What are your rights?

Your right of access to sufficient water is protected in s. 27(1)(b) of the Constitution. According to national regulations, everyone has the right to a minimum basic water supply (Water Services Act, Regulations Relating to Compulsory National Standards and Measures to Conserve Water (GN 22355 of 8 June 2001). According to regulation 3(b), the minimum supply for basic water is:

  • a minimum amount of 25 litres per person per day or 6 000 litres (6 kilolitres) per household per month (a household is defined as everyone living on one stand)
  • at a minimum flow rate of not less than 10 litres per minute
  • within 200 metres of a household and
  • with an effectiveness such that no consumer is without a supply for more than seven full days in any year.

There is no right to electricity in the Constitution, but there is a right to basic municipal services in s. 73 of the Municipal Systems Act. In a case known as Joseph, the Constitutional Court said that the right to basic municipal services includes electricity.

Similarly, there is no right to sanitation in the Constitution, but it is part of the right to basic municipal services in s. 73 of the Municipal Systems Act. And it is protected by Regulation 2 of the Water Services Act, Regulations Relating to Compulsory National Standards and Measures to Conserve Water (GN 22355 of 8 June 2001), which states that the minimum standard for basic sanitation services is "a toilet that is safe, reliable, environmentally sound, easy to keep clean, provides privacy and protection against the weather, well ventilated, keeps smells to a minimum and prevents the entry and exit of flies and other disease-carrying pests".

You also have a right "to an environment that is not harmful to your health or wellbeing" (s. 26(1), s. 24(a) of the Constitution), which is something that relates to adequate access to water, electricity and sanitation. Sanitation is very important for maintaining health – children often get sick because of problems of waterborne disease, and women have to struggle a lot to meet their family’s needs when water is scarce. Your rights to water, electricity and sanitation are also related to your right to adequate housing and access to health services.

Government’s duties

Local government is responsible for the provision of water, electricity and sanitation services to households. Municipalities must act reasonably, using a development plan, to extend basic water and basic electricity services to everyone. This means that local government has an obligation to move forward, step-by-step, to make sure the poor, and especially vulnerable people such as women and children, have improved access to adequate water, electricity and sanitation. Municipalities are not entitled to unfairly discriminate in delivering water, electricity or sanitation services based on race, gender, HIV/AIDS status, disability or any other protected ground (s. 9 of the Constitution).

Local government also has a duty to discuss with communities what kind of water, electricity and sanitation is appropriate in each case. Municipalities should attempt to continually improve access to water (from river access, to communal taps, to yard taps, to in-house provision) and should try to electrify all areas and provide sanitation. Regarding sanitation, it is usual that urban areas will have waterborne sanitation, while rural areas might have other forms of “dry” sanitation such as chemical toilets or Ventilated Improved Pit latrines (VIPs).

Free basic services: water and electricity

National laws state that local municipalities should have a policy to provide free basic water and free basic electricity to people who cannot afford to pay for these services (s. 73 of the Municipal Systems Act). Municipalities can choose whether to give free basic water and electricity to everyone (universal allocation) or to target poor households (means-tested or targeted allocation, like a social grant). The national standard for free basic water is 6 kilolitres (6 000 litres) per household per month for water, and 50 kilowatt hours (kWh) of free basic electricity per household per month. Some municipalities provide free basic services and others do not. And some municipalities provide more free basic water and more free basic electricity than these amounts. In many municipalities, you have to register on the indigence register to receive free basic water and free basic electricity. In some municipalities, if you have waterborne sanitation, there is an extra allocation of free basic water to cover basic sanitation. You have the right to ask whether there is a free basic water and a free basic electricity policy and whether your household qualifies for benefits under these policies. If there is no free basic water or free basic electricity policy in your municipality you can demand that it is implemented.