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Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has published a list of 30 municipalities that are indebted to her department for bulk water purchases, to the tune of R10bn. Mokonyane has vowed to "throttle" water to the errant municipalities as a last resort. However, access to water is a constitutional right and disconnection may therefore prompt a constitutional challenge. And, unlike electricity, it is not that easy to flick a switch to turn off the taps. However, what this episode does present is a series of institutional failures that account for these large debts. The water services system is complicated by multiple actors — the department, water boards, district municipalities and local municipalities.In some areas, the districts provide the water distribution function. In others, the local municipalities do. That is immaterial to household customers though, and nor should we be concerned with which sphere of local government has "powers" and authority to do which function. ...

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