On Tuesday, 6 October 2020, SERI launched the Claiming Water Rights in South Africa research series, documenting residents’ experiences in claiming water rights in South Africa. The research project was launched in a Water Rights Webinar Series held in partnership with the Mail and Guardian. The research forms part of the global #ClaimYourWaterRights campaign initiated by End Water Poverty.
The research examines how water rights are being claimed in South Africa, with a view to drawing lessons from the work of communities and civil society organisations in a diverse range of circumstances. This series analyses the legal and practical issues in water rights claiming. It consists of four case study reports and a synthesis report. The research was conducted in the first half of 2020 just as COVID-19 began to spread in South Africa. Access to water emerged early as integral to combatting the virus, as frequent handwashing is one of the key preventative measures. While the full extent of the impact of COVID-19 on water services in South Africa is still unfolding, the report offers some preliminary observations on this relationship.
Today, SERI launched the synthesis report and the first case study focusing on the Marikana informal settlement. This case study of the Marikana informal settlement is the second of four case studies. It illustrates how expropriation in terms of the Housing Act 107 of 1997 (the Housing Act) can be utilised as a tool to widen access to urban land for poor people and to provide them with services. The Marikana informal settlement in Cape Town is home to over 60 000 people. For years, the residents of Marikana have persistently and innovatively engaged in a diversity of strategies to improve their living conditions. These strategies have included community mobilisation, engagement with the authorities, protest, self-supply, and ultimately, precedent-setting litigation in the Fischer case which is the first case in South Africa to examine the possibilities of expropriation in terms of the Housing Act.
The publications are:
- Claiming water rights in South Africa – synthesis report (launched today on 6 October).
- Case study 1: Farm dwellers fight for access to water in uMgungundlovu district municipality (to be launched on 20 October 2020). This case study is about government providing water services on privately owned land – a perspective from farms. This case underlines the universal services obligation of municipalities, including on farms, based on the Mshengu judgment.
- Case study 2: Residents of Marikana informal settlement use expropriation as a tool (launched today on 6 October). This is a seminal case because it illustrates how expropriation in terms of the Housing Act can be utilised as a tool to widen access to urban land for poor people and to provide them with services where they already live. The experiences of the residents of Marikana also illustrate how important it is to tackle the struggle for tenure security, services and ultimately a dignified life, using a range of mutually reinforcing strategies including community organisation, engagement, protest, self-supply and litigation.
- Case study 3: Makana local municipality – provincial intervention in a municipal crisis (to be launched on 3 November 2020). This case explores provincial intervention, which is framed as a key remedy to address municipal failure, from a legal and practical perspective and draws lessons from the Makana experience.
- Case study 4: Maluti-a-Phofung – a community doing it for themselves (to be launched on 17 November 2020). The last case study reflects on the efforts of an unusual coalition of residents and community leaders in Maluti-a-Phofung – known as the Harrismith Water Heroes – who, in the face of continued poor service delivery by local government took it upon themselves to fix their town’s water infrastructure.