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Services for All Services for All Services for All Services for All Services for All Services for All Services for All Services for All Services for All Services for All ...continued on page 2 Soweto electricity crisis continues The Newsletter for the Municipal Services Project Number 3 April 2002 In this issue of ...‘Services for All’ In this issue we focus on research work done by the Municipal Services Project, particularly on the topic of prepaid meters. We also highlight: n the activities of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee: n the results of a national survey on service delivery done by the MSP and the HSRC. In the last issue of Services for All, we published a summary of our research on the electricity crisis in Soweto. Since that time the community, through the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, has continued to mobilise around electricity and has extended their activities to other services as well. Here we look at what has been happening on this front and examine the situation in Soweto in light of service delivery problems around the country. Last year, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee launched “Operation Khanyisa”. Under this campaign, activists from the SECC re-connected people’s electricity when they had been cut off by Eskom. The actions of the SECC prompted a serious response from government. Kenny Fihla, head of finance for the Johannesburg Metro, condemned the SECC as “agitators” with a “political agenda.” Nonetheless, the actions of the SECC forced government to take some action on electricity. In late 2001 the government agreed to suspend electricity cutoffs. Minister of Public Enterprises Jeff Radebe, along with Eskom, then came with a proposed solution called the Special Development Framework. Under this agreement all the debts of pensioners would be scrapped along with 50% of the debts of other citizens. The framework also offered a lower reconnection fee of R25–50 as opposed to the normal R200. Although a number of residents agreed to the deal, the problem of electricity was by no means solved by the Framework. People may be free from debt for the moment, but with the level of charges relative to household income, the arrears will pile up once again. SECC Response For their part, the SECC rejected this as a solution. In fact, rather than encouraging citizens to sign agreements with government, the SECC began to extend their purview to include other services as well. They linked themselves broadly to the Anti-Privatisation Forum. In advancing their campaign the SECC took their grievances to the house of the Mayor of Johannesburg, Amos Masondo on 6 April. There they were met by gunfire from Masondo’s bodyguard. Inexplicably about 100 of the demonstrators were arrested, many of them pensioners and small children. After three days the pensioners and young children were released but 50 of the protestors were held for another week before they were released on bail. The body guard was to be charged but was not held. The hard line taken by the government against the demonstrators is a source of concern. When we look at the problems faced by communities around the country with service delivery, the points made by the SECC need to be given attention. This is not a fly by night Although this coal-fired electricity plant is located in Soweto, many residents are losing access to electricity due to the cost recovery policy of Eskom.
Services Services for for AllAll...Services Services for for AllAll...continued on page 2 Soweto electricity crisis continues Number 3 The Newsletter for the Municipal Services Project
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Soweto electricity crisis continues
The News l e t t e r f o r t h e Mun i c i p al Se r v i c e s P r o j e c tNumber 3 April 2002
In this issue of ...‘Services for All’
In this issue we focus on research work doneby the Municipal Services Project, particularlyon the topic of prepaid meters. We alsohighlight:nnnnn the activities of the Soweto Electricity Crisis
Committee:nnnnn the results of a national survey on service
delivery done by the MSP and the HSRC.
In the last issue ofServices for All, wepublished a summary ofour research on theelectricity crisis inSoweto. Since that timethe community, throughthe Soweto ElectricityCrisis Committee, hascontinued to mobilisearound electricity andhas extended theiractivities to otherservices as well. Herewe look at what hasbeen happening on thisfront and examine thesituation in Soweto in lightof service delivery problemsaround the country.
Last year, the Soweto ElectricityCrisis Committee launched“Operation Khanyisa”. Underthis campaign, activists fromthe SECC re-connectedpeople’s electricity when theyhad been cut off by Eskom.The actions of the SECCprompted a serious responsefrom government. Kenny Fihla,head of finance for theJohannesburg Metro,condemned the SECC as“agitators” with a “politicalagenda.” Nonetheless, theactions of the SECC forcedgovernment to take someaction on electricity. In late2001 the government agreedto suspend electricity cutoffs.Minister of Public EnterprisesJeff Radebe, along withEskom, then came with aproposed solution called the
Special Development Framework.Under this agreement all thedebts of pensioners would bescrapped along with 50% of thedebts of other citizens. Theframework also offered a lowerreconnection fee of R25–50 asopposed to the normal R200.Although a number of residentsagreed to the deal, the problemof electricity was by no meanssolved by the Framework. Peoplemay be free from debt for themoment, but with the level ofcharges relative to householdincome, the arrears will pile uponce again.
