FRIDAY BRIEFING | Taking charge: How North West residents took on a municipality - and won

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Raw sewage and dirty water: How residents took charge of two North West towns

Koster and Swartruggens are two small towns on the North West hinterland. It is rural farming country, with high unemployment and all the social problems you'd expect to find in modern South Africa.

As such, it is far removed from the power politics of government and the ANC. The state simply doesn't care about the fact that its inhabitants have been battling with raw sewage polluting the rivers, and residents having to survive without reliable and clean drinking water.

Access to water is a basic human right. And access to reliable ablution services another right, which ensures dignity.

But the ANC-run municipality of Kgetlengrivier, which includes Koster and Swartruggens, couldn't be bothered. It has for years neglected to provide these basic services, while officials, such as the mayor and municipal manager, have been earning fat salaries at the expense of locals.

It is a disgusting and untenable situation.

In December, the High Court in Mahikeng  granted an application – and made it an order of court – giving local citizens control of water and sewerage works.

In an unprecedented and stinging order, the court declared that the municipality "fails to supply water", that water works are in a "state of disrepair and are mismanaged", and that the municipality is "in breach of its constitutional obligations".

The whole lot of them should be fired. But it seems they aren't even embarrassed. I hope they will be severely punished in this year's local government election.

The court order, and the success of the subsequent intervention, however, gives hope that there might be a way to deal with collapsing municipalities. The court has now set a precedent. In future, when communities across the country are faced with non-existent service delivery and local politicians that cannot be bothered, they can look to Kgetlengrivier and see what can be done.

News24's James de Villiers reports from the two towns in Friday Briefing's anchor piece and finds residents to be overjoyed about taps that work. It's a story that will make you angry, but will also give you hope that small-town politicians can (and should) be held accountable.

Analysts Karen Heese, Kevin Allan, Sethulego Matebesi and Thina Nzo also examine if we are likely to see more of this type of action from ratepayer associations when there is no service delivery. 


Pieter du Toit

Assistant Editor: In-depth news

WATCH | Raw sewage and no water: How citizens of two North West towns took charge of services

South Africans from all walks of life are growing increasingly frustrated by municipalities’ poor service delivery. But the High Court granted the citizens of two small towns in North West permission to take charge of their water and sewerage works. And now things seem to work, reports James de Villiers.  

EXPLAINER | The North West ratepayers' judgment: Implications, and can other towns do the same?

News24 spoke to two legal experts about the implications of the North West High Court ruling which allowed a residents association to take over the water and sewage works and what other towns need to do to achieve similar rulings.

The Kgetlengrivier precedent: Why Koster and Swartruggens residents' action matters so much

A North West High Court judgment, that gives Kgetlengrivier Concerned Citizens control of the water and sewage works, should be a message to political parties to carefully consider just how dismal service delivery must be for this situation to have emerged, writes Karen Heese and Kevin Allan.

Municipalities need to embrace grassroots activism to regain trust

Previously ratepayer associations in South Africa withheld payments of municipal rates and taxes, but now they've moved to the tactic of going to court to get service delivery, writes Sethulego Matebesi.

Local government vs : Reclaiming the people's power through the courtscommunities

State authority can be challenged, giving civil movements the power to circumvent limitations and failures of state institutions, moving closer to the idea of co-existence and co-dependency between the state and society when it comes to accountability, writes Thina Nzo.

To receive the Friday Briefing, sign up for the newsletter hereNow available to all News24 readers.

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