Water challenge after children die

12 September 2006 - 3:37pm

News of the challenge by residents in the Johannesburg township Soweto came from the Anti-Privatisation Forum, a coalition of community groups, non-governmental organisations and trade unions, a partner of War on Want.

The city's authority and Johannesburg Water Company are rationing water after advice from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund led to spending cuts which brought local privatisation and commercialisation. The challengers oppose the policy of capping prepaid water under Operation Gcin'amanzi (Save Water). Under the policy, residents have to go dry or buy more water after they have exceeded the monthly ration.

The residents, from the Phiri neighbourhood, have launched the challenge on behalf of all township residents. They want the daily limit raised to 50 litres per person each day and the option of metered water supply. The residents complain that as the water limit is calculated on a household basis, and not per person, the policy discriminates against large families. A household of eight is limited to just 25 litres of water a day - half of the minimum daily limit advised by water experts. The average Phiri household comprises 16 people.

Vusimuzi Paki described in his affidavit the deaths of two young children after a fire broke out on his property. Fighting the flames with low-pressure water from a hose, and rainwater, was not enough to save the lives of the youngsters.

In March 2004 residents in Phiri, with Lindiwe Mazibuko, the lead applicant in the case, had their water disconnected. These people were told that if they did not allow prepaid water metres to be installed, their entire water supply would be cut off. In July 2004, Johannesburg blocked access to the local reservoir. Until October that year, Ms Mazibuko was forced to travel 12 kilometres a day, carting water home in a wheelbarrow. The Mazibuko household had its water supply restored in October, with the new prepayment meter. But the household has used its monthly allotment by the middle of every month since 2004

Another Phiri resident, Jennifer Makoatsane, said her "rights to water and human dignity have been violated". In her affidavit, Ms Makoastane wrote that she could not clean her father's gangrenous foot or, after he died, provide water for relatives at his funeral.

The five named applicants are supported by the Centre of Applied Legal Studies at Wits University, the Freedom of Expression Institute and the Coalition Against Water Privatisation. The university also filed papers asking the court to declare the quotas and mandatory meters unconstitutional. Prepaid water meters have been outlawed in the UK.


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