Water war in court

2012-07-14 15:06

Blackouts to blue-outs: Water is the new crisis

The nation’s courts are fast becoming the battleground for a new war: the fight by South Africans to get access to clean water.

This week, the residents of Carolina in ­Mpumalanga, won a court order ­giving their local municipality just 72 hours to provide temporary water.

Residents of Silobela, Caropark and surrounding areas in Carolina have been without water for six months ­after acid water from the nearby mines started coming out of the taps.

This year alone, Carolina, Louis Trichardt, Hoedspruit and Bosbokrand in neighbouring Limpopo, and Brandfort, Winburg, Soutpan, Verkeerdevlei and Marquard in Free State have all been left without clean water.

The Water Research Council has warned that water was becoming a ­major driver of service delivery protests.

A lack of adequate and safe drinking water has played a significant part in service delivery protests across the country, the council said.

“When the government has not met expectations, citizens have responded by blaming government structures for non-delivery of services,” said researcher Barbara Tapela.

Carolina’s court victory has spurred on other dry towns. Ratepayers in ­Louis Trichard and parts of the Free State are all preparing to go to court.

They are threatening to withhold taxes if they don’t get clean water.

Tuesday’s judgment in the North Gauteng High Court was the first of its kind.

The Gert Sibande municipality was given 72 hours to act.

No order was made against the department of water and environmental affairs or Minister Edna Molewa, despite her being the first respondent in the case.

The minister has called the Carolina court action a war against the state and questioned why local mines were not included in the case.

Molewa said: “I must point out that the department was instrumental in declaring the water in Carolina unsafe for human consumption and sprang into action with the commissioning of the provisioning of interim water ­supply measures.

“The only time this service was ­interrupted was during community unrest that led to the burning of some of the tanks and tankers.”

She said her department took its role as “regulator and custodian of water resources in the country” seriously, but it was municipalities’ responsibility to ensure water access in their ­jurisdiction.

But cash-strapped municipalities are struggling to keep the taps running without the help from national government. In Louis Trichardt, residents have been without water for 60 days.

“There is nothing day or night,” said Inga Gilfillan, chairperson of the Soutpansberg Taxpayers’ Association.

“Public toilets are closed. There is no water for the hairdressers. People can’t take a proper bath. It is a huge crisis.”

In the Free State, the province’s standing committee for cooperative governance is set to investigate the water crisis.

Acting committee chair Neels van Rooyen of the ANC said an urgent meeting had been scheduled with the department of water affairs.

Peter Frewen of the DA said the problem with municipalities was that they didn’t spend their municipal ­infrastructure grant correctly.

“Also, municipalities don’t appoint qualified people at water purification plants.”

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