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Victory for Limpopo communities demanding access to water

- Lee-Anne

High Court holds Municipality in contempt for failing to comply with a court order directing them to provide villages with water

Today, Judge Hans Fabricius held the Sekhukhune District Municipality in contempt of court for failing to comply with a court order. The order relates to a negotiated settlement with five villages in the Municipality which have not had proper access to water since 2009 when their existing supply was cut off. This has forced the people of Elandskraal, Morarela, Mbuzini, Dichoeng and Tsansabela to walk long distances to collect water from crocodile-infested rivers and put their safety and health at risk.

The communities, represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, first approached the High Court in Pretoria in 2015. They asked for the permanent water supply to be restored and for urgent measures to be put in place in the meantime to ensure the villages had some access to clean drinking water. The Municipality agreed and this settlement was made an order of court. The matter was placed under case management with Judge Fabricius in an effort to closely monitor their compliance and progress.

Unfortunately, the communities have had to return to court several times since then to hold the Municipality accountable for failing to fulfil its constitutional obligations. Each time, the Municipality has agreed to supply adequate drinking water through interim measures to the villages and report its progress on a long-term solution. Each time, this has been made an order of court. Each time, the Municipality has failed to comply with the order.

During a case management meeting on 29 November, Judge Fabricius held the Municipality in contempt of court. CALS has undertaken to closely watch the Municipality’s compliance with the order, given that an Acting Municipal Manager has recently been appointed. Should the Acting Municipal Manager continue his predecessor’s trend of non-compliance, CALS intends asking the court to grant a punitive costs order against him, and to potentially order his arrest.

“Failing to comply with this court order has meant the Municipality has been failing in their duty to serve the people,” says Ariella Scher, attorney at CALS. “It also further undermines the court which undermines our democratic system and the rule of law as a whole. We are hopeful that holding the Municipality in contempt will lead to greater compliance and respect for both the court and communities’ basic rights to access water and sanitation in the future.”

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