By Norm Dixon
The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) has appealed for international support in its struggle against the privatisation of basic services.
The union has been waging a bitter fight against the privatisation of water and sanitation services by local councils. Over the past six months, it has called national strikes and militant demonstrations.
In an appeal issued on October 15, SAMWU reported that the Nelspruit council in Mpumalanga province had announced that the British-controlled Biwater conglomerate was the "successful bidder" for council-owned water and sanitation services. The union learned this from press reports.
"Former white areas are to be provided with the same level of services as always, while township residents will only receive basic services", SAMWU reported.
"The costs of providing basic services to the township areas are to be covered by a government subsidy, not by money invested by Biwater. Nevertheless, Biwater will still be setting the rates for water to the townships! The government is still spending money — that they supposedly don't have — on providing new services but at the same time allowing a multinational to make an unprecedented profit while investing very little! In addition, the apartheid service inequalities are going to be officially perpetuated here for a minimum term of 30 years!"
SAMWU was scathing in its criticism of ANC councillors who voted with National Party representatives, ignoring the opposition of their constituents and of the local branches of the Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
"We cannot call such people our leaders", SAMWU said. The SACP rejected the deal with "uttermost contempt".
Biwater, a British company with close contacts to the former Conservative British government, has reportedly offered the Department of Water and Forestry Affairs 12 billion rand (A$3 billion) to buy South Africa's water and waste services.
Biwater formed a partnership with SANCO Holdings, the investment arm of the South African National Civics Organisation, to "manage" Nelspruit's water supply.
Through the 1970s and 1980s, SANCO played a leading role in organising township residents to fight for better services, community empowerment and against apartheid. SANCO is part of the ANC-COSATU-Communist Party alliance. SANCO Holdings is headed by former trade union militant and Communist, Moses Mayekiso.
"The council has identified a bidder in the name of 'black economic empowerment'", SAMWU said. It is becoming a pattern "that a group of Africans with some links to the Mass Democratic Movement will be opportunistically used to violate the economic interest of the poor. We cannot support this emerging 'unpatriotic bourgeoisie'."
SAMWU warned that it will "use any means necessary to protect our workers and communities against the destruction that services for profit will bring". SAMWU announced mass action by municipal workers across the country. A province-wide stay-away called by SAMWU, COSATU and the SACP will take place on October 27.
SAMWU has appealed for trade unionists and opponents of privatisation around the world to fax messages of opposition to the Nelspruit town clerk at 27 13 759 2252 or e-mail c/-