06 May 2008
War on Want has been following the case of the Johannesburg residents who sued the water company for placing illegal limits on their provision of water. The residents were supported by War on Want partner organisation Anti-Privatisation Forum. Now, in a major victory for the residents, the Johannesburg High Court has declared prepaid water meters unlawful and unconstitutional.
The Court found the enforced choice between pre-paid meter and standpipe to be unlawful and unconstitutional and ordered the City of Johannesburg to provide the full range of water delivery service options. The limitation of free basic water allocation of 6kl per household, per month is set aside and the city has been ordered to provide 50 litres per person, per day.
Judge Tsoka also determined that the City should bear all the legal costs of the applicants since 2006.
This is the first time, in which the constitutional right to water has explicitly been raised, and the judgement itself provided meaningful and clear reasons for the orders issued. Judge MP Toska "criticised the municipality for its discriminatory approach to the provision of water", finding that: "the underlying basis for the introduction of prepayment meters seems to me to be credit control. If this is true, I am unable to understand why this credit control measure is only suitable in the historically poor black areas and not the historically rich white areas. Bad payers cannot be described in terms of colour or geographical area."
The Judge went on to say that, "25 litres per person day is insufficient for the residents of Phiri ... to expect the applicants to restrict their water usage, to compromise their health, by limiting the number of toilet flushes in order to save water is to deny them the rights to health and to lead a dignified lifestyle."
The greatest credit for this extraordinary legal victory must go to the residents of Phiri that resisted the installation of the pre-paid meters, and to all the other residents of poor communities, both in Johannesburg and across the country, who have been fighting for accessible, affordable and sufficient water provision.
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