’Hammer Week’ for Phiri Community Activists
Saturday 1 November 2003 by APF
A bombardment of litigation against community activists is scheduled for this week beginning 3 November. In what is being dubbed ’Hammer Week’ by the legal team representing the accused, 16 (sixteen) residents of Soweto will be placed on trial in separate cases for fighting for the basic provision of water services. Each of the seven cases refers to the uprising in Phiri, Soweto, in early September this year against Johannesburg Water’s installation of prepaid water meters. Despite intimidation, the arrests, detentions and trials, this struggle against the technology of prepayment for water is continuing in Phiri.
Interdict invokes Apartheid era police state
The trials scheduled for this week are the outcome of overriding democratic freedoms for the water company’s narrow interests. Most of the charges brought against those protesting the imposition of the prepaid meter system were fabricated by a draconian interdict granted to Johannesburg Water (JW). The city’s water utility company was able to enforce its programme by convincing the High Court that the democratic right to express dissent and protest had to be suspended. Under the interdict, any person found within 50 meters of JW’s construction sites in Phiri who expresses opposition to the laying of the pipes and meter installation will be deemed to be interfering with the work of the company. Whether raising their concerns by querying JW personnel or by collectively protesting JW’s new regime of water consumption, Phiri residents were suddenly possible targets of arrest by the police and private security personnel.
Banning order/bail conditions
Posted as high as R1.200, bailing the 16 accused out of jail was only made possible by desperate fundraising on the part of the Anti Privatisation Forum and only after many activist were held for over two week without a bail hearing. But once out of jail, the bail conditions further restricted them to a state of virtual house arrest. Now without the freedoms to join meetings concerning JW’s programme or to participate in any actions against it, the intended effect of the bail conditions was to suppress any disruption of construction works. The severity of these conditions imposed on the accused forebodes a longer term quietening of protest. The prosecutor’s office appears intent on ensuring that the harshest sentences are meted out. The signs are clear that ’democracy’ in South Africa has borrowed the methods of the past to enforce control of poor communities.
Prepaid water meters threaten the right to life
More than limiting free expression of dissent, JW’s interdict intimidates those struggling for the more fundamental right to water - the right to life. Prepaid water meters endanger the lives of those consumers who are unable to afford the tokens that open access to water. For this very reason of commercialising people’s need, prepaid water technology was outlawed in the United Kingdom. In a country where the majority of the population is poor, this legal precedent has to be followed as a matter of necessity. Using legal processes to rather silence protest in Phiri strips the law of its supposed independence, and erases the most basic provisions of the Bill of Rights.
The Water Warrior Cases
- State vs. Nthabiseng Monamati: 3 November
- State vs. Trevor Ngwane and Jerry Mphotho: 4 November
- State vs Mildred Mathobela and 4 others: 6 November
- State vs Thabo Madisane and Tshepo Mkwanazi: 11 November
- State vs. Derek Maredi and three others: 13 November
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