SECC ResponseFor their part, the SECC rejectedthis as a solution. In fact, ratherthan encouraging citizens to signagreements with government,the SECC began to extend theirpurview to include other servicesas well. They linked themselvesbroadly to the Anti-PrivatisationForum.
In advancing theircampaign theSECC took theirgrievances to thehouse of the Mayorof Johannesburg,Amos Masondo on6 April. There theywere met bygunfire fromMasondo’sbodyguard.Inexplicably about100 of thedemonstratorswere arrested,
many of them pensioners and smallchildren. After three days thepensioners and young childrenwere released but 50 of theprotestors were held for anotherweek before they were released onbail. The body guard was to becharged but was not held.
The hard line taken by thegovernment against thedemonstrators is a source ofconcern. When we look at theproblems faced by communitiesaround the country with servicedelivery, the points made by theSECC need to be given attention.This is not a fly by night
Although this coal-fired electricity plant is located inSoweto, many residents are losing access to electricitydue to the cost recovery policy of Eskom.
What’s happening at the MSP?Activities of the MSPActivities of the MSP
organisation. Their activitieshave gained considerableattention and support frommany quarters. Last year theWashington Post ran a frontpage feature on the SECC.Their Operation Khanyisa wasthe subject of a TVdocumentary on the SABC’sSpecial AssignmentProgramme. Moreover,according to the Departmentof Provincial and LocalGovernment more then 296000 households had theirelectricity cut off in the thirdquarter of last year. This wassupposed to be six monthsinto the programme ofproviding free lifelines ofelectricity.It would also be wrong to
think that the SECC is actingalone. There have beenprotests in many communitiesaround the country concerningservice delivery. In Nelspruit,COSATU , the PAC andtraditional leaders have cometogether to initiate OperationVulamanzi in response to therising water charges from thenew service provider, theBritish company Biwater. InCape Town, residents inTafelsig, led by the Anti-Eviction Campaign, havefought battles with securitypersonnel who have targetedthose with arrears for evictionfrom council housing. In manyother communities such asKathorus, Sebokeng,Upington,Topline, Grootdrink,
Cilliers Aleit, Raaswaterandand Hondel Klipbaai residentshave organised publicly foraffordable, high qualityservices. And many morecitizens have resisted in lessopen ways: by breakingprepaid meters, byreconnecting water andelectricity after cutoffs, or byusing magnets and otherdevices to slow down theirmeters. There is a genuinecrisis of service delivery inSouth Africa. The governmentwould do well to pay far moreattention to the message ofthe SECC. After all, ratherthan being agitators with apolitical agenda, the SECC islikely the tip of the iceberg ifthe cutoffs, evictions, andrising charges continue.
This issue of Services for Allhighlights our work on costrecovery. This research will bepublished as a book by theHuman Sciences ResearchCouncil (HSRC) later this year.In this newsletter we haveincluded summaries of thefollowing research which willbe included in the book:n The privatisation of water in
Stutterheim, Fort Beaufortand Queenstown (E.Cape)
n Experiences of communitiesin the rural Northern Capewith prepaid water meters
n The problems with watercutoffs in the Makhazaarea of Khayelitsha
These are both available onrequest from the MSP officesat Wits or Queens University.
n The results of a nationalsurvey on cost recoveryconducted by the MSPthrough the HSRC
Apart from our work on costrecovery we have alsopublished two moreoccasional papers:
Number 6: Local EconomicDevelopment Debates inSouth Africa by Patrick BondNumber 7: Privatising CapeTown: Service delivery andpolicy reforms since 1996
Soweto Electricity continued from page 1
such instances, residents areoften held “guilty until proveninnocent” by being made topay repair fees which can onlybe refunded after a lengthybureaucratic process.
Prepaids in the UKBut South Africa is not the firstcountry to make use ofprepaid meters. In many partsof the UK, prepaid meterswere installed for water,electricity and gas in the mid-1990s. The problems faced bylow income residents in SouthAfrica were also confronted bymany British people as well. Inmost cases the installation ofprepaid meters came about asa result of handing overservice delivery to a privatesector provider. For acompany concerned withprofit margins, prepaid meterswere a useful tool to ensurethat no one received anyservice without paying first.
