Water access is a Constitutional Right

Water access is a Constitutional Right, By December Ndhlovu

Water access and rights is a very broad concept to discuss in an article. I will therefore limit my discussion to the following questions:

  1. Where does our water come from?

There could be lot of surprises if one can ask the youth of today as to where does our water come from? The younger generation from urban settlements would probably think of water coming from the tap. Water comes from the wells, natural springs and the downstream flow of water becomes a river if it runs continuously. Rivers form natural dams from water erosion during heavy rainfalls. Another source of water is our rain. When it rains, dams and rivers become full; we can also harvest and store rain water. Water does not come from taps as most people think; if there is no water from the river, there can be no water from the taps.

  1. What state is our water supply in? Clean, contaminated, enough, shortage?

The Bushbuckridge region, where Zingela Ulwazi works with rural communities,  has two water sub-catchments: the Sabie and the Sand sub-catchments. Water quantity in the two sub-catchments is low and below average. The Sand sub-catchment is the worst, and has been below average for a long time now. The water quality is bad: ecoli and disposable nappies have badly compromised the quality of water in the two sub-catchments. The Injaka Dam which supplies the area has been struggling and at times water has to be rationed because of low levels. We have all realized during the COVID-19 outbreak that we do not have enough potable water for the population.

  1. What are you rights around water?

South Africa is one of the countries that has a good, well written Constitution with lots of “rights” enshrined in the Supreme Law, but these rights are barely implemented, they are just on paper. The South African Constitution, which is the supreme law of this country says in Chapter 2 that “everyone has the right to have access to sufficient water and food”.

Section 27(1)(b) of S.A Constitution goes on to say that, “everyone has the right to access to sufficient water”. Water and sanitation is a Human Right, meaning that the municipalities that fail to deliver sufficient water to its citizens have breached or neglected their constitutional obligation.

South Africa has a Free Basic Water Access Policy which is a certain amount of water that one has to be supplied with on a daily bases free of charge.  Section 27(2) requires the State to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realization of the right.

Water is life.

  1. Whose responsibility is it to deliver water to residents?

The South African Constitution states that municipalities have the responsibility to make sure that all citizens are provided with services to satisfy their basic needs. Municipalities are responsible for:

  • Water supply
  • Sewage collection and disposal
  • Refuse removal
  • Electricity and gas supply
  • Municipal health services
  • Municipal roads and storm water drainage
  • Street lighting
  • Municipal parks and recreation

Municipalities are not just expected to deliver clean potable water to its citizens but to also make sure that all the above-mentioned responsibilities are met and accomplished. Municipalities are the local representatives that we have elected to deliver services to a community.

  1. If you don’t have water, what steps must you take? What is your recourse?

Report the problem to your local Municipality

Always report water problems to your local municipality and keep record of your complaints (the date you called, who you spoke with, what was discussed, any follow up agreements and timelines).

Follow up with Municipality if the problem persists (14 or 21 days)

Always follow up with the official that you reported your water problems to.

Report the problem to the Department of Water and Sanitation provincially if not attended to and followed up.

Report your water problems to the provincial DWS if your local municipality is not doing anything about your complaint.

Report the problem to DWS nationally if not attended to provincially.

Escalate your water problems to DWS nationally so that you have contacted and reported the problem to all water services sectors.

Call DWS toll free number: 0800 200 200

Report all water related problems to this toll free number and please ask for a reference number of your complaint so that next time when you follow up, you just use the reference number instead of relating the whole story each time.

Report to the Human Rights Commission if you don’t receive help from the above.

Water is a Human Right and we are all supposed to have clean potable water. The Human Rights Commission is also very helpful in these regards.

Presidential Hotline:17737

The Presidential hotline needs to be used so that we know if it is effective or not.


It is helpful to use media as a platform to relay and escalate information to reach many people.



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