Gauteng and NW Province

Water to drink is an urgent need indeed

Calling a court case against the government ‘a war on the state’ thus sounds hollow and disrespectful

George Bizos

Some in the upper echelons of the government blame the Constitution, the courts, the non-governmental organisations, lawyers and the media for the failure to deliver essential services to the poor and disadvantaged.

Judges are reluctant to respond. The media and others often respond by drawing attention to the provisions of the Constitution, particularly section 16, which guarantees freedom of expression.

Members of the executive often say they were quoted out of context. Their juniors appear to prefer what the superiors said the first time. An example of this is the recent case brought on behalf of the people of Carolina by the Federation for a Sustainable Environment and the Silobela Concerned Community group, the Legal Resource Centre and Lawyers for Human Rights in the Gauteng High Court.

Judge Moses Mavundla found that the matter was urgent and ordered Gert Sibanda district municipality to provide 25L of drinkable water to all Carolina residents within 72 hours. He ordered the mayor and manager of the municipality to consult the federation and the community in restoring the water supply and to draw up a plan for where, when and what volume of water would be provided in the interim. The municipality was told to report to the court within a month, detailing the progress made.

Minister of water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa did not oppose the grant of the relief sought and, to her credit, agreed to assist. The applicants accepted her undertaking.

The mayors and managers of the Sibandi and Luthuli municipalities filed 150 pages not only opposing the relief claimed, but also arguing that those who initiated the case did so for political gain and in bad faith to embarrass the government.

Molewa welcomed the judgement but also said, in reference to obstacles to delivery, “there is a war on the state”. She did not identify who the enemy was – the people of Carolina, their community organisations, their lawyers? Mavundla?

On June 12, one newspaper “red carded” her for her comment about “war on the state”. “There isn’t,” it wrote, “but if the state denies people their constitutional right to fresh water, ‘a war’ seemed an appropriate response.”

The municipal authorities have served a 15-page notice of application to appeal, in the hope of suspending the effect of the order to deliver water within 72 hours. Their main complaint against the judgement was that the matter was not urgent and they were wrongly ordered to pay costs. If their attempt to appeal succeeds, the people of Carolina could wait another year or two for water.

The people of Carolina had every right to go to court. They chose to go to court instead of blocking roads, burning tyres, looting shops, defying the police or engaging in any other activity that may have entitled the minister to accuse anyone of participating on a “war on the state”.

The Constitution calls on all of us, more than 30 times, to be “reasonable”. We should all try to do so.

Mail & Guardian July 20 to 26 2012

Imagine you were one of the unfortunate people of Carolina; having to get by for days without water. We can and should, all try to conserve water; recycle your grey water and harvest your own rainwater. It is the responsible thing to do.

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