But over the years, acampaign emerged againstthe meters and in particular,around the issue of “self-disconnection. Opponents ofprepaids argued that self-disconnection violated theresponsibility of the provider tothe citizens. The campaignwas initially driven by citizens’organisations such as theMerseyside Campaign AgainstWater Meters and the LowerGrange Campaign for WaterJustice. However, in March,1996 48 local authoritiescame together to fight against“self-disconnections.” Six of
the local authorities took upthe issue in the courts (withmany of the other municipalitiesproviding financial support.)Both the private companiesand the government-appointedregulator fought in favour ofthe right of the “meter” to cutoff service. They argued thatthe cut offs were the result ofaction by the users, not by thecompany. In March 1998, thecourt ruled against thecompanies and the regulator.The judgement held thatservice providers could not cutoff service. A later rulingbanned any devices to reducethe flow of water, electricity orgas. This was a great victoryfor the basic rights of thecitizens of the United Kingdom.
As you will read in otherparts of this newsletter, (seethe articles on the NorthernCape and Makhaza) prepaidmeters are already creatingserious access problems formany residents in South Africa.The legal case carried out inthe United Kingdom may beone tactic communities herecan use in order to ensure thatprepaid technology does notdeny them their constitutionalrights to access services.
(much of the material inthis article is based on MarkDrakeford’s article “WaterRegulation and Pre-payment Meters in theJournal of Law and Society,25,4, December 1998)
Prepaid Meters: No cutoffs in the UK!In many communities acrossSouth Africa prepaid metershave been installed for waterand/or electricity. The City ofCape Town has recentlydeclared its intention to be thefirst city in the country toconvert all domestic waterservices to a prepaid system.The estimated cost for thiswould be R800 million.Prepaid meters solve manyproblems for service providers.Most importantly, they meanmore money in the coffers ofthe municipality. Also,prepaids eliminate many ofthe costs of billing and meterreading. Lastly, prepaids meanthat the service provider doesnot have to deal face to facewith citizens — either tonegotiate payment or to cutoff service.
Problems of prepaidsHowever, for low incomecitizens, prepaid meters posemany problems. There is thegeneral question ofaffordability. High rates forservices may force householdsto choose between water andelectricity or water and food.Cases of family emergenciessuch as funerals or illness canexacerbate the situation. Inthese cases, people simply“self-disconnect” when theyare unable to buy more units.Apart from affordability, thereare many instances where theprepaid technology breaksdown, leaving people withoutservice and often “stealing”their units of water orelectricity in the process. In
National survey onservice delivery
The Municipal Services Projectworked with the HumanSciences Research Council(HRSC) to carry out the firstcomprehensive nationaloverview of serviceaffordability and cutoffs fornon-payment.
The survey, completed in July2001, is a statisticallyrepresentative survey of 2 530people from across SouthAfrica. Here we publish asummary of the key findings.The full report of the survey isavailable on our website andwill be included in aforthcoming book on costrecovery to be published bythe HSRC and the MunicipalServices Project.
1. Levels of servicedelivery
While there has been asignificant rollout of water andelectricity, refuse collectionand sanitation lag far behind.Only about half of thepopulation has flush toilets.About a third of South Africansuse ordinary pit latrines orchemical toilets. Some 10%do not have access to anysanitation at all. With regardto refuse, 42% of ourpopulation has no refusecollections whatsoever.
2. Level of chargesThe median cost for water,electricity, sewerage and
refuse removal ranges fromR224 to R400 per month. Forthe 57% of the sampleearning less than R1000 inmonthly household income,service charges typicallyrepresent anywhere from aquarter to a half of their totalincome. This leaves very littlefor other necessities such asfood, transport and medicalneeds.
3. Ability to payOnly 53% of the respondentssaid it was “Very easy” forthem to pay their servicecharges. 17% said paying forservices meant cutting back onother essentials like “food andclothing”. About a fifth (18%)said that they cannot afford topay for services “no matterhow hard they try.”
4. Arrears22% of respondents said theywere in arrears for water. Theaverage debt was R2 274.13% had electricity arrearswhich averaged R2 189. 51%of these people said theycould not pay the arrears “nomatter how hard they try.”
