Almost a third of Limpopo residents have no access to piped water

Human Rights Commission report slams failure of water supply in Limpopo

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Residents of Tshikota township outside Louis Trichardt, Limpopo, collect water from a tank at the community hall. The tank is filled from a borehole. Photo: Bernard Chiguvare

  • The South African Human Rights Commission investigated water provision in Limpopo after receiving continuous complaints about lack of access to water, even though major dams in the province were 90% full.
  • All ten municipalities responsible for sourcing and supplying water were found to be failing to provide water to communities.
  • Some of these municipalities are also failing to spend their capital expenditure budgets and their Water Services Infrastructure Grants.

About 1.4-million people in Limpopo have no piped water. Thousands of people scoop their drinking and cooking water from rivers and streams. All of the six local and four district municipalities in the province responsible for treating and supplying water to residents are failing to provide water to communities within their areas. Seven of the ten municipalities do not comply with the provisions of the Water Services Act.

Some of these municipalities are also failing to spend grant funding for water infrastructure, with “millions of rands being returned to the National Treasury” at the end of the financial year.

This is according to a South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report on access to water and the efficacy of Water Services Authorities (WSAs) in Limpopo, released earlier this month.

The provincial department of cooperative governance, human settlement and traditional affairs (CoGHSTA) says almost a third of Limpopo’s population do not have access to water, and the situation has worsened, rather than improved over time. Between 2015 and 2019, access to water in the province declined from 79% to 70%, CoGHSTA stated in their submission to SAHRC.

The SAHRC inquiry, which took place in October 2021, after receiving an increasing number of complaints about lack of access to water, found municipalities were failing to spend the conditional grants provided by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), despite training and capacity being provided to them. Included in the training was how municipalities needed to apply for the grants.

Lack of budgetary spending

The SAHRC report singled out Lephalale and Mogalakwena local municipalities for failing to spend their Water Services Infrastructure Grant (WSIG). Lephalale spent just 9% of the WSIG. Meanwhile, 2,000 households in the municipality had to get water from streams and rivers.

In a presentation to the SAHRC by a delegation from the Lephalale municipality that included municipal manager Maria Cocquyt, rapid population growth and unplanned extensions to villages located far from water reservoirs were said to pose “difficulties”. As a result, the municipality had been using water trucks to fill eight water tanks for communities sourcing their water from rivers and streams.

The municipality said it had not spent its grant money due to contractors not completing projects on time. New contractors had been appointed to complete the stalled projects.

Municipal budget data published on the government’s Municipal Money website, shows Lephalale’s capital budget was underspent by 42% in the 2020/21 financial year.

Another municipality that was not spending its WSIG was Mogalakwena Local Municipality, which the SAHRC noted was “largely due to poor performing contractors”.

“The community of Ga-Mushi’s lack of access to water, despite numerous requests to the municipality, was lamented by the (SAHRC) panel.”

Beyond the WSIG, Municipal Money shows 32% of Mogalakwena municipality’s capital budget was unspent during the 2020/21 financial year. For the five capital expenditure projects related to water infrastructure listed on Municipal Money, R169-million was initially budgeted in the 2020/21 financial year. This was adjusted to R73-million, but still only R63-million was spent.

A search on Municipal Money showed six of the ten water-supplying municipalities in Limpopo spent less than 85% of their overall capital expenditure budgets during the 2020/21 financial year. The website notes that capital expenditure of 85% or less is “a clear warning sign” for a lack of basic service delivery.

Yet, capital expenditure underspend does not show the full picture of failure when it comes to water services. Municipalities such as Thabazimbi, which overspent its overall capital budget by 6%, nonetheless failed to spend the money allocated to its biggest water reticulation project. Of the R9-million allocated to a water reticulation upgrading project during the 2020/21 financial year, only R750,000 was spent.

Sourcing water from streams

It is not just in Lephalale municipality that people have to source their water from rivers and streams. Traditional leader Hosi Cedrick Mhinga, from Mhinga village situated near the north-eastern border of the Kruger National Park within the Vhembe District Municipality, told the SAHRC commissioners his village had been without water for “a very long time”.

Mhinga said the villagers had to resort to getting drinking water from the same streams and lakes as their livestock, and this water was often “contaminated”.

