SOUTH AFRICA: 'Away with pre-paid water meters!'

Issue 

BY DALE McKINLEY

JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg Water Company (JOWCO) has embarked on a program of installing pre-paid water meters throughout Soweto, as part of "Operation Gcin'amanzi". The move is being resisted by the community.

JOWCO claims it has consulted with Soweto residents and that the operation is designed to enhance and extend the people of Soweto's right to affordable, quality water. JOWCO claims that the poor will benefit by being able to "own" their water consumption and that the free "lifeline" provision of 6000 litres of water per month is enough to meet the basic needs of most households. JOWCO also claims that those who oppose Operation Gcin'amanzi are "criminals" with political agendas designed to undermine people's access to water.

None of these claims are true. Operation Gcin'amanzi is a huge fraud. It is a cynical campaign to increase the profits of JOWCO at the expense of the poor. It seeks to deny the basic right of all South Africans to water.

Operation Gcin'amanzi began in the Phiri section of Soweto in mid-August. Due to community opposition, JOWCO was forced to bring in the notorious "Red Ants" (private security thugs dressed in red overalls) to allow work to proceed. The vast majority of the Phiri community (supported by the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Anti-Privatisation Forum) have, in no uncertain terms, demonstrated their rejection of this fraud.

Several residents were arrested and charged with "malicious damage to property" after resisting JOWCO's attempts to dig pipe trenches and bring in containers. There was a large march to the African National Congress-dominated local council offices on August 22 and the views of the residents were clear. In a statement, the protesters declared:

"We don't want pre-paid water meters in Soweto. Just as we are fighting against the pre-paid electricity meters that [the electricity utility] ESKOM is busy installing ... The prepaid meter means that only the rich will have water. If you have no money, you will not have water.

"We were not consulted about the installation of pre-paid water meters... Neither JOWCO nor any councillor has ever called any meeting at which we were informed about Operation Gcin'amanzi. We have never given any of our councillors any mandate to agree to the installation of pre-paid water meters.

"We are against the privatisation of water. We are opposed to the ANC government's [neoliberal economic policies] that allow our water to be owned and run by private companies. The capitalists who run JOWCO only want to make a profit. That is why they are installing the pre-paid meters, to make sure that we pay. We are opposed to our water being handled by Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, the French multinational company that effectively controls and runs JOWCO, which was found guilty of bribery in Paris in 1989 and which has a long record of gouging massive profits from poor people across the world...

"Water is a human right, not a privileged commodity that can only be enjoyed by those who can afford it."

[Dale McKinley is an activist with the Johannesburg Anti-Privatisation Forum.]

From Green Left Weekly, September 10, 2003.

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