Still Waiting in Goedverwacht

by Nick Hamer, Researcher and Project Manager, Environmental Monitoring Group, Cape Town

Historical Background

Goedverwacht is a Moravian mission settlement in the Western Cape, approximately 100 km north of Cape Town, situated near Piketberg in the Bergrivier municipality. Developed from a cattle farm established by Dutch settlers in 1810, and bought for 750 pounds by Moravian missionaries in 1889 to house the Goedverwacht Moravian Mission Settlement, the settlement’s colonial history continues to haunt the present day. The Moravian Church began to evangelise in the Cape in the mid-18th century, with George Schmidt establishing the first mission station in 1738 at Genadendal. He was ignominiously sent back to Germany due to the controversy the mission provoked with the colonial authorities.
On the one hand the Moravian Church’s evangelising was controversial to Church authorities as they were among those whose doctrine welcomed all people into Christianity, and they provided some relief from the attacks of colonial and apartheid authorities by avoiding forced removals and evictions in mission stations. This contravened the racist ideology of the colonial settler authorities who ignored Khoi people’s humanity as a pretext for justifying land grabs, slavery and genocidal campaigns. On the other hand, however, Moravians bought into the hierarchical, colonial and paternalistic mindset necessary for evangelical zeal and the advancement of conservative and Eurocentric doctrine.
To this day the Church remains in tight control of the governance of mission settlements and is a central institution in Goedverwacht. Although many residents have abandoned the Church and feel deeply let down by its institutional representatives, others continue to see it as central to their identity and are upset when they perceive ‘our church’ as under attack.

Current Context and Recent History

Goedverwacht’s approximately 600 formal houses run along the Riet River valley and the settlement relies on the river for all its water needs. The domestic water supply system comes from a weir that diverts water along an asbestos pipe to 10 000 litre Jojo tanks and a small water treatment works, prior to the water being piped to households throughout the settlement. A new water treatment plant was installed in 2018 but has never been operational since Eskom cut off the electricity supply due to the non-payment of bills by the church authorities.

The domestic diversion weir was damaged by the collapse of a farm dam in 2021, restricting the flow of water to the tanks to a trickle. As a result, the approximately 2000 residents (3000 at weekends) have limited access to piped water, with water only running for 1 or 2 hours a day. For about the last decade, the community’s piped water has been unfit to drink, as confirmed by district municipal testing. 

The Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) first began work with Goedverwacht 10 years ago, in a project that looked at the impact of climate change on water supplies. Back then we noted the community’s frustrations about water supply and their unhappiness about the role of the Moravian Church of South Africa, which has hampered community development initiatives, including, for example, when it initially refused to sign an agreement to set up a Working for Water Programme (WfWP).

Goedverwacht – Upper Weir

Land Tenure Status

The Moravian Church of South Africa owns all the land in the Trust, to which rent for agricultural land must be paid, administering it along with an Overseers Council made up of Goedverwacht community members and the church Minister. The Trust’s failure to deliver services relates directly to the legally unclear land tenure status of mission settlements. While people own their individual houses, they do not own the land on which these are built, and they have to pay the Moravian Church in South Africa (MCiSA), a holding company that manages all of the Moravian Church Trusts properties, for basic services like water.

In one example of the ambiguity and contradictions that are exploited to avoid meeting the basic constitutional rights of the residents, the District municipality describes the land as being zoned for farming, arguing that water service provision is not legally a municipal responsibility. At the same time, the Bergrivier municipality describes Goedverwacht as a town/settlement falling under their administration:

“The Municipality is a Water Services Provider in terms of the Water Services Act, Act 108 of 1997, and provides water services to all towns in its area of jurisdiction with the exception of De Hoek, Goedverwacht and Wittewater which are private towns. Water is provided to the latter two at cost on request.”

Since 1994, the government has acknowledged that the land tenure status of mission settlements needs to be resolved, but, mired in a morass of bureaucracy, it has failed to finalise such settlement. The 1996 Genadendal Accord comprises an agreement and declaration of intent by the Department of Land Affairs and the Moravian Church to recognise that land tenure security is a central issue to be addressed at mission stations, and establishes that institutional change is required to provide such security. Various other processes have sought to address the problems at Goedverwacht, including government departments and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) proposing a resolution to the issue. This case study does not delve deeply into the land tenure challenge, but it is important to consider as part of the overall context.

