A South African study of consumers' perception and household utilization of a rural water service
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The South African government is engaged in providing 'water for all' especially to rural areas. This is done by developing accessible, potable, safe drinking water systems. Safe drinking water is classified according to its quality and quantity factors. These factors are an important aspect in the consumers' perception of a rural water service. It is the intention of the Free Basic Water Policy (FBWP) to provide a service that addresses these factors by issuing a water service that is affordable. Little is known about the way in which these services are experienced, received and perceived by the beneficiaries in the rural communities. It is also not clear whether the FBWP has had the intended effect on its recipients. Therefore the main aim of this study was to determine the consumers' perceptions and household utilization of a rural water service through an exploration of consumers' perceptions of the water quality, water quantity, FBWP and household water utilization. This study was done by employing a qualitative strategy, making use of focus groups and semi-structured interviews. Data collected with these methods, revealed that consumers rely on physical qualities and performance of water when evaluating a water service. Water quantity was defined through availability and accessibility of which distance has direct economic implications. The FBWP was perceived to be non-beneficial; however its intended purpose is to improve the quality of life of its beneficiaries. It is suggested that the water service stakeholders be informed about the consumers' understanding and daily experience of these water aspects. It is proposed that this understanding can be achieved through the use of a systems perspective, as it illustrates the interaction and interdependence that exists among the consumers, consumer behavioural processes and service providers. This interaction is considered as an important improvement of quality of life.