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Domestic Water Provision in the Democratic South Africa – changes and challenges


Abstract and Figures

With the dawn of democracy in 1994 the government emphasis shifted toward water services being made available to all South Africans, in order to improve their standard of living. This desire to achieve universal access to water services in the country has been placed in a politicised environment where environmental sustainability and economic efficiency guide national-level water policy. There has been a shift from the development of new water resources and towards the efficient management of existing ones through water demand management. Water is recognised as having an economic value and is increasingly being priced at a rate which reflects its value and scarcity. The need to extend water services to all has come into conflict with the cost recovery principle, with the issue compounded by the legacy of the rates boycotts which took place prior to 1994. This study seeks to describe these contending issues in the context of the normalisation of the general South African political environment in the post-apartheid era. A case study on the impact of pre-payment water meters in the Soweto suburb of Phiri provides an example of the politically charged atmosphere surrounding service delivery in the modern South African context. It is found that for some stakeholders opposition to the introduction of water meters is an issue of principle, while for others it is an issue of process (which was followed in the introduction of the meters). While many respondents in the case study are opposed to pre-paid meters, empirical evidence shows, that the majority feel that “people should pay for water”. One of the respondents expressed this ambivalence towards the meters eloquently, stating “I can say yes and I can say no at the same time. Yes because every 1st day of the month 6000 litres of water is free. But I can say no because these meters are quick to finish the water” (Water User, Interview: Phiri, November 2004).
Content may be subject to copyright.
September 2005
This paper was produced for and funded by the Nordic Africa Institute’s
Conflicting Forms of Citizenship Programme
Table of Contents
Introduction____________________________________________________________ 3
Water Services in the Pre-democracy Era ____________________________________ 5
Post 1994 Transition to Democracy _________________________________________ 9
The human right to water & cost recovery ___________________________________ 13
Free basic water _______________________________________________________ 16
Private Sector Involvement in Water Services Provision________________________ 20
Appendix 1: Case Study on water meters____________________________________ 29
Appendix 2: Sample Letter_______________________________________________ 38
Appendix 3: Stakeholder participation process _______________________________ 39
South Africa is a country with marked spatial and temporal variability in the rainfall it
receives (O’Keeffe et al, 1992: 278). The natural variability in the rainfall coupled with
the high rates of potential evapotranspiration has placed the gathering, storage and
reticulation of water high on the planning agenda from colonial times up until the present.
With industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth the demand for municipal
water services will continue increasing, placing pressure on the ability of the natural
systems to provide a sufficient quantity and quality of water, sustainably.
Under the South African apartheid regime, government policies were geared at advancing
the needs of the select few. The water policy was no exception. The development of
South Africa’s water resources was linked more with supporting the progress of the
country’s wealthy sector than with alleviating the position of the poor, particularly in
rural areas. The legacy of apartheid left the democratic government elected in 1994 with
a situation in which some 12-14m people lacked access to formal water supply and 21m
people out of a total population of 41 million had no formal sanitation (DWAF, 1999).
Most of these people lived in the former homeland areas, where 75% of the population
lived on 13% of mostly water-short land.
Through the riparian access principle, the right of access and use of water resources was
intimately linked to the ownership of land. This principle, inherited from English Law,
tied water rights to land rights – a person owning land over which water flowed had a
right to a share of the “normal flow” (MacKay, 2003: 50). Water became a securitised
resource, linked to power and influence in society and used as an instrument of state
manipulation. In this securitised environment water resources were provided to black
South Africans at a lower standard than what white South Africans received it at. During
the political turbulence of the 1980s and 1990s the withholding of payment for basic
municipal services, such as water, by black communities became an effective form of
protest (McDonald 2002b). The government carried on providing services in an effort to
prevent further destabilisation of the country. The apartheid state carried on providing
services to maintain the “client” relationship with the black majority – whether to win
support in townships or to bolster support for homeland regimes (McDonald, 2002a: 3).
While water was securitised on a national level it was simultaneously politicised within
the primarily black townships during the 1980s as part of the struggles between the UDF
and the Black Local Authorities (BLAs).
With the dawn of democracy in 1994 the government emphasis shifted toward water
services being made available to all South Africans, in order to improve their standard of
living. This desire to achieve universal access to water services in the country has been
placed in a politicised environment where environmental sustainability and economic
efficiency guide national-level water policy. There has been a shift from the development
of new water resources and towards the efficient management of existing ones through
water demand management. Water is recognised as having an economic value and is
increasingly being priced at a rate which reflects its value and scarcity. The need to
extend water services to all has come into conflict with the cost recovery principle, with
the issue compounded by the legacy of the rates boycotts which took place prior to 1994.
This study seeks to describe these contending issues in the context of the normalisation of
the general South African political environment in the post-apartheid era. A case study on
the impact of pre-payment water meters in the Soweto suburb of Phiri provides an
example of the politically charged atmosphere surrounding service delivery in the
modern South African context. It is found that for some stakeholders opposition to the
introduction of water meters is an issue of principle, while for others it is an issue of
process (which was followed in the introduction of the meters). While many respondents
in the case study are opposed to pre-paid meters, empirical evidence shows, that the
majority feel that “people should pay for water”. One of the respondents expressed this
ambivalence towards the meters eloquently, stating “I can say yes and I can say no at the
same time. Yes because every 1st day of the month 6000 litres of water is free. But I can
say no because these meters are quick to finish the water” (Water User, Interview: Phiri,
November 2004).
Water Services in the Pre-democracy Era
Prior to the end of Apartheid in 1994, government policies were geared at advancing the
needs of the select few, mostly the white population group. The water policy was no
exception. According to DWAF (1994), the development of South Africa’s water
resources was linked with supporting the progress of the country’s wealthy sector rather
than with alleviating the position of the poor, particularly in rural areas. Water was a tool
for stimulating economic development through the agricultural sector, as well as being a
necessary input to the mining sector – the mainstay of the South African economy for
much of the 20th century. Water supplies and water-borne sewage services were provided
to wealthy municipalities and towns along clearly designated racial white lines (Marais
2001, in Goldin 2005: 83). According to Mutahaba (1993) black local authorities, with
authority over the black townships within ‘white RSA’ suffered from inefficient
management and lack of funding. Political and administrative realities resulted in an
inequitable distribution of water (Goldin 2005: 83). The apartheid government had a
“statist” vision of service delivery, with its role defined as the provider and subsidiser of
municipal services – albeit in a racially skewed manner (McDonald, 2002a: 3). This is in
contrast to the present government’s approach of implementing cost recovery in service
provision and using a greater degree of private sector involvement.
Because of the “riparian principle” access to water was dependant on access to land,
which was politically controlled. The provision of water services became dependant on
political patronage and allegiance to the state. In this context water can be viewed as a
securitised resource with its allocation and management controlled by the state for the
higher purpose of national security, overriding the conventional political processes
(Turton & Earle, 2005).
The southern African climate is characterised by variability and change (Ashton &
Turton, 2004: 5). This natural state is impacted through the effects of human-induced
climate change, with greater aridity likely (Scholes & Biggs, 2004). The average annual
rainfall of 495 millimetres per year is well below the 800 millimetres per year considered
necessary for rainfed agriculture (FAOAquastat, 2005). Rainfall and water resources are
also unevenly distributed in both space and time. There are few years of average rainfall
or river flows, with extremes of drought or floods being the norm. This variability is
coupled with one of the lowest conversions of rainfall to runoff in the world (O’Keeffe et
al, 1992). Typically around 20 to 30 percent of rainfall is converted to runoff (see Figure
Figure 1: Conversion of rainfall to runoff in South Africa is amongst the lowest in the world
(O’Keeffe et al, 1992).
In South Africa only around 10 percent of rainfall is converted to runoff, largely due to
the high rates of evaporation experienced in the country. Potential evaporation rates of
2,000 – 3,000 millimetres par year are common in parts of the country – many times
higher than the average rainfall. The development of water infrastructure has thus
enjoyed a prominent place on the South African planning agenda from colonial times to
the present day (Turton et al, 2004).
Water security is the product of two factors – physical water resources and social
resources. Physical scarcity of water can be overcome through mobilising high levels of
economic and political power and making use of the education and skills of the
population. Thus a country which is water scarce is not necessarily water insecure (the
converse of course also holds true). Many countries in the world overcome their lack of
physical water resources through applying social resources to construct water transfer and
storage infrastructure or to apply principles of water demand management (WDM) – see
Figure 2.
Figure 2: Water security is dependant on physical water availability as well as on social resources,
here measured by the UNDP’s Human Development Index (Earle & Turton, 2003)
South Africa used its well developed social resources to engineer itself a degree of water
security. This involved the construction of large-scale water transfer schemes such as the
Orange-Fish Sundays river transfer of the 1950s and the Lesotho Highlands Water
Project started in 1986.
The first water legislation to be enacted after the formation of the Union of South Africa
in 1910 was the Irrigation and Conservation of Water Act 8 of 1912, the main emphasis
of which was irrigation for agricultural development. This paved the way for the rapid
agricultural and industrial development which South Africa went through in the 1920’s.
The growth of the economy was mainly due to the discovery of new diamond fields, the
protection of the agricultural industry, and the promotion of local industries (Turton et al,
2004). As a new country it was important that South Africa develop local manufacturing
capacity as well as attain food security through the promotion of food self reliance,
prompting the government to protect local industry and agriculture. This increase in local
production of agricultural and industrial products, as well as the continued growth of the
mining sector placed more stress on the already scarce water resources of the country.
Furthermore, in the wake of the South African War and the First World War there were
large groups of unemployed former soldiers in the cities. They were referred to as “poor
whites” and became the direct beneficiaries of several large infrastructure development
projects (Turton et al, 2004: 119).
The Great Depression of the 1930s intensified this need for large-scale infrastructure
development projects. During the 1930s large-scale water infrastructure projects such as
the Vaal Dam south of Johannesburg and the Vaalhartz Government Water Scheme were
developed to provide water to industries and farms (DWAF, 2005).
Act 8 of 1912 was the first legal codification of water law in the Union of South Africa
and as mentioned above, its main emphasis was irrigation. By the 1950s Act 8 of 1912
“had outlived its usefulness” (Barnard, 1999) with the emphasis on irrigation proving to
be inadequate for the new water requirements of an expanding industrial base (DWAF,
1994). This led to the subsequent passing of a new Water Act in 1956 (Act 54 of 1956).
According to Gildenhuys (1997:59), this Act also placed a major emphasis on irrigation,
although other water uses received greater recognition than in the past. The Act intended
to ensure an equitable distribution of water for industrial and other competing users, as
well as authorise strict control over the abstraction, use, supply, distribution and pollution
of water, artificial atmospheric precipitation and the treatment and discharge of effluent
(DWAF, 1994:04). The act thus reflected the change in the South African economic
structure over time. In the period prior to the Second World War the economy was still
primarily an agriculture-mining based one. After the war this shifted to becoming a more
sophisticated economy, based on agriculture-mining-manufacturing. The 1956 Act
attempted to allocate water between these competing consumers.
Of particular importance, the 1956 Act made an ambiguous distinction between public
and private water and streams, with private water being water which naturally rises, falls,
drains or is led onto land but which is not capable of common use for irrigation purposes
and public water being a natural stream of water which flows in a known and defined
channel, if such water can be used for irrigation on two or more pieces of riparian land
(O’Keeffe, Uys and Bruton, 1992:295). Gildenhuys (1997: 59) states that the 1956 Water
Act made it possible for the Minister of Water Affairs, through the declaration of
Government Water Control Areas, to obtain wide powers of administrative control over
major water resources.
According to Barnard (1999:262) a major principle of the 1956 Act was that ownership
of riparian properties conferred water rights, with the sole and exclusive use and
enjoyment of private water belonging to the person on whose land it rose and fell. This
meant that owners of riparian land could take as much surplus water as they could use
beneficially and if they could afford it, they could impound all the surface water
(MacKay, 2003:55). This method of water allocation, called the riparian principle,
afforded unfair privileges to a small category of persons, mostly white, to control the
country’s water resources.
The impact of the riparian principle of water rights needs to be viewed in the context of
the shift in the ownership of land which was taking place in South Africa over that time.
The first attempted implementation of segregation in the rural areas after the
establishment of the Union was the Natives 47 Land Act of 1913, which alienated farm
land for white owners. This Act established a clear distinction between African Reserves
and white farming areas. Under the Act, no land could be shifted from one category to the
other. This meant that blacks were no longer allowed to purchase land within white areas.
Through a series of other land related pieces of legislation 87 percent of the country’s
land was set aside for whites (Turton et al, 2004: 354).
Water services provision to the black populated areas was inferior to that enjoyed by the
white communities (MacKay, 2003: 65) although, according to Cameron (in Carmichael
& Midwinter 2003) access and delivery of water to white, even white local authorities,
were considered inefficient. According to this same source (2003: 116 – 177) white local
authorities kept separate native revenue accounts for black townships that were under
their control and the townships and rural areas were left to fend for themselves (DWAF
1995 in Goldin 2004: 138). Most municipalities and townships did offer some sort of
basic level of services to residents. Water was typically provided through a standpipe in a
community. Those houses which did have in-yard or in-house connections usually paid a
flat monthly rate for the service they received. As the political situation of the country
continued to destabilise a process of “civil disobedience” was adopted by the black
majority. This involved withholding payment for municipal services such as water and
electricity and was collectively referred to as a “culture of non-payment”. The
government turned a blind eye to the lack of payment and generally carried on providing
the basic services in an effort to prevent political tensions form escalating further
(McDonald, 2002a: 3). Local authorities under black control were meant to raise
revenues and provide services, but in themselves became a point of contention between
various civil and political groups.
Water had, in effect, become a securitised resource, placing its management outside of
the realm of political interaction. Politicisation means to make an issue appear to be open,
a matter of choice, something that is decided upon and that therefore entails
responsibility, in contrast to issues that either could not be different (laws of nature) or
should not be put under political control (Buzan et al 1998). By contrast, securitisation is
a speech act legitimising extreme measures by calling on existential threats, as 'so
important that it should not be exposed to the normal haggling of politics' (Buzan et al
1998: 4). Through the securitisation of the debate around water resources successive pre-
1994 South African governments were able to place the bulk of the country’s water
resources under the control of a minority of the population.
Post 1994 Transition to Democracy
By the late 1980s the political situation was becoming unsustainable for the government
– the war in Angola was draining resources and proving impossible to win and the
townships locally were becoming more unstable by the day. In this volatile situation
change, when it finally came, happened fast. The story from the initial un-banning of
political organisations by the National Party government under FW de Klerk in February
1990, leading to the release of political prisoners and culminating in the first democratic
elections held in April 1994 is well known. Behind the scenes a lot had to happen to
make the experience of democracy a reality for the mass of the South African citizens
expecting change. The provision of water supply and sanitation to all citizens based on
the principles of equity and sustainability were placed near the top of the political agenda
(MacKay, 2003: 52).
The 1956 Water Act, based as it was on providing water for the economic growth of
South Africa without specific regard for the environment or social equity issues would
need to be replaced. An extensive public participation process was embarked on by the
Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), resulting in the Water Law
Principles being approved by Cabinet in 1996 (MacKay, 2003: 52). The most significant
of these from a socio-economic and political point of view were:
Principles 3 & 4, leading to the abolition of water rights and the private ownership of
Principle 7 establishing “environmentally sustainable social and economic benefit” as
a key criterion for water resources management and allocation decisions,
Principle 16 providing for the use of economic instruments in the management and
control of pollution; and
Principle 24 stating that the beneficiaries of a water management system should
contribute to the cost of its establishment and maintenance (MacKay, 2003).
These Principles are largely in accordance with the Dublin Principles on Water
Principle No. 1 - Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to
sustain life, development and the environment
Principle No. 2 - Water development and management should be based on a
participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels
Principle No. 3 - Women play a central part in the provision, management and
safeguarding of water
Principle No. 4 - Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and
should be recognized as an economic good
Both sets of principles were summed up by the succinct slogan adopted by the DWAF in
the post 1994 years – “Some for all for ever” embodying the equity as well as the
sustainability components of the principles.
The discussion has made it explicit that prior to 1994 access to water was dependant on
access to land and the management and allocation of the resource was highly securitised.
Water was supplied to those with political and economic power or in return for political
patronage. In effect citizens are viewed as patrons of the state. In the Post 1994 era the
only right to water is the Reserve. The Reserve is the basic human subsistence amount
which every person is entitled to (commonly defined as 25 litres a person per day or
6,000 litres per household a month) and the needs of the environment (NWA, 1998: 8)).
Water management is based on the subsidiarity principle – management takes place at the
lowest practical level in a politicised environment. Citizens are, increasingly, viewed as
consumers, with rights as well as obligations.
Based on the Water Law Principles the Water Services Act (Act 108 of 1997) and the
National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998) were drawn up and adopted. The National Water
Act of 1998 repealed the 1956 Water Act and all related legislation. Of great importance
this Act placed “virtually all water” under the trusteeship of the national government.
Section 3 (1) of the Act reads, “As the public trustee of the nation’s water resources the
National Government, acting through the Minister, must ensure that it is protected, used,
developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for
the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate” (NWA,
1998: 10).
The National Water Act 1998 dedicates a chapter (chapter 4) to the use of water (NWA,
1998: 21). It clearly stipulates that the National Government has the overall responsibility
for and authority over water resources management, including the equitable allocation
and beneficial use of water in the public interest. Based on this argument, all uses of
water became subject to recognition as permissible under the Act (NWA, 1998: Chap 4,
Part 1). There are to be no rights to water – only authorisations (except for the Reserve –
the basic human consumption amount and ecological requirements).
Three types of water use authorisations can be granted:
1. Schedule 1: These are non-commercial uses of water including domestic use,
small-scale gardening & the watering of livestock. Such a use will not attract any
charges or tariffs for the water and the water will be supplied to water service
providers free of charge.
2. A general authorisation can be granted to groups of users – such as farmers who
have had land returned to them.
3. A water use license must be applied for when water will be used for large-scale
or commercial purposes.
The Water Services Act of 1997 (No. 108 of 1997), Section 3(1) states “everyone has a
right of access to basic water supply and basic sanitation”. According to De Visser, Cottle
and Mettler (2003:34) “basic water supply” is the “prescribed minimum standard of water
supply services necessary for the reliable supply of a sufficient quantity and quality of
water to households, including informal households, to support life and personal
hygiene”. The 1997 Act sets out the rights and duties of consumers and places emphasis
on ensuring the financial viability of water service providers. The concept of “cost
recovery” (of providing water) and private sector involvement in the provision of water is
entrenched (WSA, 1997: Ch3, Section 9).
Three common themes can be seen emerging from the above principles and acts:
First – there is an element of equity – in compensation for the past differences
between communities in service access. This encompasses the social component
of water use – where water is an instrument of social development.
Second – the element of sustainability is introduced, recognising the
environmental need for water (as well as that of downstream users including
neighbouring states).
Third – elements of economic efficiency, cost recovery, user-pays and private
sector involvement are introduced. Water is seen as an economic good, to be used
in the most efficient setting possible to promote the overall economic
development of the country.
These three forces are set in competition with each other, with each vying with the others
for legitimisation (see Figure 3). The social, environmental and economic sectors have
different needs – some of which overlap, but others are, potentially, in opposition with
each other. Their zone of interaction is the political debate prevalent in a democracy such
as modern South Africa. Allocation of the shares of a finite pie imply that there will need
to be compromises reached between the various sectors and that not all needs can be met.
At times alliances between the groups may form – such as between environmental groups
and community based groups in the form of action campaigns, pressure groups, civil
society organisations or political parties.
Figure 3: Different sectors compete for water resources
The “Reserve” as defined in the 1998 National Water Act seeks to provide a basic
minimum amount of water to the environment and to society for basic use. It is this right
to water of society and the environment which comes up against the view of water as an
economic good over which there is a high level of political debate – both within South
Africa as well as internationally.
In 1996 the government adopted the most important law on which all other legislation
rests, Act 108 of 1996, the constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Chapter 2 of the
constitution contains the Bill of Rights, “a cornerstone of democracy” that “enshrines the
rights of all people… and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and
Environment Economy
Politics – the zone of debate or
contention over the allocation of
water resources between the
freedom”. For the purposes of water, Section 27 of the Constitution plays a vital role
because it affords everyone the right to have access to among others, sufficient food and
water and puts responsibility upon the state to take reasonable legislative and other
measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of
these rights (RSA, 1996).
According to DWAF (1994:03) the fundamental issue to be addressed by the new
government in the water sector was/is that of equity, arguing that “the line which divides
those with adequate access to water from those without is the same dividing the rich from
the poor, the hungry from the well fed, the line of race and privilege”. The new
government proclaimed that its goal was thus to ensure that all South Africans have
access to essential basic water supply and sanitation services at a cost which is affordable
both to the household and to the country as a whole.
Since under the previous system water ownership was tied to ownership of land, the
majority of South Africans were “condemned to a life of poverty, insecurity and
contentious exposure to diseases that would otherwise be avoidable” (De Visser, Cottle
and Mettler 2003:27). By the time the new government came into power, the majority of
South Africans were hoping for at the minimum, access to basic water supply. De Visser,
Cottle and Mettler (2003:27) argue that at nationwide public hearings on poverty in
19981, the restriction to access to water was continuously cited as one of the many
obstacles in the development of many impoverished communities. The ANC’s first major
policy paper-the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) of 1994 promised
to deliver the basic services (meaning water supply and sanitation) to those without them.
The 1994 White Paper on Water Supply and Sanitation Policy (1994:06) states “the
development approach which guides the policy proposed for water supply and sanitation
is derived directly from the principles which underpin the Reconstruction and
Development Programme, it is also informed by substantial, sobering, international
experience gained during and after the international Drinking Water and Sanitation
Decade of the 1980s”. The 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme provided
for a short-term target of a safe water supply of 20-30 litres per capita per day within 200
meters, an adequate/safe sanitation facility per site, and a refuse removal system to all
urban households (De Visser, Cottle and Mettler, 2003:35).
The human right to water & cost recovery
There is enough literature documenting the statistics of the world population without
access to the basic of services. In South Africa, some 12 million people were reported to
be without adequate water and 20 million people without adequate sanitation services at
the dawn of democracy (DWAF, 2002:01). Gleick (2000) argues that access to a basic
water requirement is a fundamental human right implicitly supported by international
law, declaration, and state practice. Gleick (2000) argues that this right could also be
1 “Poverty and Human Rights: National ‘Speak Out on Poverty’ Hearings”, March to June 1998 convened
jointly by the Commission for Gender Equality, the South African Non-Governmental Organisations
Coalition (SANGOCO) and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC)
considered more basic and vital than some of the more explicit human rights already
acknowledged by the international community.
In the South African context, basic water supply is defined as 25 litres per person per day,
considered to be the minimum for direct consumption, for the preparation of food and for
personal hygiene. According to De Visser, Cottle and Mettler (2003:32) the phrase “right
of access” means the duty is placed on the state to provide the beneficiary with an
opening to the right, arguing that the right is not automatically or immediately
enforceable, and that the beneficiary is also under an obligation to use his or her own
resources to fulfil this right. Although, according to Goldin (2005) the right to basic water
is not an ‘absolute right’ it is subject to the state taking reasonable legislative and other
measures within its available resources to achieve ‘the progressive realisation of these
rights (DWAF 2002:33) but according to Fjeldstad (2003) and Ruiters (1996 in Goldin
2005:89) there are expectations of the ANC that it is a caring government and that it
should be providing water and services to all.
The 1997 White Paper on a National Water Policy for South Africa (1997:08) states that
government is instructed to take reasonable legislative and other measures within its
available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of theses rights. Obligations are
placed on all three spheres of government- National, Provincial and Local to promote the
right of access to basic water services. The state must ensure that all people have physical
access to water. This means that the facilities that give access to water must be within
safe physical reach for all sections of the population, especially for vulnerable and
marginalised groups. The state must also ensure that all people have economic access to
water. This implies that the cost of accessing water should be pegged at a level that
would ensure that all people are able to gain access to water without having to forgo
access to other basic needs.
The 1994 Water Supply and Sanitation Policy White Paper produced by the DWAF
introduced the concept of focussing the DWAF resources on the capital costs of
extending the basic water services infrastructure, while covering operation and
maintenance costs from user charges (Marah et al, 2004). The white paper states that “the
basic policy of Government is that services should be self financing at a local and
regional level” (DWAF, 1994: 10). In this way the DWAF sought to focus its limited
resources on capital development, with operation and maintenance costs covered by users
at the local level. However, by the late 1990’s it merged that lack of payment for water
services was impacting on the expansion of basic water services. In 1998 it was admitted
by the DWAF that “many of the Department’s RDP water projects are proving
unsustainable as cost recovery is not taking place” (Marah et al, 2004: 2). The reasons
given for this low level of cost recovery ranged from the communities being too poor to
pay, to people being used to receiving the service for free previously to a lack of
legitimacy of local government.
These background factors set an important context in which any cost recovery process
needs to take place. Marah et al (2004: 8) in their study on water scheme cost recovery
propose four background factors which influence the success or otherwise of cost
recovery initiatives:
Social Capital – the presence in a community of a sense of interdependence and its
ability to collectively solve problems. Trust, financial resources, education levels and
governance all play a role in determining the success of water supply projects in
communities. Social capital can be developed, as has been done through the Mvula
Trust in generating support and trust within communities around specific water
supply projects. An important part of social capital is respect for leadership – there
needs to be a sense of legitimacy about the people tasked with managing a scheme.
Previous Cost-Recovery Regime – the nature of the cost recovery regime and the
efficacy with which it was enforced had a profound effect on the way in which
changes were accepted (Marah et al, 2004: 10). There is also a direct correlation
between the length of time between the initial supply of water from a scheme and cost
recovery measures being introduced and the unwillingness of people to pay for water.
However, the existence of a weak or ineffective system does not preclude a reversal
in payment practices – there are several examples of successful turnarounds.
Previous Levels of Payment – if people are not used to budgeting for water it is
difficult to introduce the concept of cost recovery. Changing the behaviour of people
is difficult, but not impossible. An example of a community in Klerksdorp with a
“culture of non-payment” (for services) developed during the end years of apartheid
through the rates boycotts shifted from 11% payment levels to around 94% shows
that it can be done. Elements needed are improved service, customer education and
strict enforcement.
Previous Standard of Service – the level of satisfaction with the water provision
system in place has an impact on people’s willingness to pay for an improved service.
There are several examples of old systems still being used even after new ones are
introduced. Although the old system may be less convenient (requiring a long walk,
or hand pumping etc) people may continue using it as it is free. In the case of people
fetching water from rivers this poses a possible health risk, exposing them to a range
of waterborne diseases.
According to McDonald (2002b: 4) cost recovery has not always been the modus
operandi of the South African government arguing that during apartheid, many South
Africans received subsidized services and infrastructure, even though these benefited the
rich white suburbanites the most. He writes that there were user fees, tariffs and general
property rates for services, but the most part of these charges had little relevance to the
actual marginal costs of providing them, stating that this was due partly to the to the fact
that it was virtually impossible to estimate the costs of a given municipal service because
apartheid local governments were so fragmented, but more importantly, there was little
interest on the part of the apartheid state to pursue full cost recovery.