5. CutoffsOn the basis of our survey, weestimate that about 10 millionpeople have experiencedwater cutoffs and an equalnumber have had theirelectricity cut. Quite oftenthese cutoffs are for short
periods of time but cutoffs ofup to nine months are notuncommon. Some two millionpeople have been evictedfrom homes for non-paymentof service bills.
6. Race, class andcutoffs
Low-income African householdshave been the most hard hitby cutoffs but 32% ofhouseholds in the monthlyincome range of R2 100 toR3 000 have had theirelectricity cut and 23% of thatgrouping have had water cuts.
7. Attitudes to free orsubsidised services
78% of respondents favouredfree water and electricity forhouseholds with an income ofless than R500 per month.However, the more wealthyhouseholds are generallyopposed to free services orsubsidies. 59% of householdswith incomes between R15 000and R20 000 per monthopposed any kind of freeservices. 69% of this highincome range opposedincreased taxes to pay forthese services.
ConclusionsWhile many policy makersassert that the problem is a“culture of non-payment”, thesurvey data indicate theproblem is one of affordability
rather thanunwillingness to pay.While there have beenimportant gains interms of infrastructurefor services likeelectricity and water,there remains a“national crisis in theaffordability of basicmunicipal services.”With rising servicecharges andincreasingunemployment, accessis unlikely to improve unlessgovernment and serviceproviders alter their adherenceto a policy of stringent costrecovery.
Lastly, this survey was carriedout just as free water andelectricity policies weresupposed to be implemented
Workers speakWorkers speakA refuse collection worker inCape Town speaks about theeffects of outsourcing andunder-staffing in hisdepartment.
‘Workers are demoralised withmore and more taking to drugand alcohol abuse. The workthey are given is evenincreasing. That is whyworkers will go and sellcouncil property…workers justjump on a truck so they canearn R50 a day. The
telephones at the depot areinundated with calls from thecommunity, not taking intoaccount that by the time thecaller finished his five starbreakfast the worker has runup and down 10 to 20 roads.Workers are taking the bruntfor council’s incompetence.They come up with all thesebig fancy names to get rid ofworkers in order to getthemselves a piece of the pie.’
across the country. It ispossible that attitudes towardaffordability and cost recoveryhave changed since that timeor that fewer households willbe targeted for cutoffs.However, Department ofProvincial and LocalGovernment statistics for
the final quarter of 2001indicate that more than296 000 householdsexperienced electricitycutoffs and about 130 000had their water cut, bringinginto question the efficacy ofthe “free services”programme.
BackgroundMakhaza is a settlement withinKhayelitsha, the WesternCape’s largest township.Located about 30 km from theCape Town CBD, Makhazaincludes about 16 000households. In 2000 theTygerberg administration cutoff water to many householdsin Makhaza. In response thecommunity mobilised to resistthe cut offs. Because of thisactivity, we decided to useMakhaza as one of our casestudies on the issue of costrecovery. We hoped that ourstudy would be useful for theMakhaza community.
The participatoryapproachWe involved about ten activistsfrom Makhaza as researchassistants. We chose residentsfrom Makhaza to assist for tworeasons. Firstly, they wouldeasily be able to identifypeople affected by the watercut offs. Secondly we felt thatthe interviewees would bemore open to people fromtheir community. But moreimportantly, we wanted tobuild the capacity of peopleto carry out research in thecourse of their struggles.
To build the capacity of theactivists we ran two one-dayresearch workshops. Theworkshops covered researchmethods, interview skills andthe issue of cost recovery. We
also did a role-play of aninterview and got suggestionsfrom participants about bothinterviewing techniques andthe contentof the questions.
Doing the researchThe actual research lasted fivedays. Altogether 63 householdswere interviewed. We met theresearch assistants at the startand end of each day to dealwith planning issues andaddress any problemsencountered.
In addition, we conducted afocus group with 18 residents.The research assistants alsoattended this session. Wewanted the research assistantsto observe how focus groupdiscussions are conductedand, more importantly, tolisten to what communitymembers had to say aboutwater cutoffs.
Our next step was anevaluation session. Here wealso discussed what researchassistants observed as theywere visiting householdsconcerning services inMakhaza. In this evaluationmeeting we planned for reportback meetings for thecommunity about the outcomeof the research.
The last exercise was reportback meetings. The first reportback meeting was targeted at
the people who participated inthe research. A second broadermeeting has been plannedwhere the community cancomment on the outcome ofthe research and discuss howto use the outcome of thereport in their campaign work.
