The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has unveiled its KZN Water Inquiry Report, providing an in depth examination of the state of water service delivery in municipalities across KZN. We will, however, be taking a closer look at Newcastle.
The report exposes a spectrum of challenges, encompassing ageing infrastructure, staff shortages, inadequate budgeting, and payment difficulties.
SAHRC conducted an extensive five day provincial inquiry into water access in KwaZulu Natal during August 2022. The report, disclosed on Monday, 18th September 2023, offers a comprehensive overview of Newcastle Municipality’s standing regarding water service delivery.
Throughout the inquiry, SAHRC engaged with a diverse array of stakeholders from various sectors, involving state and non-state entities, as well as individual community members and civil societies.
Looking at the Newcastle Municipality, SAHRC explained that the municipality has an unfunded budget, which has an impact on its ability to provide services, including water. “Numerous critical positions, in the technical division, have been left vacant for a long time, and this is being prioritised.”
Additionally, the Commission explained that uThukela Water Services provides bulk water supply to the Newcastle Municipality, which is the largest of three Water Service Authorities (WSA) in the area.
SAHRC stated that the Municipality has requested a meeting with Department of Water and Sanitation, COGTA and uThukela to renegotiate the three WSA’s arrangement so that they can deliver optimal water and sanitation services.
“There are numerous challenges pertaining to water resources, which the Newcastle Local Municipality is seeking to address through the construction of a dam, using tanker services to address shortcomings,” said the SAHRC’s report.
Adding to this, the SAHRC pointed out that the Newcastle Municipality has also commissioned the construction of a water plant, but the water source is not reliable, with the Commission explaining that the Municipality has now undertaken a study to determine how best to augment this.
“There are bulk water projects to address extension to ward connections, and a water reticulation project, funded by grants,” said the SAHRC’s report.
Furthermore, the report explained that according to the Newcastle Municipality, all community members have some form of access to water, but the quality and reliability of these connections vary.
SAHRC’s report also highlighted that the key challenge is the ageing infrastructure, with maintenance having been neglected, resulting in burst pipes, and impacting on water supply.
“There are projects underway to replace the aged infrastructure to ensure reliability. Staff shortages are an issue, and the water services department needs to be capacitated. Budget constraints impact on maintenance, and the Newcastle Local Municipality is sourcing funding to augment its budget and implement planned infrastructure upgrades and maintenance,” said SAHRC.
The entity also underscores the importance of community awareness and communication in Newcastle to encourage residents to pay for services, as nonpayment adversely affects revenue collection and the Newcastle Municipality’s service delivery capabilities.
“This is aggravated through illegal connections and water leakages. The Newcastle Local Municipality asserted that the community has become violent and arrogant, pleading poverty,” told SAHRC, highlighting that the Newcastle Municipality has asked that the Commission assist in spreading the message of the need to pay for services.
Regarding community education and awareness of payment for services, the SAHRC report notes that the Newcastle Municipality has initiated a door to door campaign to engage with communities. Additionally, an incentive programme has been introduced, enabling residents to write off 50% of their bills by paying half of the amount owed, 75% by setting up a debit order, and 100% of household debts by taking charge of future bills. These initiatives have enabled the Newcastle Municipality to recover at least half of the R1.4 billion owed.
“This figure includes households, businesses, government departments and employees. The Newcastle Local Municipality is addressing the issue of nonpayment through disconnections, the attachment of property, and its debt collection strategy.”
Moreover, SAHRC reports that the Newcastle Municipality is reviewing its bylaws to implement punitive measures against illegal connections, contributing to nonrevenue water.
The SAHRC panel also engaged in discussions concerning water provision via tankers. “It encouraged the Newcastle Local Municipality to consider better managing the demand, recycling and reusing of water for industrial purposes.”
Regarding water service delivery, the SAHRC report acknowledges the Municipality’s claim of achieving 100% water service delivery. However, it also notes numerous complaints received by the Commission that contradict this assertion.
“The Newcastle Local Municipality reported that it has a call centre and suggested that complaints could pertain to burst pipes and interrupted supply, not the ability to access water generally. On average there are 50 complaints in this regard. Tankers are used when attending to repairs. The Commission undertook to provide the Local Municipality with details of the complaints it has received for follow up,” stated SAHRC.
With the above mentioned and in a broader context, the SAHRC’s findings indicate that across KwaZulu Natal, municipalities and Water Service Authorities (WSAs) have violated residents’ rights to access clean drinking water, as mandated by international, constitutional, and statutory provisions.
“This violation of rights is aggravated by the pervasive sense of neglect, disregard and in some instances, contempt, for people’s suffering, and their attempts to engage with their municipality through officials and elected representatives,” read the SAHRC report.
It further emphasised that the extent of the challenges in access to water, and the rights violations experienced by communities, evidenced by the complaints tabled by residents and communities across the province of KZN, is profound, and indicative of systemic failures in water provisioning, and the violation of multiple human rights.
We invite you to share your thoughts and opinions on the issues raised in the SAHRC’s report in the comment section below.