The municipality has acknowledged that MCiSA is not maintaining the water infrastructure properly, so has intervened from time to time to provide some degree of support. As a Water Service Authority with bulk water provision responsibility, they have previously supplied chemicals for water treatment and continue to provide 6000 l/day of water a day using tankers. With provincial funding, the municipality has issued and managed tenders to upgrade water supply infrastructure, including facilitating the construction of the water treatment works. Once again, this exposes an ambiguous governance relationship in which some level of responsibility is shown for the delivery of potable water, but there is overall unwillingness to fully commit to ensuring Goedverwacht’s residents receive basic water services. MCiSA is expected to manage the provision of water delivery in Goedverwacht, but consistent efforts to ensure that they meet their service delivery responsibilities have failed.

Community members in Goedverwacht have also complained of a lack of transparency, accountability and communication channels, which hamper their ongoing efforts to ensure MCiSA fulfils its obligations to provide potable water.

Goedverwacht – Community Meeting

The Water Supply Legal Context

A Comparable Case Study: uMgundlovu District

Goedverwacht is not unique in the South African landscape. The Mshengu case against the uMsunduzi and other municipalities in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality, and the ensuing 2019 court ruling, provides a lot of detail that helps expose the complex legalities in the Goedverwacht case.

  • Firstly, the court held that a landowner cannot reasonably refuse a municipality access to his land in order to install infrastructure which would facilitate access to water. This is because section 6(2)(1)(e) of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 (ESTA) grants farm dwellers the right “not to be denied or deprived of access to water.” Further, the court held that landowners must accept that they have “a secondary obligation” under sections 8 and 27 of the Constitution and the Water Services Authority (WSA) which confirms that landowners cannot refuse a municipality access for the purposes of installing infrastructure.
  • Secondly, because uMsunduzi is a WSA, it – rather than the landowners – bears the obligation to provide water to farm dwellers. The court held that landowners have no direct statutory obligation to provide water services unless contracted to do so as a water services provider (WSP). The court held further that even in instances where landowners are contracted to provide water services to another as a water services intermediary, section 26(3) of the Services Act authorises the WSA, if the intermediary fails to perform its obligations in terms of the agreement, to “take over the relevant functions of the water services intermediary”.
  • Thirdly, the implementation of the judgement required the municipalities to file a report with the court within 6 months which identifies all farm dwellers living in the area and to identify the steps the municipality intends to take to ensure that all of them have access to water. The applicants (and other interested parties) were to be given 1 month to comment on this report. Thereafter the municipalities must submit monthly reports setting out their compliance with their plan, on which the applicants (and other interested parties) should also be given 1 month to comment.

The case can be drawn on to demonstrate that, like anyone else, Goedverwacht residents are entitled to basic services including access to potable water, regardless of the legal status of the land they live on. A legal contradiction is that intermediaries (like MCiSA) are permitted to supply water in areas such as Goedverwacht. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) reports that municipalities prefer to ensure that intermediaries meet their obligations and receive tax incentives or subsidies if they are not able to cover all the costs, rather than to take over the supply of water themselves. Nonetheless, when intermediaries fail to meet their obligations, municipalities are allowed to take over water supply. This suggests that, if it was considered strategically necessary, there would be a strong case for legal action to compel the municipality to take action to provide basic water in Goedverwacht, as per the 2019 uMgungundlovu District Municipality court ruling. 

Draft Policy Water and Sanitation Services Policy On Privately Owned Land 2022

The government has, in fact, acknowledged the implications of the 2019 ruling and seeks to implement a new policy to provide additional clarity. The local Councillor, Riaan De Vries, mentioned this policy and said the municipality intends to work within the framework of the policy.  A pertinent section states:

 “DWS proposes, in its model water services bylaws, that if a water services intermediary fails to perform its functions effectively, then the Water Services Authority may direct the intermediary to rectify its failure….

