Legal / Municipal Services

Section 27 – Grahamstown’s Constitutional Right to Water

In light of Grahamstown’s seemingly ongoing water outages, knowing one’s rights has become increasingly important. Megan Whittington explores the importance of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the right to have access to sufficient water, and whether or not our human rights are actually being infringed upon by these water outages.

It is common knowledge that with the implementation of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, all citizens of the country were awarded a number of rights. One such right, listed in the Bill of Rights, is the right to have access to sufficient water. The wording of this section 27 Constitutional right is significant when identifying the extent of one’s right to water.

Not everyone has the time or the inclination to sift through pages of legislation and case law in order to ascertain a full understanding of their rights. And so the need arises for a brief summary in order to understand what these water outages are doing to our human rights.
“The Constitutional Court, since 1994, has been unwilling to define socio-economic rights,” said Dr Muller (LLB, LLD). Various forms of legislation have, however, addressed this issue. The municipality is legally obligated to uphold the right to water as set out in section 27 of the Constitution. This is explicitly stated in section 23(c) of the Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000.

Makana Municipality has been failing to act in accordance with this requirement, resulting in national-level intervention. The Water Services Act 108 of 1997 lays out the standards when it comes to water provisions. South Africans are entitled to a ‘basic water supply’, which has to be of suitable quality and abundance in order to maintain hygiene and life.

“From the case of Mazibuko and Others v City of Johannesburg and Others, it is clear that there is a minimum core obligation when it comes to water supply,” Dr Muller said. According to both this case and the Water Services Act, this amount is 25 litres per person daily. In the recent past, many Grahamstown inhabitants have not been receiving this amount.

When it comes to fulfilling Section 27, Makana Municipality needs only implement a viable plan to resolve the practical difficulties of meeting the basic water supply. “As long as there is a reasonable programme in place, the Constitutional Court will be reluctant to intervene,” said Dr Muller.

According to section 100 of the Constitution, the national government is required to intervene with provincial administration when they fail to meet minimum service delivery standards.

Makana Municipality recently acquired a grant of R75 million from the Eastern Cape government. Although further funds are likely to be needed, this is a positive step in the direction of realising Grahamstown’s right to water.


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