28 June 2018 – For years, residents of a small village called Mmangweni in the Eastern Cape have walked long distances and waited for hours to draw dirty water from a place they call “idami.” The local municipality refused to deliver water to the community even though their dirty water caused rashes and diarrhea.

After a year-long struggle led by Masiphathisane, a committee representing the residents, the Legal Resources Centre brought an application before the High Court, seeking safe drinking water. The LRC argued that the municipality’s failure to provide water was unlawful and argued that other rights, such as the right of children in South Africa to a basic education, could not be fully realized without sufficient water. Affidavits in the case demonstrated how students often stayed home from school because they lacked clean water in which to bathe.

The High Court ordered the O R Tambo District Municipality to deliver ten 5,000 litre water tanks to the village within fifteen days and to refill each tank on a weekly basis. The order also requires that the tanks be placed within 200 meters of households in the village.

The court order has brought relief to the community. “I’m happy because water is the first thing and the last thing … nothing can be done without water,” said Funeka Xoveni, commenting on recently-delivered water. “I can cook, sit with my children, do housework … I don’t have to go and sit at idami.” Nobongile Soyini could taste the difference the water has made: “That water from idami was not nice in my mouth but this water… I drink a lot of it, it tastes good.”

The LRC’s application before the High Court involves two parts. The first part focused on the delivery of water, which has now been settled by the court-ordered agreement. The second part focuses on the municipality’s systemic failure to provide water to the community and seeks a sustainable solution for the provision of water. The court order requires the municipality to continue delivering water as specified in the agreement until the second part of the application has been resolved.