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Parliamentary Bulletin

30 October 1997


The history of water in South Africa cannot be separated from the history of the country as a whole. It is a mirror of the history of housing, migration, land, social engineering and development.

Section 27 of the Constitution gives everyone the right of access to sufficient water. It is the duty of government to produce legislation to make this a reality.

The Water Services Bill is being introduced because the existing legislation, the Water Act of 1965, was framed to provide an unlimited supply of water for the privileged few, rather than to provide drinkable water and sanitation to all households. This Bill aims to introduce a framework to deal with the fragmented, inconsistent and inequitable system that we currently have under the various provincial ordinances.

Our Bill of Rights, enshrined in the Constitution, gives everyone the right to a healthy environment. It also obliges government, through legislation and other means, to protect the environment and ensure sustainable use of natural resources, "while promoting justifiable economic and social development".

The provision of water services is a competence of local government. It is the constitutional obligation of National and Provincial government to support and strengthen the capacity of municipal government to carry out this function.

The Water Services Bill thus provides framework legislation which enables the government to set norms and standards for the affordability, reliability, and sustainability of water service delivery across the country.

Where water services are not being delivered, the Bill gives the Minister or the department the power to intervene, with the consent of the province.

The Bill distinguishes between:

  • water service authorities, the municipalities who are responsible for the delivery of water services at the local level
  • water service providers, the water boards and water service communities who undertake the actual provision of water services, where necessary
  • water service intermediaries, persons such as farmers who are obliged to provide water to other people as part of a contractual relationship.

Obligations of water service authorities

The function of a water service authority is to ensure access to water for all within their jurisdiction. They can contract out their functions, but they cannot give up the responsibility for ensuring that water is provided. They are obliged to produce and update regularly a water service development plan and through this they can be monitored.


While the provision of water can be contracted out, the Bill states that the private sector should only be the provider as a last resort.

Regulation of Water Service Providers

The Bill stipulates conditions on how providers, whether private or public, must carry out their duty of delivery, within the framework of protecting consumers, conserving natural resources and advancing the broader goals of public policy.

Other Provisions of the Bill

  • a framework to establish effective and viable water boards and water service committees
  • the monitoring of water services and intervention by the Minister of Province
  • a national water information system and the distribution of this information

Cooperative Governance

While the Minister is given the power to make regulations on a variety of matters, this Bill is a landmark in terms of cooperative governance. It introduces the innovation of a regulation Review Committee which has the power to approve or disapprove the regulations made by the minister.

This serves to expand and strengthen the democratic function of Parliament by providing a mechanism to balance the power of the executive.

Key Political Messages

  • This Bill ensuring delivery of commitments contained in the RDP with a new regime of democratic and accountable governance
  • No longer will people stand and watch the water flowing past their land to serve the needs of the few while the majority have no access to water
  • Water is a scarce resource that must be shared equally among all South Africans. This Bill will make the Constitutional Right of all citizens to water a reality for millions of South Africans
  • Since 1994 water has been provided to over a million households. The ANC has done in three years what the NP could not or would not do in 46
  • Access to water is a major empowerment for rural women. Not having to walk for hours each day will free women to become productive in other areas
  • Under the inspiring leadership of Minister Asmal South Africa has made the transition from an abuser of water to a nation committed to the conservation of a precious natural resource
  • Through low capital-cost initiatives, such as the clearing of alien vegetation, rather than the building of costly dams, the Ministry of Water Affairs has proved that intelligent and ecologically intelligent planning can be a far more cost efficient and effective policy of water conservation and provision, while providing employment and skills to the least empowered of our citizens.

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