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Communities and activists demand urgent plans for water provision from Eastern Cape authorities, or face court action

10 December 2020 at 12:46 pm

Photo: Thamsanqa Mbovane for Dispatch Live
Photo: Thamsanqa Mbovane for Dispatch Live

CAPE TOWN: A coalition of community activists and civil society organisations working in the Eastern Cape are demanding that the Amathole District Municipality, the Amatola Water Board and the Mnquma Local Municipality work together to present a detailed plan for emergency water provision to communities in Ward 28, Centane by 15 December 2020, and a plan for long term water provision by 15 January 2021.

The group, consisting of local activist Harvey Ntshoko of Coastal Links, Masifundise Development Trust (Masifundise) and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) have this week sent a final letter of demand to the Amathole District Municipality, the Amatola Water Board and the Mnquma Local Municipality.

Should the municipalities and the Water Board fail to meet the two deadlines of 15 December 2020 and 15 January 2021 in respect of emergency and long terms plans respectively, community and civil society groups will have no option but to approach the High Court for urgent relief.

More than 9 months have passed since a national state of disaster was declared due the COVID-19 outbreak, and communities across the country are still unable to access water.  This shockingly dire situation persists in spite of the prevailing health emergency and the numerous attempts and pleas by civil society organisations for urgent government intervention.

The lack of access to water in parts of the Eastern Cape has reached crisis proportions. In the area of Centane in the Eastern Cape, the situation has been worsened by an ongoing drought, with the sick and the elderly bearing the brunt of a water, health and environmental crisis, all exacerbated by a breakdown in local governance. Moreover, the province is now in the grips of a second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having had no response to the various interventions detailed below, Ntshoko, CER and Masifundise have had enough.

We have done all we can to engage with government, provide them with opportunities to respond and give them information on the water crisis facing communities in the Eastern Cape. With Covid-19 cases rising in the province, we can no longer wait and are now demanding that urgent action be taken by all those responsible for water provision or bulk water provision or we will consider litigious proceedings,” says Naseegh Jaffer of Masifundise.

In March 2020, the South African Water Caucus (SAWC), a network of community and civil society organisations working for water access and justice, was alerted to acute water access problems in communities across the country arising from the failure of government authorities to ensure reliable access or delivery of water to these communities. SAWC, as well as the C19 Women’s Solidarity Forum and the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign, collectively identified over 200 communities without access to water at the beginning of the lockdown and since April this year, has been providing detailed information to the Presidency, the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (DWS), the National Disaster Water Command Centre, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for the DWS and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

Members of SAWC also attended a meeting of the Committee of Advisors to Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and included the Committee in all correspondence.  SAWC has never received any response to its letters.

In the meanwhile, the situation in the Eastern Cape worsened as the months went by. The CER, as a member of SAWC, working with Eastern Cape based organisations Afesis Corplan and Masifundise, attempted to engage with local authorities around the water access crisis facing communities, some of whom have been without regular water access, for years.

Officials from the district and local municipalities were requested to intervene on multiple occasions, and have been provided with copies of all SAWC correspondence. Eventually the officials from the Mnquma Local Municipality attended a community meeting in September 2020, and made various undertakings to community members. However, to date no water has been provided the communities, as promised.

It is unconscionable that communities continue to live in undignified conditions, and to now face a pandemic and drought without any proper assistance from government. The breakdown in local governance due to mismanagement, corruption and maladministration is a failure of democracy. We will continue to work with communities to hold government accountable through social audits in Centane as well as advocacy and co-ordination with other civil society actors,” says Nontando Ngamlana of Afesis Corplan.

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Section 24of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

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