This year marks 27 years since the dawn of democracy in South Africa and access to clean water remains a challenge in some areas of the country.

In Section 27, the Bill of Rights states that everyone has the right to have access to sufficient water. The government in its regulation stipulated that the minimum quantity of potable water is 25 litres per person per day or 6 000 kilolitres per household per month.

The community of Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, has been struggling to get access to clean water for years now. Residents have been complaining that the water is unsafe to drink. Some have alleged that the tap water has made them sick.

Residents were also subjected to water cuts:  

‘Unfit for consumption’ 

The City of Tshwane has attributed the problem to the untreated sewage leaked from the Rooiwal Treatment Plant into the area’s water system. After an investigation by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research into the water crisis in the area in 2019, the South African Human Rights Commission declared the water unfit for human consumption.

Last year, the R2.1 billion Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Plant project was set in an effort to deal with the issue.  The project is expected to be completed in 2022 and in the meantime, the City is providing water through tankers.

The City of Tshwane says the upgrade to the plant is 54 % complete.

In the video below SABC News reported on the contaminated water in Hammanskraal:


Political parties also weighed in on the water crisis. The newly formed political party ActionSA released a report on the matter. It found that tap water in parts of Hammanskraal can cause the Blue baby syndrome, cancer, nervous system and heart diseases.

University of Pretoria’s Department of Chemistry Senior Lecturer Dr. Dan Molefe, who conducted research on the effect on the water in parts of Hammanskraal, found that the water could cause hair loss, brownish teeth, developmental issues, or reproductive issues including miscarriage, weakened bones, and children born with fragile bones.

According to a research project into water in South Africa by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in 2019, despite government efforts to provide access to water, there has been a steady decrease in the number of households that are satisfied with the water services they receive.

The report further indicated that households are more and more displeased with the quality, quantity, access and number of interruptions in water delivery.

Vaal River water contamination 

Another challenge that the government is currently dealing with is the pollution of the Vaal River. Areas in the South Gauteng Region have been affected by the raw sewerage seeping into the Vaal River as a result of failing infrastructure in the municipality.

The problem extends to municipalities in Mpumalanga, the Free State, the North West, and the Northern Cape.  According to the National Treasury, 19 million people depend on the Vaal River for water for drinking and for domestic and commercial use.

A report into the pollution of the Vaal River by the South African Human Rights Commission released in February found that, “the Vaal is polluted beyond acceptable standards, and that the cause is the kilolitres of untreated sewage entering the Vaal because of inoperative and dilapidated wastewater treatment plants which have been unable to properly process the sewage and other wastewater produced in Emfuleni as well as the sewage and other wastewater from the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality as well as the Midvaal Municipality, which is also directed towards the wastewater sewerage systems situated in the Emfuleni Municipality. ”

In March, Deputy President David Mabuza announced that the Minister of Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation would assume the Emfuleni Municipality’s duties for a specific duration, to fix the sanitation challenges. He added that the intervention will cost R7,6 billion.

It remains to be seen whether the government will fulfill its promise.

The SAHRC has visited the plant to check the progress of the project.

Analysis of the SAHRC report on Vaal River: