Outcry over new water meter box

Kholekile Mwahla, Tembokwezi

At the very outset of the basic needs approach to development, water, food and shelter were viewed as apex priorities for human survival. In time, information – or access thereto – would be added to this apex list.

The basic needs approach sought to identify what people are entitled to. Access to information, an element of the basic needs approach, sought to let people know what they were entitled to.

In 2002, the United Nations, through its Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted what is known as the General Comment No. 15 on the right to water.

Among other things, it says that: “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life of human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realisation of other human rights.” It further assets that: “The right to water is a right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.” With regard to the aspect of affordability, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) declared that the cost of water should not exceed 3% of a household’s income. If this was to be applied, a household whose income sits at R10 000 would pay no more than three hundred rand. But it also becomes important to note that the provision does not say that that the cost should be 3%, but rather that it should not exceed this percentage. The latter is important in the context of indigency (poor households that have little to no income).Arising from the preceding, we can then safely argue that water is a common resource, rather than a commodity. In honouring our “water” bills, we are not paying for water per se. What we are paying for is the infrastructure that collects and brings water to our households, and the maintenance thereof. Water, the air we breathe, and the earth we stand on are gifts from God above.

Pertaining to the installation by the City of Cape Town of water management devices, our opposition is both on procedural and substantive grounds. The City, through its own admission, has violated its own procedures when it comes to the installation of water management devices. First, a thorough public consultation process is supposed to precede the commencement of such a project. Second, the owner of the property where the meter is to be installed must give consent. Third, the owner, or someone designated by the owner, must be present when this meter is being installed. Fourth, these water meters are supposed to be SABS approved. The City has flouted procedure on all four fronts.On substance, we regard these meters as anti-poor. This is a capitalist ploy to ration the access of the poor to water. These water management devices are essentially a debt management scheme. They are the first step toward a prepaid water management system.

The DA-run City of Cape Town has introduced a 350 litres of water supply daily limit to each household.

It, however, allows those who seek more, and can afford to pay, access to more water. We are opposed to this. We hold the view that the extent of one’s access to water should never be determined by how much money one has. We strongly believe that all citizens, rich or poor, “masters” and “servants”, are entitled to an equal share of water.Ours is a crisis of urbanisation; the failure of the DA government to ensure that the capacity of our infrastructure is periodically upgraded to accommodate the influx of people from rural districts. And, instead of dealing with the real problem, the City chooses to ration the have-nots and the have-but-have-nots (the “missing middle”), in order to keep supply to the haves constant.

And, to add insult to injury, the City compels the have-but-have-nots to cross-subsidise the have-nots. This anomaly is best reflected is the astronomical water bills delivered the people of Thembokwezi, Litha Park, Gugulethu, Mitchell’s Plain, Elsies River and many other areas inhabited by people of colour. We have fought many similar battles in the past. The people have in all of these, emerged victorious. Mwahla is the chairperson of the Thembokwezi Residents Association .

This letter was referred to the City of Cape Town last week, but by the time this edition went to print, the City had not yet responded.