18 August 2017

South Africa: Residents Compel Limpopo Municipality to Provide Clean Water

On Thursday the Sekhukhune District Municipality reached a settlement with the residents of Flag Boshielo West. The municipality will provide the residents with more clean water immediately. It will also force the municipality to find a long-term solution to a long-lasting water shortage.

The residents of Flag Boshielo West initially had access to clean water through the Elandskraal water plant. However, in 2009, the municipality switched to receiving water from a newly-constructed Flag Boshielo plant. The water supply was intermittent and eventually, the municipality implemented a rotational water system. This meant each part of the community would receive access to water on a different day of the week.

The municipality distributed this water to the residents through an intermediary, Lepelle Northern Water. While the rotational plan meant the municipality was supposed to distribute water on a weekly basis, sometimes three or four weeks would pass without water. So many residents had to purchase water, collect water from the river and springs, or share water sources with livestock.

On 27 February 2015, the residents filed an application to compel the municipality to provide them with a minimum of 25 litres of free basic water per person per day. The residents argued that the municipality was violating their right to water under the Constitution and that the rotational water distribution plan was unlawful. The residents have been represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies.

The municipality initially opposed the application, arguing its policy was reasonable and that, given the resource constraints, it cannot provide water to residents on a daily basis. However, the municipality then reached an agreement with the residents to truck potable water to the communities twice a week as an interim solution.

Unfortunately, the water provided by these trucks was not always suitable drinking water: it is often unpurified. Both parties returned to court on Thursday to see if a solution could be found. The parties, at the request of the judge, negotiated and agreed that, as a long term solution, the municipality would build another water plant.

The terms of the settlement - which was made a court order - sees the municipality having to provide the area with 37 more Jojo water tanks in the next six weeks and, in the interim, refill the existing tanks every weekday. Also, the court has ordered the municipality to file monthly affidavits on its compliance with the order and on the progress of the new water plant. Judge Hans-Joachim Fabricius was appointed to manage the case and ensure the municipality complies with the court order. The municipality has also been ordered to draw up a plan to provide five communities -- Flag Boshielo West, Elandskraal, Morarela, Mbuzini, Dichoueng and Tsansabela -- with free basic water.

The settlement is a big victory for the residents of Flag Boshieloafter an eight-year battle for access to clean water.

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