17 July 2012

South Africa: Carolina Water Problems Tip of the Iceberg

Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/UNAMID
The North Gauteng High Court's judgement ordered the municipality to supply residents of Carolina with potable drinking water.

press release

All indications are that the controversial water quality problems in Carolina are the tip of the iceberg.

Louis Trichardt (in the Makhado municipality in Limpopo) has been without water for two months now. Ratepayers in the town of Louis Trichardt and parts of the Free State are reportedly preparing to go to court to demand improved water access. In addition, Hoedspruit, Boskbokrand, Brandfort, Winburg, Soutpan, Verkeerdevlei and Marquard have all been left without clean water for significant lengths of time this year.

The question is: what is Minister Molewa's plan to prevent further problems and to ensure that potable water is delivered to these and other towns across the country that face severe water shortages?

I have today written to the Minister to furnish me with a progress report for all of these areas, including Carolina, which is still without safe water.

In the wake of the court ruling against the Gert Sibande Municipality to deliver potable water we cautioned that it was not clear that any of the structural issues contributing to water delivery failure had been adequately addressed. Carolina, along with Caropark and Silobela townships, has gone without drinking water for at least six months. This is six months too long, and reports indicate that safe water is still not being delivered.

The Minister herself has noted in reply to a DA parliamentary question that it is estimated that up to 25% of people who have access to a tap are without an acceptable level of service. This is principally a result of failing municipal infrastructure, but management problems are increasingly highlighted as a contributing factor.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Blue Drop Report that the Department of Water is currently using to aid water service authorities to improve their ability to deliver potable water is not performing adequately as an early monitoring system, despite 'process control management' and 'water safety planning' being prominent scorecard indicators in the Blue Drop system.

The Vhembe water service authority, under which Louis Trichardt falls, scored 74.85% on the Blue Drop Report assessment and was one of the most improved performers in the latest edition of the report. Makhado scored 75% on 'process control management' and 57% on 'water safety planning'.

It is becoming clear that the Department of Water will have to go further than the annual production of the Blue Drop Report. We need stronger action from the Department in the form of directives and even criminal charges against municipal authorities that are failing in their duty to deliver potable water to all South Africans.

The Minister has been at pains to point out that the national department is the regulator and not responsible for water provision on the ground. That is true, but then her Department must do the job of the regulator.

Minister Molewa called the Carolina court action a war against the state and said that it was municipalities' responsibility to ensure water access in their jurisdiction. But municipal water service authorities fall under the ultimate responsibility of the Department of Water Affairs. It is time for Minister Molewa to stop passing the buck and start taking responsibility.

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