Eastern Cape Centane villagers go to court to try get clean water

Eastern Cape villagers are still sharing water with animals. Photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Three weeks since the court hearing on water provision to Centane, there is still no clean water in their taps.

The ministers of Water and Sanitation and of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Eastern Cape premier, the Amathole District Municipality (ADM), the Amatola water board and the chief executive officer of Rand Water are expected to file affidavits in Mthatha High Court today (October 22) stating their plan to provide clean water to Centane ward 28 residents.

This comes after community members with the help of Masifundise Development Trust turned to the Mthatha High Court to try force the Eastern Cape government to provide them with clean water. These residents from Nxaxho, Nombhanjana, Ngcizela and other adjacent communities are forced to walk kilometres to get water from the river. The water is not clean and also used by cattle and other animals.

In October 2020 Elitsha published a story of a Centane resident who had been without water for six years. The plight of the villagers came to our attention when community leaders staged a protest demanding clean water. They gathered at the community hall in Centane, Nombhanjana village, but instead of receiving any kind of word on when clean water could be expected, the five community leaders were arrested for breaking the Covid-19 level five lockdown regulations.

The charges were later dropped.

Three of the five community leaders are applicants in this court case, as well as the Trustees of the Masifundise Development Trust. A statement issued by Masifundise last month states that water access in rural areas has proven to be a major challenge that all levels of government have failed to meet. The statement says that many water scarce communities, without access to clean water in their homes, have been forced to meet their water needs through contaminated and polluted rivers and lakes, depleted boreholes, and inconsistent water deliveries from local government.

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The remote nature of rural villages creates an added burden to water collection, with communities having to walk as far as 2km to fetch clean water. The statement further states that women are particularly vulnerable and are forced to collect water in groups in order to avoid gender-based crimes.

Nita Pusakwe fetching water from the river In Centane where villagers have been struggling to access water for years. Villagers outside Centane in the Eastern Cape say their taps have been dry for the past six years. The only time their taps have water is after rainfall and then only for less than 30 minutes. Throughout the pandemic, communities like these were without water. Archive photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

On 6 September 2021, Masifundise, together with a coastal community organisation, Coastal Links, filed an urgent application in Mthatha High Court against national water and sanitation minister, the Eastern Cape provincial government and the Amathole District Council for their collective failure to provide safe drinking water to Centane communities. The application supported by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) was heard on 28 September as a matter of urgency.

Centane resident, Mentani Mkalitshi is the second applicant in this case. She told Elitsha that ADM was supposed to provide them with clean water before October 22 but they have failed.

Mkalitshi said by turning to court they are hoping that the Eastern Cape government will see the need to provide water to their communities. “It’s been years begging them for clean water but they are failing us. Nombhanjana village has taps but they are dry. This year we only had water for two weeks and that was in April. We don’t know why our taps are dry and the municipality is not communicating with us,” she said.

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Naseegh Jaffer from Masifundise said the rural community of Centane has been without a consistent and reliable water supply since 2017. He said the community experiences a daily violation of their rights enshrined in sections 24 and 27 of the Constitution of South Africa. “Since all else failed, this urgent litigation is an attempt to hold government accountable through the courts. Letters, meetings and discussions have failed. People’s right to water and sanitation is being violated. It brings to the fore the inability of our state institutions to enforce obligatory regulations and laws.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has further intensified the dire need for water in rural communities. With hand washing and general hygiene essential to combating the coronavirus. The government has a responsibility to ensure that rural communities have reliable and sustainable access to water. There is a duty on all spheres of government to ensure that water and sanitation services are provided in a manner that is efficient, equitable and sustainable. There has not even been any sign of a temporary intervention to help communities,” said Jaffer

All applicants will have five days to respond to the affidavits after being delivered to court. The matter will return to court on 12 November 2020.

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