Water pricing; in the form of progressive block tariffs was introduced to the policy
framework in South Africa as a cost recovery measure in 1994 through the 1994 White
Paper on Water Policy (1994: 5). A three-tier rising block domestic tariff was proposed,
comprising a life-line tariff for consumption of less than 25 litres a day, a normal tariff
based on average historic costs for consumption between 25 litres a day and 250 litres a
day, and a marginal tariff based on long-run marginal costs for consumption in excess of
250 litres a day (DWAF, 2002: 10). The 2002 Draft White Paper on Water Services states
that charging for water is essential in order to generate funds for operating, maintaining
and investing in water systems (DWAF, 2002: 10). Block tariffs are geared at making the
initial levels of consumption more affordable-or even free- while charging increasingly
higher prices as consumption levels rise, increasing the potential benefit of curbing
consumption at the top end, thereby introducing conservation incentives (McDonald,
2002a: 2).
The key features of the 2002 Draft White Paper on Water Services are:
Everyone is entitled to a basic supply of 25 litres of clean water per day, or 6 000
litres per household per month
No one should be without a water supply for more than seven days per year if a
public supply is interrupted for more than 24 hours, the municipality should liaise
with residents and arrange for emergency supplies
Local Government (municipalities) is responsible for the provision of water
supply services
People who cannot afford to pay for water are still entitled to a free basic water
It is a criminal offence to connect to a public water supply without municipal
People who are unable to pay their water bill should make arrangements with
their municipality
Municipalities may restrict people to the free basic amount, but may not withhold
the basic supply
Municipalities must inform people before they discontinue their services and must
also have a consumer service where people can lodge complaints.
The South African Constitution allows national government (DWAF) to decentralise its
power and attendant responsibilities. In this way local government can assume the
responsibility for the provision of water services and can contract with private companies
to manage and provide water services. However – the national government “bears the
ultimate responsibility to ensure compliance with the state’s obligations” – as contained
in the Bill of Rights (Welch, 2005 60). The Constitution recognises international law in
the interpretation of the Bill of Rights. South Africa is a party to the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations which specifies
that states must provide “sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable
water” to their citizens (Welch, 2005 59). Thus, where water management services are
provided with private sector involvement, the government “is in violation of its duty to
fulfil its obligation to citizens if it allows private water companies to arbitrarily
disconnect water taps or to adopt discriminatory or unaffordable increases in the price of
water” (Welch, 2005 61).
Free basic water
In an effort to remove the economic inaccessibility of water for all, President Thabo
Mbeki in 2000 announced a policy to provide free basic water – providing a bridge
between the need for equity and redress and the goal of economic efficiency. Free Basic
Water (FBW) is funded using a combination of the equitable share of local government
revenue and internal cross-subsidies from appropriately structured water tariffs (De
Visser, Cottle and Mettler, 2003:37). According to the Draft White Paper on Water
Services (DWAF, 2002: 6) the right to basic water services is not an absolute right, but
subject to the state taking reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available
resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of these rights. The White Paper also
proposes that this right is subject to specific obligations such as the payment for services
(over and above the basic amount) and the limitation and disconnection of the service in
certain circumstances (DWAF, 2002: 35). It is also specifically stated that the basic water
amount cannot be withheld due to non-payment of past accounts in accordance with the
international provisions referred to above.
The Draft White Paper referred to above however states that in terms of the free basic
water policy, the provision of the first 6 kilolitres consumed by a household per month is
free of charge. It also states that the cost associated with providing fee basic water
services to poor households is not large for a country of South Africa’s economic size
and strength with the total cost estimated to be some R1.5 billion per annum, which is
equivalent to 0.15% of GDP. This policy was particularly meant to benefit those who
need it the most, households in remote rural areas, especially those served by small local
systems (DWAF, 2002:34).
The free basic water policy has been the centre of some controversy, with analysts like
David McDonald (2002a) arguing that the promise of 6 kilolitres of water per household
per month offers little respite as many low-income households use considerably more
than 6 kilolitres due to relatively high average numbers of occupants per household and
also because of old and leaky apartheid-era infrastructure. The 6 kilolitre provision is an
extrapolation of the basic amount of 25 litres per person per day. This is just above the
amount considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be “basic access” - see
Table 1 (Howard & Bartram, 2003: 3). It should be noted however that this level of
access from a communal standpipe less than one kilometre from the home is considered
by the WHO to pose a “High” level of health concern (Howard & Bartram, 2003: 3).
Although the amount of free basic water is in line with the World Health Organisation’s
guideline on minimum daily water required for drinking, washing and personal use it has
been increased to 6000 litres per household within 200 metres of the dwelling. However,
the need for water is higher as this estimate does not include water for home-grown
vegetables and neither is it sufficient to respond to special needs for the sick, particularly
relevant in the light of the HIV/AIDS crisis (Goldin 2005: 106). According to Eberhard
1999 (in Goldin 2005: 106) comparative analysis of international experience suggests
that an average domestic consumption of between 100 and 200 litres per capita per day is
sufficient to maintain a high standard of living.. Considering that the majority of South
African households have between eight and ten member the 6 kilolitres a month is in
some cases far from adequate. In addition, the rapid tariff increases after this free block
can mean that poor families end up paying more, not less, for water than they did under
old tariff structures (McDonald, 2002a).
Table 1 Summary of requirement for water service level to promote health (after
Howard & Bartram, 2003: 3)
According to the Draft White Paper on Water Services the responsibility of delivering
services rests with the local government – in line with the Constitutional provision to do
so (DWAF 2002: 8). De Visser, Cottle and Mettler (2003:29) note that the role of local
government is, however, performed in partnership with the other spheres of government.