Research findingsn Of the 63 people
interviewed, 44 said thatcould not pay because theywere unemployed. Another10 said they did not have“enough money” or earned“low wages”
n People said they are not“anti- payment” but simplycannot afford to pay thecurrent services chargesand arrears
n Community memberscollectively decided toreopen their water despitethreats from the municipalityto take legal action againstthem. This collective responseled to the suspension ofwater cutoffs in the area.Militant demands alsoemerged in the communitystruggles. The communitydemanded the scrapping ofarrears.
n The collective responseemerged outside thetraditional political partiesand also outside SANCOthat used to champion thedemands of the communityin South African townships.
n There were no linkagesbetween organised labour
Participatory research: MSPresearch on cost recoverypolicies in Makhaza
(in this case SAMWU) andcommunity, which is areflection of weaknesses inthe emerging embryonicforms of organisations thatare challenging costrecovery policies.
Challenges in theresearchWe think the ten researchassistants developedconsiderable skills asresearchers through thisprocess. The participation inthe research also assisted indeveloping theirunderstanding of theunderlying causes of theproblems faced by theircommunity.
There were however someweaknesses. Due to deadlines,we were unable to include theresearcher activists in writing
up the final report. Secondlyalthough we have maintainedcontacts with these activists,we need to sustain the work ofcapacity building. Our hope isto return to Makhaza in 2002to study the impact of the freewater policy. We want to findout if the lifeline of 6 000 litresper household per month hashelped in any way to improvelife for those who hadpreviously experienced cut offs.
Comments from thepeople of Makhaza onwater cutoffs
“Water is life, without it youdie.”
“It is not right, what are yougoing to drink, how are yougoing to cook, you are beingkilled.”
“They are killing us alive.”
“It is not correct because Icannot survive without water.”
“No, I am suffering from TBand I must take tablets withwater. I am also unemployed.”
“It is not correct, I regard theaction as the breaking of thelaw because water is the basisfor life.”
“Water is a human right.”
“It is not right. We weresupposed to be informed asthe community, so that we cansit down with the council todiscuss how payment shouldhappen.”
“It is not right, they aresupposed to inform me. Theydon’t care, they cut off yourwater even if you are not athome.”
“This action shows that thecouncil does not care about us.”
Water updateWater update
In this issue we have a numberof articles on prepaid meters.Here we present commentsfrom community members withwhom we have spoken on thisissue. In our research, a keyconcern was the link betweenthe outbreak of cholera inrural KwaZulu-Natal and theuse of prepaid systems.
Here are comments fromresidents in two of these ruralcommunities hard hit bycholera, Ngobothi andMatshana.
Prior to the prepaid meters inthis area we had free water via
a communal system. The tapsdid not have meters and wegot water free. They came tous about two years ago to tellus that they are going to put inprepaid meters because weare wasting water. We werenot consulted as a community,they were just telling us, notdiscussing with us.(Resident from Ngobothi)
Sometime in August last year,something happened to themeters. They were faulty, notone but all of them. We couldnot get water from anywhere.Those of us who had boughtwater on the cards, even we
could not get water. Nobodycame to explain to us whathad happened. We did not getany warning. All we know is wehad no water.(A second resident fromNgobothi)
It was bad, it took three weeksbefore the meters wereworking again and in themeantime we had no cleanwater. The bore- holes weredry. We needed water to live.We had no choice but to getwater from the rivers.(Resident from Matshana).
Water update: KwaZulu Natal
In July last year I visited theNorthern Cape community ofLennertsville. I wanted to hearwhat the community had tosay about their new waterservice i.e. prepaid meters. In1998, The Lower OrangeRiver District Council decidedto put in a prepaid waterservice in seven poorcommunities, includiingLennertsville. The council’smotivation was to recoversome of the R7 million theyclaimed residents owed themfor services.
Before installing the prepaidmeters, the council had begunto implement water cutoffs.According to residents, this ledto conflicts in the community.
One resident described thesituation:When the council started to cutoff people’s water in thecommunity, that’s when theproblem started. As you cansee we are a poor communitymost people are unemployed.It is very difficult to find workand those who do have work
pay very little. Also they workon the farms so the work isseasonal. If the farmer doesnot have work for you then youare like the rest of usunemployed.
