Droughts and Floods – what a local municipality must do

While the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape Provinces suffer the ravages of climate change as water resources dry out, in other areas of South Africa flooding causes its own havoc. Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality in the East Rand, Gauteng, has been ordered by the Johannesburg High Court to take immediate action to remedy, rectify and rehabilitate a river course to prevent and mitigate flooding to certain properties. What are the obligations of a local authority in these circumstances, and what relief can affected residents get?      

  • The Eastleigh Spruit is a tributary to the Jukskei River which flows through the Suburb of Edenvale. As a result of extensive flash floods which caused extensive damage and loss of life, the entire Eastleigh area was declared a disaster area. Flood damage caused the collapse of the river wall, culverts were completely blocked with rubble and debris, foundations and walls of buildings were eroding, and squatters were living in dangerous and unsanitary conditions below a bridge.
  • The municipality had failed to clean up or clear the culverts or any other area, or prevent effluent and pollution increase; no post-disaster rehabilitative work had commenced; and there was no explanation or indication from the municipality what steps it had taken or intended taking to comply with its statutory obligations as the responsible local authority.
  • Section 24 of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing and to have the environment protected through measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation, promote conservation and secures sustainable development.
  • The court stipulated that the municipality had further constitutional and statutory obligations and duties, such as Section 152 of the Constitution which requires local government to ensure and oversee the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner; Section 153 that obliges a municipality to structure and manage its administration and budgeting and planning processes to give priority to the basic needs of the community; and provisions of the National Environmental Management Act of 1998; the Disaster Management Act of 2002; the National Water Act of 1998; and the Municipal Systems Act of 2000, which empower and obligates the municipality to promote a safe and healthy environment in its area and to adopt an integrated development plan.
  • The judge concluded that the fundamental rights of the applicants were being infringed to their prejudice, and the municipality was not “doing anything about it.” The applicants were granted the relief which they sought.

Propshaft Master (Pty) Ltd and others v Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality and others [201] 4 All SA 901 (GJ).

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