Section 154 (1) of the Constitution directs the national and provincial governments to
support and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to perform their functions. The
service delivery functions of the local government were regulated through the Municipal
Systems Act. DWAF (2002:03) reports that after the 2000 local government elections,
local government would assume full responsibility for water and sanitation services as
provided for in the Constitution. The Municipal Systems Act instructs municipalities to
among others ensure a reflection of the principles of a municipality’s tariff policy in
executing all its duties of service provision. But although inroads have been made,
according to Marais (2001: 190) 30% of people had inadequate supply of water near their
homes in 1994, reduced to 20% in 1997 - there have been thousands of water cut offs
every month because users were unable to pay for these services (Marais in Goldin: 2005:
108) and Marais (2001 in Goldin:2005: 108) notes that the South African Municipal
Workers’ Union (SAMWU) reported that as many as two million of the water taps
installed were not working properly. Goldin (2005) notes that in an attempt to appease
the public, the government adopted a ‘name and shame’ strategy for municipalities that
failed to implement Free Basic Water to ensure that all consumers will have accedss to
water and that municipalities must provide this service but, this will not solve the
Service level
Access measure
Needs met
Level of health
No access (quantity
collected often
below 5 l/c/d)
More than 1000m or
30 minutes total
collection time
Consumption – cannot be assured
Hygiene – not possible (unless
practised at source)
Very high
Basic access
(average quantity
unlikely to exceed
20 l/c/d)
Between 100 and
1000m or 5 to 30
minutes total
collection time
Consumption – should be assured
Hygiene – hand-washing and basic
hygiene possible; laundry/
bathing difficult to assure unless
carried out at source
Intermediate access
(average quantity
about 50 l/c/d)
Water delivered
through one tap on plot
(or within 100m
or 5 minutes total
collection time)
Consumption – assured
Hygiene – all basic personal and
hygiene assured; laundry and
should also be assured
Optimal access
(average quantity
100 l/c/d and
Water supplied
through multiple taps
Consumption – all needs met
Hygiene – all needs should be met
Very low
problem of non-payment (Goldin 2005: 108). Among these, the element of cost recovery
is stressed (De Visser, Cottle and Mettler, 2003). These state that section 74(2)(b)
stipulates that the amount individual users pay should generally be in proportion to their
use, with section 74(2)(d) stating that tariffs must reflect the costs associated with
rendering the service and 74(2)(e) establishing financial sustainability as a principle for
tariff policy.
The introduction of cost recovery measures has stirred a lot of unhappiness among the
previously disadvantaged communities. According to McDonald (2002b) it means
services that used to be provided for free or at a highly subsidized price are now charged
according to the full (or near full) costs of delivering them.
McDonald (2002a: 5) does not suggest that cost recovery should not be implemented, he
posits that the problem with cost recovery in South Africa is that it has been counter-
productive to the goals of equity and environmental sustainability and threatens to
undermine post-apartheid reconstruction and development efforts in the country. De
Visser, Cottle and Mettler, (2003:40) also argue that it is not unreasonable to expect
beneficiaries to pay for water and sanitation services provided to them, but that problems
such as high unemployment and dependency on seasonal income sharply influence the
‘reasonableness’ of the user pays principle. In a country such as South Africa with a large
portion of the population living in poverty there needs to be subsidisation of the provision
of water services – the market alone will not ensure equitable access to water services.
According to the DWAF there are three main ways to approach the subsidies needed to
provide FBW (MacKay, 2003: 71):
· Rising block tariffs are an effective approach to subsidies. For example, if the rates for
the first block up to 6 000 litres per month is set at R0/kl then all consumers who keep
their consumption below this level get the service at zero tariff. This approach could be
described as a ‘free basic water for all’ policy as every domestic consumer gets the first
block at a zero tariff. The system only works if there are sufficient high income
consumers in the highest tariff block using relatively large amounts of water and paying
more than the cost of supply. These higher tariffs pay for the 6 000 litres free (and for the
6 000 litres to the poor). This system requires that consumers using less than 6 000 litres
do not pay a basic fixed charge. An additional advantage of this system is that it can be
used to support water conservation.
· Credits to the poor: If it is possible to identify the poor, they can be allocated a credit
on their water accounts to cover the price of purchasing the first 6 000 litres per month.
Identifying who is poor is sometimes difficult and costly. However, many local
authorities in South Africa have done it effectively and the process can be used to target
subsidies on other services as well. There are ways of applying ‘credits’ in situations
where consumers are not billed. For examples, vouchers or coupons can be issued or
prepayment systems can be set up to provide water at a zero tariff.
· Targeting through service level: It is possible to provide water free only through a
particular type of service that restricts supply to basic levels. This can be arranged so that
everyone is offered the basic service level supply, and only those who show that they can
afford it get higher service levels -- typically a metered supply. In other words the poorer
households will ‘self-target’ by only upgrading when they can afford to.
While going some way to reconciling the need for equity and redress and the need for
economic efficiency there are still problems being encountered in ensuring sustainable
access to water supply country wide. The three methods of providing FBW mentioned
above have their limitations. The most common method used – that of rising block tariffs
– only works in municipalities with a large enough number of high volume users to make
cross subsidisation feasible. In many areas, such as those predominantly comprised of
townships or in rural parts of the country there simply are not enough high volume users
of water to make the approach effective. In addition the problem of non-payment can lead
to low levels of cost recovery in some areas. The use of targeted credits has now become
possible through the provision of the equitable share grant from the national treasury to
the municipalities. However – many municipalities lack the human resources to
implement the scheme, creating backlogs. Service level targeting runs the risk of
relegating the poor to an inferior service level (Marah et al, 2004: 22). Whatever
approach is adopted the success of the FBW scheme is reliant on the implementation of
effective metering, monitoring, leakage detection and control, billing and credit control.
All of these presume a high degree of capacity within municipalities – capacity which is
frequently lacking.
Private Sector Involvement in Water Services Provision
In an effort to fulfil their constitutional mandate of providing water services to the
population while treating water as a scarce resource many municipalities and their water
service providers have entered into partnerships with private companies. For instance, the
City of Johannesburg formed the Johannesburg Water Company (JOWCO). While still
maintaining formal public ownership of JOWCO, the Johannesburg City Council
outsourced the day-to-day management and running of JOWCO to French water
multinational, Suez through its Johannesburg Water Management (JOWAM) company.
JOWAM has attracted much criticism for the introduction of its Operation Gcin'amanzi
(conserve water). According to JOWAM (JOWAM management pers. comm., 2004) the
objective of the Operation Gcin'amanzi' is to “substantially reduce water wastage both on
private properties and within the municipal water network. This will lead to savings of up
to R158 million a year to the city of Johannesburg as well as a drastically reduced water
and sanitation bill to individual households. "Ordinary consumers will, in future, pay less
than a third of what they are currently billed for each month," says the Managing Director
of Johannesburg Water, Mr Greg Segoneco (JOWAM, 2005). Much of the apartheid-era
infrastructure in the poorer areas of the city, such as Soweto, is in need of replacing.
According to some estimates (JOWAM management pers. comm., 2004) over 70% of all
water entering the township is lost to leaks – either underground or in people’s homes
and businesses. As the City of Johannesburg has to pay bulk water supplier Rand Water
for the water it supplies to the city there is a strong incentive to bring down wastage and
leakage losses. The operation involves replacing leaking infrastructure, by JOWAM at
their cost, and installing pre-paid water meters in households.
The introduction of these water meters has led to much controversy and criticism, as they
automatically shut-off the supply of water after the initial 6,000 litres per month has been
delivered, unless a payment is made. Organisations such as the Anti Privatisation Forum
(APF), Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) and the Orange Farm Water Crisis
Committee (OFWCC) claim that the introduction of the meters and their ability to cut-off
the water supply at will infringe on the provision under the South African Constitutions’
Bill of Rights that "everyone has the right to have access to sufficient water" (McKinley,
2002: 1). This, they claim, has led to a form of neo-apartheid – separating those who can
afford to pay for water services from those who can’t. Wealthier households, who usually
have fewer members, thus receive a proportionally greater benefit under the FBW system
than the poorest do – exactly the reverse of what is intended. Most poorer households
simply cannot afford to pay for the extra water they consume – the result being that many
start using other sources of water such as wells and rivers. In 2000 this led to a well
publicised case in Kwa-Zulu Natal where residents of Ngwelezane township had their
water cut-off by the Umgeni Water board for non payment of accounts. Over 200
residents died after contracting Cholera from the nearby uMhlathuze River (Cottle &
Deedat, 2002: 1). This case highlighted the poverty, water, sanitation, HIV/AIDS,
waterborne disease nexus. In a bid to promote cost recovery the Ngwelezane/Empangeni
municipality converted nine standpiped which had provided free water to the township
residents to pre-paid metered systems, which “forced people to resort to using natural
water sources” (Cottle & Deedat, 2002: 4). When implementing the pre-paid system the
extreme and entrenched poverty of the region was not taken into account. When the pre-
paid taps malfunctioned or when people did not have money to switch on the water-flow
they were dependant on the nearby stream. In addition, sanitation delivery had fallen
behind population increase in the area, contaminating open water sources.
Cottle and Deedat make several recommendations in their report on the cholera outbreaks
(Cottle & Deedat, 2002: 5). To summarise a selection:
The DWAF should be less rigid about implementing full cost recovery and should
pay more attention to its Constitutional obligation to provide citizens with water.
In the long run the cost of providing additional water is less than the cost of
treating people in a cholera outbreak
The Free Basic Water policy must be implemented by local government, with
DWAF making sure this happens. If water is supplied by independent water
service providers they need to be monitored to ensure that they are supplying
people with FBW
Water provision and sanitation provision should be linked as they have an impact
on each other. If sanitation provision is lagging this places the surrounding water
sources at risk of contamination
Clean water and sanitation provision can drastically improve the quality of life for
people living with HIV. Data linking HIV/AIDS to the incidence of cholera has to
be made public. A doctor at Ngwelezane hospital estimated 40% of the cholera
deaths to be AIDS related (Cottle & Deedat, 2002: 3)
Municipalities or their water service providers should be required by law to
provide alternative sources of water (such as from tankers) should the water
supply be disrupted in an area.
The above recommendations were made by the authors as a way of overcoming the
duality in the provision of services – inherited from apartheid but perpetuated today in
certain areas. With a similar goal in mind the APF and partners are in the process of
challenging JOWCO through the court system, as well as launching a campaign of mass
action - Operation Vulamanzi ('water for all'). This action has included the destruction
and bypassing of water meters and other water infrastructure as well as protests at the
offices of JOWAM and the Johannesburg City Council. Several protestors have been
arrested and, according to the APF, handed inordinately heavy fines and had their right to
freedom of expression and dissent curtailed. In effect the APF fear a re-securitisation of
water resources, where their management is not open to political debate.
The opposition to the installation of the pre-paid water meter system from the APF has
started attracting attention locally and internationally. What is emerging is that there are a
complex set of interconnected issues, many not related to water, which are impacting on
and driving the debate although the tension between water as a public good and water as
an economic good remain at the centre. Other issues that go beyond issues pertaining
only to the water sector include ongoing concerns about service delivery or rather non-
delivery, high levels of unemployment and the burden of poverty. In order to unpack
these issues and understand more about the tensions in the water sector and in particular
the tensions that have emerged around the installation of pre-paid meters, it is instructive
to look at the situation on the ground in more detail. As part of this overview an empirical
study was conducted in two areas which have been test sites for the introduction of these
meters (see Appendix 1 for a complete report on the study). Fieldwork was conducted in
Phiri and in Extension Four of Orange Farm during the early weeks of November 2004.
The quantitative field component involved the administration of 50 standardised
questionnaires to respondents in the two communities, a total of 100 questionnaires in all.
A qualitative field component involving face-to-face semi-structured interviews with key
stakeholders in both communities, provided an in-depth understanding of the attitudes of
residents to pre-paid meters. Additionally interviews were held with members of the APF
as well as with senior managers at Johannesburg Water and JOWAM. A range of views
and issues are presented in Table 2.
Table 2: Range of views expressed by the various actors (not necessarily in direct response to each
Issue Johannesburg Water Community members APF (and affiliates)
Process People in Orange Farm are ignorant
(of the roll-out process). There are
brochures all over the place and
everyone should have a clear
picture of how prepaid meters work.
There was not sufficient
involvement of the community in
the implementation of the
Only the “usual
suspects” were
consulted – groups
aligned with the local
Process Every household with a meter gets
6000 litres free & the meter is
installed free
Sometimes the meter breaks –
then we have no water. We are
charged for installing the meter
There is a charge of
R600 to install the
Process Why does the community complain
to outsiders and not contact us
JHB Water does not
want to enter into
Process It is at the early stage but
communities & other actors are
making it difficult
It (the Gcin'amanzi project) suits
politicians, not us
The process is being
pushed by neo-liberal
economic policy
Process People choose to get the meters We found the letters sent to us People are not given
installed – no one pushes them to
do so.
to be threatening in tone (see
Appendix 2 for a copy of the
a choice
Principle Those who do install meters usually
land up paying substantially less for
their water than before
We cannot afford to pay what
they ask
Economic exclusion
creates a new
Principle The purpose of installing meters is
not primarily for the revenue
generated, but rather to cut the cost
of bulk water which JHB Water has
to pay Rand Water
I do not think it is right to have to
pay for water
Water is a human
right – not an
economic commodity
Process The bidding process is fair and
transparent with an emphasis on
using local contractors
There is a lack of transparency
in the allocation of contracts –
with possible
nepotism/corruption suspected
6000 litres is the amount decided on
by the City of Johannesburg – we
have no control over that. We can
supply more but would then need
more cross subsidisation
6000 litres a month is not
6000 litres a month is
not nearly enough for
a healthy productive
life – see WHO
As can be seen from Table 2 most of the issues are around the process followed, rather
than the principle behind the action. The points related to specific principles are about the
general concept of paying for water, about the inability of people to pay due to poverty
and the quantity of 6000 litres a month being too low (although this last point could be
considered an issue of process). The issues of process are easier to solve. Johannesburg
Water & JOWAM indicated that they would continually seek to improve their
stakeholder participation process as well as the technical functioning of their meters. This
last point includes the ease with which consumers can buy the tokens needed for
recharging the meters. JOWAM also reiterates that for the trial phases (that taking place
in Phiri and Orange Farm) there has been no charge for the installation of the meter and
the fixing of leaks on the property (JOWAM management pers. comm., 2004). However
this would be charged for in the future as the scheme spread to other areas. The aim of
installing the meters is not for the revenue collected – this is minimal. Rather, it is to
improve the transmission infrastructure and bring down overall water use (by eliminating
leaks & dropping the quantity of water used), so that less water has to be bought from
Rand Water. The payment which JOWAM receives form the City of Johannesburg is tied
to its ability to meet targets in reducing these bulk water costs (JOWAM management
pers. comm., 2004).
