'Homelands' still suffer, report finds

People came in their numbers to the hearings across the country to raise their frustration over lack of water and sanitation in their communities. (Supplied)

People came in their numbers to the hearings across the country to raise their frustration over lack of water and sanitation in their communities. (Supplied)

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) made several key findings in its 100-page report. Some affirmed the findings of the department of performance monitoring and evaluation’s report. Recommendations were made according to these findings.

An apartheid legacy

First, the report found that areas which predominantly suffer from a lack of water and sanitation were from the same areas that were traditionally homelands during the apartheid era. These areas are located in what were the former apartheid homelands, townships and informal settlements in South Africa. These areas were set up away from key resources and were neglected when it came to infrastructure and basic needs. Twenty years into our democracy, this inequality persists.

The indigent policy

Second, the commission has made recommendations regarding the state’s indigent policy. An indigent policy allows municipalities to target the delivery of essential services to people who are poor. Currently, the policy makes provisions for:

  • A minimum of 6 kilolitres of water per household per month;
  • A minimum of 50 kilowatt hours or coal equivalent of R55 per household per month;
  • A ventilated improved pit latrine (VIP) or toilet connected to a septic tank or to water-borne sewerage;
  • The collection and disposal of refuse and;
  • Access to clinics and voluntary testing and counselling.

As it stands, a citizen applies for these provisions only if they register themselves. Many people do not register as they fear it will affect their social status. Others simply don’t know that such a policy exists. The policy is also inconsistently applied by municipalities.

The report recommends that the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, and the department of social development must ensure that the national indigent policy makes provision for the poor to access basic services for free. It was found that the indigent policy is not currently providing national uniform solutions to the poor.

The policy should be revised so that services are provided to whole areas of poor populations, rather than individual households. This will remove the need for households to individually register themselves, the report suggests.


Third, local and district municipalities need to start making their annual reports more public, to aid transparency. The waters are still murky when it comes to the public being able to access information. If the public is able to track spending, it can act as a further monitoring body to hold state organs accountable, the report states.

Schools and water

Fourth, many schools do not have access to water and sanitation. The provision of water to schools needs specific and urgent attention. A plan should be made available to all schools and civil society organisations, the report says. Trevor Malaudzi of the South African Water and Sanitation Academy listed several of the impacts of a lack of water at schools.

He noted that many pupils did not drink water at school through the day, resulting in dehydration and constipation. Learners have no water or soap to wash their hands.

Toilets are so filthy that children cannot sit down to use them, and there are too few toilets for the number of learners. Girls also do not have access to sanitary pads and have no way of disposing of used pads. In many cases, there is no toilet paper for learners to use.

The department of basic education must ensure that its new norms and standards for schools infrastructure make the provision of clean drinking water and dignified sanitation to schools, compulsory within specified timeframes. Of Khayelitsha’s 1 200 to 1 500 schools, only 12 had soap and toilet paper, the report found.

The bucket system

The bucket system should be eradicated as soon as possible in all provinces. The relevant government departments should agree on plans with timelines for the eradication of buckets in all existing settlements. This plan must be communicated to affected communities and the commission once finalized, the report states

Need for accountability

Last, government must ensure meaningful consultation with affected communities. Guidelines for public participation must be developed and it should be made simpler for people to access information. An essential element of the integrated development plan is public participation. Communities must be consulted on decisions which affect their lives, including budget changes.

The report concluded that the work of the SAHRC did not end here. Key recommendations need to be acted on, and accountability is tantamount to ensure the constitutional right to basic needs is extended to every citizen.

This supplement was paid for and its contents and photos provided by and signed off by the South African Human Rights Commission.