Date: May 15, 2020 By: Deepna Desai

Human Writes: Access to Water – An Exclusive Right Guaranteed to the Privileged

Residents in affluent suburbs rarely experience water cuts, but when they do, tweets are promptly sent, local municipalities receive an influx of calls and radio stations immediately report it on their daily news. Shortly after, their grievances have received attention, the privilege is restored. 

This effective service delivery from local municipalities is offered to the minority only. The reality for the majority of communities in South Africa is strikingly different.

On 13 April 2011, residents in Maqheleng Township did not have the luxury of resorting to tweeting or picking up the phone; instead residents were compelled to protest about the inadequate water supply. Callously, the police responded by using water cannons to disperse the residents. Even worse, they publicly executed Andries Tatane who led the protest of access to water. Andries Tatane’s death received media attention, but no government attention. Subsequently, the law failed Tatane by unjustly acquitting the police officers who murdered him.

Similarly, the residents of QwaQwa, who have been faced with a water crisis since 2016, resorted to protesting for access to this basic human right – but their cries were not immediately heard. The government responded to the community only when the media reported the water crisis in light of  the tragic drowning of Mosa Mbele, a seven-year-old who was fetching water for her family.

Both of these cases show that the government and local municipalities only seem to take action when media attention is involved. However, we cannot rely solely on the media to bring attention to the ongoing water crisis in many parts of the country.  The law needs to assist in pressuring the government and local municipalities to act accordingly.

In terms of the law, the right to water is guaranteed in section 27 (1b) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996 (the Constitution). The right to water is undeniably linked to the equality clause (section nine) and the right to live in a healthy environment (section 2). 

Denying the basic right to water not only overtly infringes section 27 (1b), but also undermines the right to equality – as there is evidently a discrimination in the provision of services. Furthermore, section 24 is disregarded, as insufficient access to water exacerbates health risks such as diarrhoea, cholera and polio, to name a few.

As indicated above, the Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to water, however it is up to the courts and government to ensure that this right is enforced, especially in communities that need it most.

It is evident from the above information that access to water is hindered by ineffective regulation. Public authorities disregard the right to water and thus fail to regulate local municipalities. The law needs to be enforced and upheld in order to hold municipalities and government accountable. Additionally, through the effective use of law, pressure needs to be put on the government to explore the reason why municipalities are under-performing even when  they receive adequate funding. These are problems which need to be addressed immediately – no one deserves to wait for water.

Do you agree? Take action with us and demand Minister Sisulu Turn on the TAP for everyone, always.

This article was written by Deepna Desai. Deepna is currently a Candidate Attorney (the views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of her employer). She has a keen interest in helping the community and improving human rights for all. Deepna has volunteered with CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa since 2010 and has been a part of the Amnesty International South Africa Volunteer team since 2018 – introducing and developing a Human Rights Education Programme for schools throughout Gauteng.

**This article was contributed by a guest blogger. This blog entry does not necessarily represent the position or opinion of Amnesty International South Africa.