insecurity.
Additionally, the lack of communication between the municipality and residents exacerbates these challenges along with a lack of awareness about community concerns.
Essentially, the water crisis inKZN results less from water scarcity, but is rather largely attributed to the delivery systems of the relevant water services institutions.
And yet despite the findings and recommendations outlined in the KZN Water Inquiry Report, the state of access to water seems to be deteriorating.
More recently, and in response to rising protests in communities in the north of Durban, the SAHRC has facilitated the establishment of a war room with the aim and purpose of bringing communities closer to the municipality, and to ensure accountabilityand transparent governance in the realisation of the right to water. This platform fosters direct engagement between the eThekwini Municipality and communities.
Further, on March 6, a town hall meeting was convened by the commission to bring together water experts who reside in the metropolitan area, in an effort to developing community-led solutions and to finding sustainable approaches to
address the ongoing water crisis in the metro.
The town hall engagement noted that despite positive measures reported by the municipality, a myriad interrelated factors plague the delivery of water.
The infrastructural challenges are chief among the disruptions and deprivations. The town hall meeting also pointed to mismanagement plaguing the eThekwini Municipality. Notably, and resulting from failing infrastructure, is the
rise in municipal reliance on the water-tankering system.
The SAHRC KZN Water Inquiry Report (published in 2023) found a number of challenges with the water tankering system. These include but are not limited to: inadequate and disproportionate supply and delivery to communities; as well as manipulation and commercialisation of the system, such that those community members with connections and money receive regular delivery and supply at the expense of others.
In addition, the politicisation of the tankering system and the possible financial benefit from the system by municipal officials and members of municipal councils were flagged.
Further, there exists a lack of co-ordination between the eThekwini Municipality, the Departmentof Water and Sanitation and uMngeni- uThukela Water.
This underscores the necessity for a cohesive and integrated approach to water provision among government institutions.
It is also crucial for both the metro and the province as a whole to review their disaster management strategies as shortcomings in this area have significantly contributed to infrastructure decay and worsened water-related issues.
Despite the perpetual challenges of water supply in the province, the commission is committed to ensure the protection of the right to water.
It is crucial for all stakeholders to commit to efforts aimed at addressing systemic shortcomings andinjustices affecting water provision in KZN.
Only through comprehensive reform and genuine collaboration can we hope to overcome the entrenched issues plaguing the provision of water in eThekwini and beyond.
The commission is committed to intensifying its efforts at creating a conducive environment for community-led solutions in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Zungu is a legal consultant and Philile Ntuli is the commissioner at the South African Human Rights Commission.

About us

Understanding PAIA

The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

Sentinel House, Sunnyside Office Park, 32 Princess of Wales Terrace, Parktown, Johannesburg, South Africa

011 877 3600 (Switchboard)