Are South Africa's water service delivery policies and strategies equitable, accessible, affordable, efficient, effective and sustainable for Msunduzi low-income households?
Are South Africa's water service delivery policies and strategies equitable, accessible, affordable, efficient, effective and sustainable for Msunduzi low-income households? The primary objective of this study was to elicit the community experience of South Africa's water service delivery policies and strategies and link these experiences to a broader analysis of policy and strategy to locate water service delivery contraventions, inconsistencies and inadequacies. The secondary objective was to initiate community-based platforms for engagement with water-related issues and build capacity within local community task teams to initiate lobbying and advocacy strategies to support community-suggested and research-outcome reforms thereby returning popular control to the locus of communities. The study was conducted in KwaZulu-Natal, within the Msunduzi municipal jurisdiction, under the uMgungundlovu district municipality (DC22) in the period from October 2002-April 2003. Households in five low-income urban areas were included in the study: Imbali (units 1 and 2), Sobantu, Haniville and Thembalihle. The study employed a community action research design using non-probability sampling. Surveys, conducted by community researchers, were complemented by broad community engagement approaches, informal interviews with external stakeholders and the initiation of platforms for information sharing and fundamental debate. The study revealed two significant findings. The first finding found that South Africa's water service delivery policies, strategies and implementation mechanisms were inconsistent with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry's sector goals of equity, affordability, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability. They contained serious scientific and social inadequacies, inequitably promoted economic considerations above social and environmental considerations; lacked regulation and monitoring systems to identify and address implementation contraventions; were not receptive to the socioeconomic situations of low-income households and should be fundamentally re-worked. Policies and strategies purported to ensure that the basic water service requirements of low-income households were met, essentially compounded socio-economic constraints and compromised human rights, justice and equity. The second finding was related to popular involvement and engagement. Community consultative processes for input into local and national policies and strategies were inadequate and often pseudoparticipatory; political platforms (local and national) for communities to engage and influence decision-makers were inadequate or lacking; and the community control, ownership and acceptance of the Msunduzi water service delivery institution and its mechanisms were low. Recommendations for the reform of policy, strategy and implementation of such reforms were advocated through the vehicle of reviews, evaluations and audits, to inform the necessary amendments, adjustments and intensification of local and national regulation and monitoring mechanisms. Lobbying and advocacy strategies, to support the implementation of reforms, were promoted through community-based approaches of popular engagement with water-related issues, information dissemination; community mobilisation and popular control of public processes.