Only a few people here havepermanent work.
The council began to cut -offour water to force us to pay.Some people went to thecouncil and tried to make anarrangement and got theirwater reconnected but you
Viva prepaids? A reportfrom the Northern Cape
need to pay R250 first. If youdon’t pay they cut you.
This did not only cut-off thecommunity from water butgave rise to other problemstoo:It started causing problems inthe community amongstneighbours – people fightingwith each other and. Whenyou go to town or you go tosleep people come and stealwater. This became a bigproblem for the council and forus in the community too andwhen we used to complain thecouncil used to encourage usnot to give the other peoplewater. I think they realised howmuch of a problem it wasbecoming that is why theybrought this Mark guy toexplain how the prepaidmeters will put an end to thetheft of water.
Because of some of theseconflicts, some residents werehappy with the innovation ofusing prepaid meters:We were very happy to hearthis, because there was somuch of fighting between theneighbours already. He told usthat the meter would be insidethe house and the section forthe card outside. He said thecard would act like a key.When you put the card into theunit water will flow from thetap, and when you pull out thecard the tap will shut off. Noone can get water from yourtap and no one can use theircard in your unit.
He explained thatbecause the meterwas attached to acomputer it would beable to deduct about10% of what we payfor water towards ourarrears, so we wouldbe paying for waterand arrears at thesame time. We werealso told that thewater would be muchcheaper than the R23that we are payingand that we will beable to save.
You know we were sohappy to hear thisthat everyone in thehall shouted Viva pre-paids Viva Thecommunity acceptedthe prepaid meters –since we could control ourwater.
But the residents’ excitementabout the prepaids dissipatedquickly:But now four months after themeter the community nolonger feel this way: I used topay R23 for water but now Icannot afford to pay this everyweek. We are 10 people inthis house and when I buywater for R10 this week I goand buy water again and if Idon’t have money I have tostay without.
If I don’t have water then Imust go and borrow money orbeg for water. But eventually ifwe don’t have money for water
I will take my bucket/containerand walk down to the river andfetch water like we did beforethe taps. I will have to pull outthe plants and forget about mygarden and as for the toiletwell I will have to find a wayaround that one.
The community feels that theirstruggle to have clean wateris not over and that hadmade a mistake by acceptingthe prepaid meters.
We are struggling for 10 yearsto get water and our struggle isnot over and now we cannotgo to the Boer in the office andsay he has cut us off becausewith the prepaids we have cutourselves off.
by Hameda Deedat
consuming work” so that itcould “devote its creativeattention fully to thedevelopment of the regionand the community”.
These are some of thepromises which convinced thelocal authorities to enter into a30 year agreement withWSSA. Let us now look at theresults.
After privatisationThe most profound change inthe three areas was anincrease in service charges.For example, monthly watertariffs for 10 kl in Fort Beaufortrose from R6,10 in 1994/5to R27,80 by 1998/99. In thesame period, seweragecharges escalated from R10 toR35. Even those using thebucket system faced a servicecharge increase of over100%. The flat rate charge forall services increased fromR10 to R74!!
In addition, other punitivecharges were initiated. Forexample, from May 1996a 100% hike in waterconnection fees from R310 toR648 (more than a month’sincome for most Fort Beaufortfamilies) was imposed.Contrast this with a muchsmaller hike in more complexsewerage connections fromR360 to R496. Only theformer white area has sewers.
DebtBy February 2000, the risingcharges meant that FortBeaufort consumers owed themunicipality R13 million. ByJuly the figure had reachedR17 million. Households owedan average of R5 000 each tothe council in 2000.
In response to non-paymentmunicipal authoritiespressurised residents byimposing service cutbacks,reducing capital projects,spending less money onmaintenance, and retrenchingworkforce.
When these measures fail theytake legal action and seizeresidents’ property, cuttingthem off permanently. Mostof those people against whomlegal action is taken are thepoorest of the poor(pensioners and unemployed)whose accumulated arrearsrun up to R8 000. Legal andinterest charges often exceedthe amounts initially owed. Inaddition, fees to collectionagencies frequently exceed theamount recovered.
