Farmer ten­ants de­mand ser­vices from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties

Mail & Guardian - - News - Paddy Harper

A high court ac­tion by two farm ten­ants in the KwaZulu-Natal Mid­lands to force mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pro­vide them with wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion is likely to ben­e­fit more than 42000 peo­ple in the Um­gun­gundlovu district mu­nic­i­pal­ity alone.

The ap­pli­ca­tion, brought by Za­bal­aza Mshengu and Thabisile Ntomb­i­futhi Ngema in the high court in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, aims to com­pel Um­gun­gundlovu and the Msun­duzi and uMsh­wathi lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to de­velop a “rea­son­able plan” to pro­vide them with wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion. The As­so­ci­a­tion for Ru­ral Ad­vance­ment (Afra) is a co-ap­pli­cant in the case, which was brought by the Le­gal Re­sources Cen­tre (LRC), on be­half of Ngema and Mshengu.

The mat­ter will be ar­gued this Fri­day (Novem­ber 2).

The two lived with their fam­i­lies on farms in the district and have been bat­tling for years to get the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pro­vide them with wa­ter, toi­lets and refuse re­moval. If they are suc­cess­ful, about 15 peo­ple will ben­e­fit im­me­di­ately from the or­der be­ing sought.

Mshengu (104), who lived on the farm Ard­more near Ash­bur­ton, died in Au­gust be­fore the case he ini­ti­ated two-and-a-half years ago could be heard. He had also in­sti­tuted a land claim in 2002 for the land where he was born, which houses Hil­ton Col­lege, but died be­fore it could be set­tled.

The min­is­ters of wa­ter af­fairs and co-op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance and tra­di­tional af­fairs, the two farm own­ers and the KwaZulu-Natal co-op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance MEC have been listed as co-re­spon­dents in the case.

In their heads of ar­gu­ment, coun­sel for Ngema and Mshengu said the three mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties had failed to meet their con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion to pro­vide them with wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion, de­spite on­go­ing re­quests that they do so. The ap­pli­cants, they said, did not have enough wa­ter to cook, drink and wash them­selves, and they had to use ei­ther pit la­trines or the bush to relieve them­selves.

“When, as is of­ten the case, there is no wa­ter to cook, they go to bed with­out food in their stom­achs.

“There are no de­cent toi­lets, some of the oc­cu­piers and labour ten­ants have dug pit la­trines next to their homes. How­ever, these makeshift toi­lets are smelly and at­tract flies and ver­min.’’

Oth­ers were forced to use the bush. Women and girls suf­fered “great hard­ship, hu­mil­i­a­tion and im­pair­ment of their dig­nity, as they were un­able to wash when nec­es­sary and had no proper refuse fa­cil­i­ties to dis­pose of their san­i­tary pads dur­ing their men­strual cy­cle”.

The mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties had not only failed to pro­vide the ser­vices but had also failed to come up with a plan to do so in the fu­ture, be­sides pass­ing by-laws and in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment plans that made no spe­cific ref­er­ence to the “most vul­ner­a­ble” res­i­dents — those liv­ing on land that be­longed to farmers.

They said the ap­pli­cants wanted a plan put in place to de­liver ser­vices to them in the long term and “did not en­vis­age that those ser­vices must be pro­vided overnight”.

“The mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties’ prior fail­ures and cur­rent at­ti­tude jus­tify su­per­vi­sion,” they said.

There was no need to set aside or re­view any de­ci­sions taken by the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties as “the con­sti­tu­tional de­fect lies in their omis­sions, not their com­mis­sions”.

The as­ser­tion by the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that pro­vid­ing wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion to farm res­i­dents and labour ten­ants posed “par­tic­u­lar dif­fi­cul­ties”, re­quired that they should de­velop a plan spe­cific to their needs.

The mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties had failed to de­velop such a plan and ap­peared to “seek to blame labour ten­ants and farm dwellers for not com­ing up with a plan”.

Msun­duzi had “taken a supine ap­proach” by en­act­ing a by-law al­low­ing a farm owner to ap­ply to it for a wa­ter con­nec­tion.

They want the or­der to in­clude a dec­la­ra­tion that the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties had failed to dis­charge their con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tions. They want the court to or­der the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pro­vide each house­hold with a ven­ti­la­tion-im­proved pit la­trine and a wa­ter sup­ply of 25 litres a per­son a day. The or­der should com­pel the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to re­port back within a month on progress on de­vel­op­ing a plan, they ar­gue.

Afra pro­gramme man­ager Glenn Farred said a sur­vey the or­gan­i­sa­tion had con­ducted on pri­vately owned farms in the district found that a rul­ing in their favour would ben­e­fit about 42000 peo­ple in the Um­gun­gundlovu mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

In ad­di­tion, the or­der would have im­pli­ca­tions for all other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments be­cause labour ten­ants live in sim­i­lar con­di­tions through­out South Africa.

Jus­tice de­layed: Za­bal­aza Mshengu had also in­sti­tuted a land claim in 2002 for the land where he was born, which houses Hil­ton Col­lege, but died be­fore it could be set­tled. Photo: As­so­ci­a­tion for Ru­ral Ad­vanc­ment

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