Johannesburg Water escalates war against the poor
The struggle for free water continues
When on the 3rd of December 2007 poor communities from Soweto, Khutsong, Pretoria and as far as the Vaal marched to the Johannesburg High Court in support of Phiri residents’ application to have the prepaid meter declared unlawful, it was a rejection of the meter as a symbol of market regulation of life. As each litre takes on a cash value, any user of water is forced to moderate her consumption according to how much money there is to pay for the basic resource. Now that the City of Joburg has proposed tariff increases of reportedly 85% (The Star, 24 March 2008), the menace in the logic is manifest.
The City of Joburg is also refashioning the free basic water policy as it hikes tariffs. The Star reported on Monday that the 6 free kilolitres are to be done away with. This has been denied in responses to enquiries the Coalition made to the mayor’s office. Free water is set to be removed only when a household exceeds an allocation of 10kl. If the volume of water consumed is 11kl, for instance, all water consumed from the first to the tenth kilolitre will have to be paid for in stepped tariffs. The policy somersault makes the FBW no less than an instrument to reinforce the moderation of poor households’ basic needs. Further indications are that the free water allocation may be tied to registration on the indigence register. As problematic as proving indigence is, if these 10kl of free water will only be given to registered ‘indigents’, then many will still be without water.
The Coalition Against Water Privatisation has always argued that Johannesburg Water has failed to consult the poor on issues that have had a serious impact on peoples’ daily lives. The fact that the 217 city’s ward councillors only received the tariff increase document 48 hours before a City meeting announcing the proposals proves that the practice of keeping the public in the dark persists. This lack of transparency in the municipality is a sign of disrespect and worse, of greed. The City claims that there will be an opportunity for public comment on the proposals. Since the people of Johannesburg had to learn about the City’s drastic tariff increases from a newspaper report, how can we believe them to be anything less than cast in stone? The public may be able to ‘comment’ on but not change the City’s determination to secure profits from the services it provides.
Whatever the specifics of the tariff increases and policy proposals are, our expectation is only of an attack on the poor. Our need for water cannot be left to the market to decide and does not change with inflation.