Local municipality blames City of Tshwane for breaking water supply contract

The municipality has asked the SA Human Rights Commission to intervene a second time

By Warren Mabona

2 August 2023

Sibusiso Ntuli and Themba Mtenyane own a hair salon in Kwaggafontein, Mpumalanga. Every day, they have to collect water in containers to use for their business because the taps in the area have been dry for years. Photos: Warren Mabona

Officials at the Thembisile Hani Local Municipality in Mpumalanga are accusing the City of Tshwane of reneging on a contract to supply its residents with drinking water. Now they want the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to intervene in a bid to end the water crisis in the region.

In Kwaggafontein, the town in which the local municipality’s main offices are situated, residents have been battling water shortages for years.

Sibusiso Ntuli and Themba Mtenyane own a hair salon near Kwagga Plaza. They complained that they spend a considerable amount of time walking about 800 metres to collect water in containers on a daily basis so they can continue to run their business.

“We push buckets full of water in a trolley or a wheelbarrow every day. The water we fetch finishes quickly and this badly affects our business. We don’t have enough water to serve all our customers every day,” said Ntuli.

Another resident, Nomvula Masuku said: “We get running water from taps in our homes for 30 minutes a day. It is not enough.”

In November 2021, the SAHRC released a report finding the municipality and the Department of Water and Sanitation had violated residents’ rights to basic water supply.

The SAHRC ordered the local municipality to submit a revised, council-approved plan for addressing water access challenges. It also said the municipality should report on its borehole projects and work with the department to reconsider the bulk water project.

Emmanuel Nkonde, senior legal officer at the SAHRC in Mpumalanga, confirmed the Commission had received a request from the Thembisile Hani Local Municipality to enforce the contract it has with the City of Tshwane.

“To a large extent, the City is underperforming in terms of its contractual obligations. We wrote to the municipality requesting to see the contract. We got the contract on 28 July and are currently looking into it before we can act,” he said.

The local muncipality has three sources of water: boreholes, the City of Tshwane and Rand Water. DA councillor in Thembisile Hani, David Sibanyoni, said the municipality had 204 boreholes, though none of them are fully operational.

He said the municipality had not implemented the recommendations of the SAHRC. “The situation is worse now,” he said.

Municipal spokesperson, Simphiwe Mokako, told GroundUp that the City of Tshwane had failed to supply the local municipality with drinking water in accordance with the contract of sale.

“We agreed that the City would supply Thembisile Hani Local Municipality with 16.6 megalitres of water per day.”

“I cannot say how much water we are getting now because the amounts they give us differ every day,” said Mokako.

“Our legal department submitted a report to the SAHRC to deal with this issue. The SAHRC often gets complaints against us from our communities because of our water challenges. The municipality will be in a position to respond at length [to GroundUp’s questions] once all processes with the SAHRC have concluded,” said Mokako.

The Thembisile Hani Local Municipality has recently written to the South African Human Rights Commission to order the City of Tshwane to supply it with the amount of water stipulated in its contractual agreement.

Earlier this year, Mokako told GroundUp that Thembisile Hani had a total demand of 99 megalitres of water per day, but was only able to supply 41.7 megalitres per day. She said the local municipality was therefore only able to supply water to communities on a weekly basis through water rationing.

According to Mokako, the municipality was working on implementing short-term and long-term projects to address the bulk water shortages. She said one of the long-term projects is the Loskop bulk water supply scheme which is expected to be completed in November 2024.

City of Tshwane spokesperson Lindela Mashigo conceded that the amount of water supplied to Thembisile Hani Local Municipality is below the amount in its contract.

Mashigo blamed inefficiencies at the Bronkhorstspruit water treatment plant for its inability to meet water supply targets. “The reality is that the plant is old and requires urgent refurbishment. An upgrade project is at the procurement stage to ensure reliability of supply.”

The City sells water to Thembisile Hani at R14.25 per kilolitre, Mashigo said. He did not confirm or deny any knowledge of the municipality’s request to the SAHRC.