  • Suppose the intermediary fails to rectify its failure within the stated period…the Water Services Authority may take over the provision of water services.
  • As soon as the water services intermediary is in a position to resume its duties effectively, the Water Services Authority must stop exercising the powers and performing the duties on the intermediary’s behalf.
  • Water and sanitation services to residents living on privately owned land must comply with the National Norms and Standards.”

Rights in Goedverwacht

With the above ruling in mind, several basic rights are not being upheld in Goedverwacht. These include:

  • Lack of access to potable water
  • Lack of access to sufficient water (6000l/hh per month as free basic water)
  • No apparent mechanisms in place to ensure access to Free Basic Water allocation
  • Charging R70 a month for water that is not supplied
  • Punishment for non-payment of tithes/service levy: if people refuse to pay for services they are not receiving, their names are published on a board at the Church; credit may be refused at the local stores; and burials are denied until arrears are settled.

In addition, MCiSA is facing a court challenge by Bergrivier municipality, with millions of Rands owed for non-payment of municipal rates.

Goedverwacht – Water Treatment

Community Mobilisation

Ecowin, a women-led organic cooperative, has been farming in Goedverwacht for 10 years. It is firmly rooted within the community and is committed to social development through farming, tourism and other initiatives. Yet, in the absence of security of tenure, and without land restitution, its members are unable to expand their farming efforts, gain access to grants and secure loans for equipment. 

The cooperative members remain active in the Goedverwacht Tourism Development Forum, which provided the institutional base for previous successful community-led engagements. From 2010, the Forum organised Snoek and Patat festivals, drawing thousands of visitors to Goedverwacht and raising funds. Then in 2019, the Church stopped further festivals taking place in the settlement, ostensibly because liquor was on sale. 

In response, Ecowin’s Merle Dietrich and Hisstar Cornelius, who participated in an EMG/WRC research project related to climate change adaptation in 2014 and an Agroecology project from 2020–2022, approached EMG for advice and support, emphasising the water crisis they face.

Recent Action

EMG and other organisations have since supported a number of mobilising and solidarity actions. Ecowin members were enabled to join the Western Cape Water Caucus and presented their case at a 17 May, 2023 dialogue with urban farmers in Cape Town. Further solidarity visits have taken place, such as a 13 October 2023 Goedverwacht meeting, where members of the Water Caucus, Water CAN, The People’s Media Collective and the Housing Assembly engaged with community members and Councillor De Vries. 

On 19 October 2023, Department of Water and Sanitation officials held a community meeting at Goedverwacht and with the Bergrivier Municipality (including the Mayor and Municipal Manager). On 22 October 2023, Western Cape Water Caucus members picketed outside the Moravian Church in Lansdowne to highlight the plight of the Goedverwacht community. Following these actions, an online meeting was held with the Church on 26 October, at which a follow-up meeting was scheduled which the Church then recused itself from attending. In December 2024, a letter was sent to the German Moravian Church demanding action. No response has yet been received, and further strategizing is taking place in 2024 to decide on new actions.

It is clear that pressure will need to be maintained to overcome these repeated delays. If MCiSA enters any agreement with DWS and the Bergrivier municipality, they will have to ensure compliance with all water supply legislation, such as ensuring Free Basic Water is supplied and that water treatment is compliant. On the municipality’s side, by-laws will need to be amended to ensure that conditions of water provision on privately owned land adhere to national legislation.

Recent experience warns of the unlikelihood that MCiSA has the will or capacity to legally manage water provision at Goedverwacht. This means that any agreement reached must have strict, short and clear timelines, and include an understanding that water provision should become a municipal responsibility.

Goedverwacht – Lower Weir


The Goedverwacht case is an example of the ongoing lack of democratic accountability for basic rights, where authorities are unwilling or feel legislation prevents them from taking responsibility for ensuring the provision of access to basic water rights. It is unsurprising that communities become increasingly frustrated when dysfunctional governance systems fail to resolve rights issues. This case also highlights the difficulties of relying on legal mechanisms to resolve individual cases. To take this case to court would be extremely time consuming and costly — and would still only result in a resolution of the issue in the area where the case is settled. 

The Goedverwacht highlights the need for governance systems to be effective at a local community level, with clear lines of accountability for ensuring communities are able to access the basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution.