The South African Human Rights Commission recently gave government stakeholders 60 days to respond after it ruled that the continued flow of raw sewage into the Vaal River, as well as into homes and public areas in the Emfuleni Local Municipality, was a violation of human rights.
This follows a precedent-setting High Court judgment in December 2020, where a judge ordered the imprisonment of the municipal manager of Kgetlengrivier in North West for 90 days, suspended on condition that raw sewage spilling into the Elands and Koster rivers be cleared up within 10 days.
Both of these outcomes were driven by the actions of local citizenry fed up with having to endure a contaminated water supply. Previously, other spheres of provincial and national government had failed legally to oversee, support, intervene and, where required, step in to secure protection of the quality of South Africa’s water resources.
AN ECONOMIC ENABLER
Delegating the micromanagement of water governance to a local level is in line with international best practice, and is reflected in the Constitution and South African water laws. However, we need to pause and take a look at whether this model, in its present form, is suited to South Africa. This is particularly so given the critical importance of water and a recent study suggesting that most municipalities are in financial distress, and in many cases face significant management challenges.
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