Permanent cutoffsMore disturbing than financialpressure is the phenomenonof permanent cut-offs of thepoor. Some methods ofpermanent cut-off method areindirect such as increasingreconnections fees to
Eastern Cape privatisationwater woes
Privatisation’spromisesThe Eastern Cape cities of FortBeaufort, Queenstown andStutterheim were among thefirst municipalities in SA tohand over their water andsanitation services to a privatecompany via a long-termcontract. The contracts weresigned between 1992 and1995. In this article. GregRuiters examines these effortsat public-private partnerships.(PPPs)
Under the contracts a fully-owned subsidiary of Frenchgiant Lyonnaise de Eaux, theWater and Sanitation Servicesof South Africa (WSSA)became the sole provider ofwater and sanitation serviceswithin these municipalities.
Motivation forprivatisationThe WSSA along with localgovernment officials offered anumber of explanations forprivatisation. Overall theWSSA convinced themunicipality that they werefacing a crisis and that onlythe private sector could bailthem out.
Privatisation was advancedas a way of increasing thegovernment’s capacity. WSSAwould claim such a contractwould, “free the municipalitiesfrom arduous and time
unaffordable levels of morethan R1 000. Another optionis insisting that residents payoff huge amounts (up to 50%of debt) first before beingconsidered for any services atall. Failure to pay evenexcludes them from access tothe recently announced freewater.
The third and more insidiousmethod of cut-off is self-disconnection via prepaidmeters. On the 25th April2000, Conlog (a companypartly owned by the ex-minister of defence, JoeModise) had its tender forpre-paid water metering inStutterheim’s black townshipsaccepted. Phase one of thisproject was to cost R230, 000.
Under the Conlog plan,community standpipes andyard-taps are first in line forpre-paid meters. In the eventof non-payment of rates orother charges, residents couldbe blocked from access toprepayment tokens or cards. Itwould cost R1 550 for astandpipe prepayment meterand R750 for a yard tapmeter.
It was envisaged thatspecifically the black areaswith high debts (eg Mlungisi)be targeted for pre-paid waterdevices.
ConclusionWhat has taken place in thesethree towns is a reflection ofwider trends towardprivatisation, particularly in the
form of commercialisation andcommodifying of services.
Cut-offs and even permanentlack of access are on the rise.Ultimately, this is creating anew kind of social disruptionand has in fact repoliticisedbasic services making it one ofthe most contested arenas forcompleting the unfinishedtasks of social transformationin South Africa.
By Greg Ruiters (MSP)
Prepaid taps are becomingcommon in poor communities.
In response to the currentcholera epidemic in KwaZulu-Natal, the Department ofWater Affairs and Forestry(DWAF) has argued that betteraccess to water and sanitationis only part of the solution.Better hygienic practices,apparently, are what is reallyneeded to deal with choleraand other water-bornediseases. “It is in this regard”,stated a DWAF official inFebruary of this year, “that theWater Affairs and ForestryMinister… will launch a WASH(water, sanitation and hygiene)campaign”.
How little the discoursearound poverty, class anddisease has changed since thenineteenth century, whenbourgeois commentatorsequated dirt and filth withpoverty, disease, women andAfricans.
What DWAF seems to haveignored is the fact that thegreatest public healthrevolution in the West was theinstallation of seweragesystems and the provision offresh water in cities in thenineteenth century. These arethe measures that dramaticallyreduced mortality fromwaterborne illnesses in Europeand saved the largest numberof lives from disease in thatcentury.
Cholera was beaten in theWest because of thesemeasures, not because ofincreased cleanliness or
more firewood (not to mentionbuying bleach).
This is part of a more insidiouspublic health policy bias inSouth Africa which burdenswomen with healthcare byplacing onto women the(unpaid) responsibility ofhealth care labour whichshould be publicly paid forand organized around publicinstitutions (like hospitals andstate water providers).
by Mandisa Mbali(Centre for Civil Society,University of Natal)
hygiene. Then, as now, povertyas the main cause of ill healthwas generally ignored in afacile “the poor are the greatunwashed” analysis. Moreover,this line of argument highlightsthe failure of the governmentto provide accessible andaffordable clean water andsanitation to all South Africans.
The situation is furthercomplicated by the fact that inrural South Africa poor Africanwomen do most of thedomestic work. Purifyingwater by boiling it or addingbleach increases women’sdomestic labourburden and places theonus of preventingcholera on women.
Boiling water also hasfinancial and labourimplications for poorwomen in affectedareas: it meanshaving to use moreparaffin and collecting
‘The great unwashed’A critique of the cholera crisis