Monitoring and Evaluating the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Water and Sanitation in South Africa: The Socio-Economic Rights Monitoring Tool

The right to water and sanitation in South Africa is a constitutional right. The right to sanitation might not be as explicit as the right to water is in the constitution but it is provided for in the Bill of Rights under the right to housing, as interpreted by the Constitutional Court in Government of the Republic of South Africa v Grootboom. However, 22 years into democracy, many still do not enjoy these rights.

For many of those living in the country’s rural areas and informal settlements that do not have access to water and sanitation services, the rights to life, human dignity, safety, privacy and many other rights contained in the Bill of Rights are severely undermined. The tragic story of Sinoxolo Mafevuka, a young girl who was raped and murdered in a communal toilet that was a few hundred metres away from her home in Khayelitsha’s SST informal settlement in Cape Town, is solid testimony to this. There are many such tragic stories in South Africa. The risks associated with accessing water and sanitation services in poor communities are widespread. Women and children are most at risk. This is a legacy of apartheid that cannot be allowed to continue.

Important strides have been made in addressing some of the legacies left by the apartheid government but a lot more remains to be done. This is confirmed by South Africa’s ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The Introduction of the Draft National Sanitation Policy by the Department of Water and Sanitation in February 2016 is a step in the right direction in dealing with some of the gaps in existing policies and legislation that have been identified in this paper. But policy alone will not address these water and sanitation challenges. There is an important role to be played by governments at all levels for the progressive realisation of the right to water and sanitation, especially by local government, which is constitutionally responsible for the provision of these services.

But no real progress can be made without the involvement and participation of the communities affected by these challenges. Communities are the key stakeholders in monitoring and contributing to the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights, including water and sanitation. Decisions made with regards to what Integrated Development Plans and budgets look like without real participation and input from affected communities will yield little or no
positive results.

This paper and the Socio-Economic Rights Monitoring Tool by SPII is not only important for those advocating for the progressive realisation of water and sanitation rights in South Africa, it is even more important for government’s own reflection on the steps and methods taken so far in this regard and to improve on working towards achieving these rights.

Continue reading below or download the full “Monitoring and Evaluating the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Water and Sanitation in South Africa: The Socio-Economic Rights Monitoring Tool” resource.

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Barbara Gittings, American activist for LGBT equality