Water struggle reaches Supreme Court of Appeal

Thursday 19 February 2009 by Nic

The appeal by the City of Johannesburg against the Johannesburg High Court ruling on prepaid water meters and the free basic water allocation takes place in Bloemfontein from Monday to Wednesday next week (23-25 February).

In its historic judgement handed down on the 30th April 2008, the Johannesburg High Court declared prepaid water meters both illegal and unconstitutional and ordered the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) to provide residents with 50 litres of free water per person/per day . Despite the judgement being celebrated by poor communities across South Africa and supported by a wide range of domestic and international unions, political parties and non-governmental organisations, Johannesburg Mayor, Amos Masondo - alongside Johannesburg Water and the Department of Water Affairs & Forestry (DWAF) - appealed the judgement. More recently, the National Treasury has applied to be an amicus in support of the appeal. And so, now into its sixth year, this landmark case to secure basic constitutional rights to water for all, heads to the SCA.

The character of the appeal combined with the timing of the hearing, are particularly ironic.

  • At the same time that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is making endless electoral promises to the poor about their rights to adequate, accessible and affordable basic needs/services, the ANC government’s own officials/departments are attempting to reverse one of the few legal rulings that gives positive effect to those rights.
  • At the same time that thousands of people in poor communities are suffering from a cholera epidemic - a direct result of the lack of decent water supply and service - the appeal seeks to prevent the poor from enjoying the same quality and levels of water service as provided to the middle class and rich.
  • At the same time when corruption and fraud within the leadership ranks of the ANC and the government it runs are at an all-time high, we see mounds of public monies being used to enforce the poor to ‘conserve’ and accept the patronising classification of ‘indigent’.
  • At the same time that millions across the country are buckling under the weight of the ongoing and combined crises of the failed privatised and individualistic gospel of the capitalist ‘free market’, we have government trying to uphold and defend the very same gospel when it comes to the most basic of human rights and needs, water.

Something has gone horribly wrong when those who rule and speak in the name of democracy attempt to deny basic democratic/constitutional rights to those who are most in need. As CAWP has stated since the beginning of this case so many years ago, if the basic human and constitutional right to adequate, accessible and affordable water is enshrined in law as a commodified privilege only to be enjoyed by those who can afford it, then we have completely lost our way as a society.

While CAWP, its legal team and all of those who are in support, hope that the SCA will uphold the Johannesburg High Court ruling, the struggle for water - both inside and outside the courts - will continue. While we will pursue the legal case to the Constitutional Court if necessary, we will never stop our collective defence of, and fight for, water to become what it always has been and always should be - a natural, public resource essential to all life, to be shared and enjoyed universally.


Attached documents

Heads of Argument for Supreme Court hearing

19 February 2009
Document : PDF
730.8 kb

Department of Water Affairs and Forestry application for leave to appeal

19 February 2009
Document : PDF
95.6 kb

City of Johannesburg application for leave to appeal

19 February 2009
Document : PDF
576.5 kb

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