By Norm Dixon
Members of South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU) on May 1 launched a nine-day nationwide campaign of protests against the privatisation of municipal services.
The campaign includes daily demonstrations outside town halls throughout the country. Its focus is educating communities about the negative impacts of privatisation.
SAMWU spokesperson Anna Weekes, in a statement sent to Green Left Weekly on May 5, said that the protests intend to "clear up misconceptions around the terms 'public-private sector partnerships', 'delegated management' and 'concessions', which are misleading substitute terms for privatisation".
"Profit is the clear aim", she said.
"SAMWU is of the opinion that services should be provided in the spirit of the Reconstruction and Development Program — to meet needs, not for the profit of foreign companies, and the protest action will show strong support for this view."
Biwater, a British company with close contacts to the former Conservative British government, is believed to have offered the Department of Water and Forestry Affairs 12 billion rand (A$3 billion) to privatise South Africa's water and waste services.
Biwater has formed a partnership with SANCO Holdings to bid for the management of the water supply of Mpumalanga province's capital, Nelspruit.
SAMWU added that a number of municipalities, such as Fort Beaufort, Stutterheim and Queenstown, had contracted out the management of water and waste services to WSSA, a subsidiary of the French-owned Lyonnaise des Eaux, which was involved in privatisation projects in Hungary and Argentina.
SAMWU has conducted extensive research into privatisation in other parts of the world which shows that privatisation leads to higher prices, a drop in the quality of service, loss of jobs, corruption and the waste of money because private companies borrow money from financial institutions at interest rates far higher than would normally be granted to local government.
SAMWU points out that privatised water supplies and sanitation services throughout the world are increasingly dominated by two large multinational partnerships centred on the Franco-Spanish Lyonnaise des Eaux/Aguas de Barcelona combine and the British Generale/Thames group.
"Water is a life-giving scarce resource which therefore must remain in the hands of the community through public sector delivery. Water must not be provided for profit, but to meet needs. We say that privatisation of water is contrary to the spirit of the Freedom Charter and the RDP ... We will continue to fight until we have this [Nelspruit] concession and any future concessions broken and returned to the public sector", Weekes said.
SAMWU is asking for trade unions and activists to e-mail messages of support for their campaign to firstname.lastname@example.org.