He said the Vhembe District Municipality, which includes the towns of Louis Trichardt and Musina, and is responsible for 19 water supply systems, built a small reticulation plant to resolve the water shortages in Mhinga village, but it was too small to meet the villagers’ needs.

In the Mopani District Municipality, covering towns such as Phalaborwa, Giyani and Tzaneen, Mphogo Jekeele from Sekororo village said people who could not afford to buy water resorted to getting it from a stream where pigs and donkeys drank.

Jekeele, who told the SAHRC she runs a foundation that takes care of orphans, people with disabilities and chronic patients, said the lack of water made it difficult to cook for the people in her care.

Sekhukhune District Municipality includes towns such as Groblersdal and Burgersfort. It is responsible for 23 water supply systems across four local municipalities. Moses Tladi from Ga-Marishane Village in this municipality told the SAHRC they travel about 9km to fetch water from streams and wells. Tladi said these were the same sources of water for donkeys and dogs.

DA MP Lindy Wilson told the SAHRC that 65% of the municipality had no water, and there were communities where people drew their drinking water from contaminated “ditches”.

Wilson said that the district municipality implemented projects without consulting communities, and in her view there was a lack of skills and expertise within the municipality. She said people hired within the engineering services lacked the necessary skills to maintain the water infrastructure.

Tshifhiwa Tshikonela, from Mutoti Village, which is also within the Vhembe District Municipality, told the SAHRC they have not had sufficient water since 2016. This is despite being less than 3km from the Nandoni Dam. Tshikonela said there is a pipeline from the Nandoni water treatment works to the Thohoyandou reservoir, but the reservoir was often not full. This meant water did not get to Mutoti Village.

Municipal presentations

A number of municipalities told the SAHRC they use water tankers to provide water to areas that have no other form of supply. One of these was the Vhembe District Municipality, with Mayor Dowelani Nengudza and municipal manager Tshimangadzo Ndou saying they had 14 water tankers servicing communities that otherwise did not have access to water. But people GroundUp interviewed in the municipality last week indicated there were no water tankers operating in their area.

Hitesh Dave, a resident of Louis Trichardt within the Vhembe municipality, told GroundUp the town has been experiencing water challenges for more than four years.

Dave said the municipality used to send water tankers, but “it seems the facility is no longer available as we do not see any water tankers in town”.

“My understanding is that [the municipality] gets a lot of money from the national government but it seems the money is not appropriately used. An example is the bulk water project that connects Louis Trichardt that has taken far too long to be completed.”

He said residents were tired of paying for water services while their taps continued to run dry.

Metsa Matshava, who lives in Tshikota township about two kilometres from Louis Trichardt, said there had been no water in her taps for more than four years. Interviewed while carrying an 11-month-old baby and pushing a wheelbarrow with containers to fetch water from the community hall, Matshava said she had to make three such trips a day.

“Each trip I will be carrying three 25-litre containers,” she said. “This is heavy for me but I have no option.”

Water and health

The SAHRC analysis of the submissions its panel received found that “the state of affairs in Limpopo, if unaddressed, pose a danger to human health and well-being”.

The SAHRC received a submission from the provincial health department, but stated it “was not helpful” because it did not show the correlation between the shortage of water and its negative effects on the right to health, “particularly the shortage of water at health facilities”.

The SAHRC found that the municipalities were violating the Water Services Act.

The report noted other fundamental rights were also being violated: “Access to water is in essence the beginning of the existence of a person. Therefore, failure to realise access to water is undermining a plethora of other human rights as guaranteed in human rights instruments and the domestic legal standards.”


Common reasons cited by municipalities appearing before the SAHRC for not supplying water to communities were ageing infrastructure and an increase in population.

Most of the municipalities relied on a combination of surface water from dams, and boreholes.

Although the province is subject to droughts, the SAHRC noted that at the time of the inquiry in 2021, all major dams in Limpopo were more than 90% full, yet many communities were not receiving clean drinking water.

“This clearly demonstrates that the failures of municipalities to provide water may not be attributed to the shortage of water in Limpopo,” states the report.

All ten municipalities were given three months to present a detailed plan, including timeframes, on how they will provide water to every resident within their jurisdiction.

The SAHRC also noted the failure of oversight bodies such as the Department of Water and Sanitation, CoGHSGTA, and the Office of the Premier. These too were given three months to develop and submit measures that would provide effective support to municipalities to ensure they adhered to the Water Services Act.

TOPICS:  Water

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