22 March 2012

South Africa: Human Rights Commission Must Investigate Free State Water Shortage

press release

Note to editors:

This statement follows the solidarity walk undertaken with the women of Brandfort by DA Parliamentary Leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko MP and Patricia Kopane MP.

Today, on World Water Day and as part of Human Rights Week, Patricia Kopane MP and I walked 3.5km in solidarity with the women of the Joe Slovo Informal Settlement to draw water from the waterworks. This is a daily chore made necessary by the municipality's failure to provide the community with clean running water.

Helen Suzman's memorable dictum was: "Go see for yourself". This is what we came to do.

Women from communities far away are compelled to make a return trip to the waterworks in the middle of the veld on most days when clean water is not available. The waterworks source is only partially purified and the water is muddy in complexion.

Recently, the Marantha Clinic, where we started today, was without a regular supply of water for four weeks. It appears that both the municipality and the provincial government are failing to assist the clinic to resolve this problem. Consequently, nursing staff are hesitant to treat patients since they are not able to wash their hands before doing so. This problem has persisted for several years.

I have today written to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) requesting it to investigate what is happening in this and other communities in the Free State that have been without clean water for months. The HRC is the appropriate body to get to the bottom of this and hold whoever is responsible accountable.

Our preliminary investigations tell us that the source of the problem is manifold.

Firstly, no maintenance is being performed at the Kanaal pump station. Secondly, there is a serious leakage of water from the canal to the purification plant. Thirdly, the water treatment plant is poorly-maintained and operated. Fourthly, the Municipality does not manage the drinking water supply, and there have been indications of bacteria in the water, including e-coli.

These are just some of the multiple technical and managerial challenges which plague the water supply chain here. But the real source of the problem is a lack of political will on the part of the municipality to fix the problem.

Last year, the situation got so bad that the army had to supply water after the community had been without water for a week.

It is clear what has to be done: the water management of the municipality must urgently be given to a supplier that is capable of providing a safe and consistent service; and the Municipality must be compelled by the national and provincial government to implement proper Water Resource Management (WRM) processes. This is a question of leadership and accountability.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has already written to the Ministers of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Health, and Water & Environmental Affairs, asking that this matter be dealt with the utmost urgency. The situation requires intervention from the top. The DA will also be tabling questions and motions in Parliament to draw attention to this critical situation, and similar situations across the country.

This is necessary because, sadly, the journey which Patricia and I will undertake today is one that millions of South African women undertake every day. In some communities women make this journey two or three times each day. They should not have to, and it upends the human-rights emphasis of our Constitution.

It is difficult for many of us to imagine carrying this burden with the gnawing cold cutting through bone and marrow on a winter's day, or under the searing heat of the noon day sun. That so many women do so with such grace and without a whisper of complaint is a scar on all our consciences.

As we observe Human Rights Day this month, it is clear that we have made insufficient progress to free women through the provision of basic services, like clean water. The DA will be holding the governing party to account for its service delivery mandate, and by making a material difference to the lives of women by what we do where we govern.

Lindiwe Mazibuko

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