Johannesburg Water and JOWAM believe they did all they could to involve stakeholders
in the process (see Appendix 3 for a brief overview of the stakeholder participation
process followed in Soweto – as supplied by JHB Water). When asked whether they
would have approached things differently if they had to do it over again the answer was
“no, as it would not have made a difference” (JOWAM management pers. comm., 2004).
Overall the opinion of Johannesburg Water & JOWAM management is that the conflict
over the installation of the meters boils down to two fundamentally different world views
– one where people should receive genuine total free access to water and other services
and another which involves some level of cost recovery and the ability for private
companies to turn a profit.
The community members who responded to the questionnaire or who were interviewed
provided a range of responses, most of which had to do with the process of the
installation of the meters. Fundamentally, a majority of respondents felt that water should
be paid for. However there was a marked geographic difference, with 87% of Phiri
respondents agreeing that water has to be paid for, but only 45% of Orange Farm
respondent believing the same. This could be due to the lower level of poverty in Phiri –
more of the respondents were employed & also tended to be better educated and live in
permanent houses, not shacks. The respondents also had a good knowledge of the FBW
policy, most of them knowing that the free amount is 6,000 litres per household a month.
When asked if the FBW policy meant that everyone could have as much free water as
they want 89% of Phiri respondent answered “no”, with the corresponding figure for
Orange Farm being 70%. Thus it would appear that people’s complaints about FBW are
not primarily about the principle, but more about the process used to implement it.
Appendix 2 contains a letter sent by Johannesburg Water to residents who had not yet
opted to have the pre paid water meter installed. In it they are in danger of being left
without water, should they not sign to opt for one of the two options presented. The
options are to have a pre-paid meter installed which would bring water into their house or
to have a yard standpipe which is un-metered. As the yard standpipe is the level of
service that most respondents have been living with the last option is not that
unfavourable, especially as it would be free. However people took offence at the tone of
the letter, feeling it was threatening them. Generally the issue of water being cut off is an
emotive one – eliciting strong reaction from respondents. Many people who believe that
water should be paid for (above the 6,000 litres) also believe that water should not be cut-
off in the case of non payment. In the case of Phiri 46% of respondent believe water
should be cut-off if bills are not paid, while in Orange Farm only 29% agree. This
represents an issue of principle – is it acceptable for a person to be cut-off from receiving
more water if they are in arrears with their account? South African courts have ruled that
no person can be denied the basic 6000 monthly litres – irrespective of the state of their
account. The pre-paid meters are designed to “clock-over” to a new 6000 litres at the start
of every month – whether there is money in them or not. Whether a person or household
who uses their monthly allocation of free water before the end of the month and cant
afford to buy more water should have to live without water for the remainder of that
month is question our society will have to grapple with. According to the provisions of
international law as well as the South African Constitution consideration has to be taken
of the availability of the resource (Welch, 2005). If resources are precious and limited it
can be argued that the state is justified in “rationing” their use. The question then is
whether market instruments should be used for that or rather another method, such as
water restrictions. Considering that domestic water use accounts for around 12% of the
total water use of the country and that only a tenth of that is used by the poorer sectors of
the population (i.e. 1.2% of total national water use) it should be possible to arrive at a
compromise solution (Welch, 2005). Many of the respondents in the case study proposed
that an amount of 10,000 litres per household per month would be more acceptable. At
just over 40 litres per person a day in a household of 40 this comes much closer to the
WHO recommended standard of 50 litres. If this increase is offered only to the poorest
households overall domestic water use is not likely to increase by much. Other domestic
uses – such as the irrigation of gardens, filling of swimming pools and the washing of
cars can be cut back on to produce great water savings. Agriculture uses over 60% of the
nation’s water resources, so a small drop in the water used by each farmer would easily
cover the increased water use by the poorer sectors of the population. It could be argued
that this increase should be granted under the Constitution as it does not negatively
impact on the overall water resources of the country. What would be needed is to either
fund the extra amount from an increase in cross subsidisation from rich communities to
poor ones or to increase the grants from the national treasury to cover the shortfall.
The uneasy relationship between the need for equity and the need for economic
efficiency is encapsulated in the confrontation between Operation Vulamanzi and
Operation Gcin'amanzi. Water and its provision has become a pawn in the battleground
between goals of social equity and the interests of big business – at best of times an
uneasy relationship. The challenge for the South African Government is to manage the
balance between these two forces – not just in the field of water but in all aspects of
social development – housing, education, welfare, healthcare and employment.
Government has responded by increasing the money channelled to local government
through the Municipal Infrastructure Grant and the equitable share allocation. This should
go some way to providing water services to those in poorer communities allowing them
to enjoy their right to a basic amount of water. However – capacity constraints in the
municipalities could delay implementation. More emphasis should be placed on making
sure that people have both physical as well as economic access to FBW, with water
service providers mandated to provide alternative sources of water to communities during
cut-offs or when equipment such as pre-paid meters malfunction. This will also require
education of citizens on their right to FBW.
For people to be able to sustainably access more water than the small amount under the
FBW scheme they will need to become part of the economic development of the country.
The localised “water wars” between the haves and the have-nots are likely to intensify
unless broad based economic development becomes a reality for all. Until that time it is
likely that any water management strategy is likely to be contentious and, to some degree,
ineffective – the Constitutionally guaranteed right to water being but a paper promise.
This potential conflict until broad-based economic development takes place could be
mitigated by an increase in the FBW quantity – to perhaps 10,000 litres a month for the
poor. The small impact it would have on the country’s available water resources would
be outweighed by the positive contribution it could make to promoting social
development amongst the poorer sectors of the population where the poor pay, at least in
sweat equity, for access to this service. In this way some attempt can be made of
reconciling the goals of equity and efficiency. The positive impact which providing a
workable amount of clean water and safe sanitation will have on the overall health of the
population of South Africa far outweighs the direct financial costs of providing the water.
Ashton, P., & Turton, A.R. 2004. Transboundary Water Resource Management in
Southern Africa: Opportunities, Challenges and Lessons Learned. Paper presented at the
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Appendix 1: Case Study on water meters
Empirical case study of the introduction of pre-paid water meters in Orange Farm and
Fieldwork conducted by Eric Mabuane
Phiri is a suburb of Soweto and Orange Farm an informal settlements near Johannesburg.
Both are plagued by high unemployment and an average household income below R1000
per month, although Phiri is economically and socially more stable than Orange Farm.
These two sites are the focus of this study on the installation of prepaid water meters, a
contentious issue that has resulted in, at times, violent and vocal outcries from residents
unwilling to accept the imposition of prepaid meters in their homes. In line with global
trends where governments around the world have formed partnerships with the private
sector or non governmental organisations to ensure an effective and efficient delivery of
water, Johannesburg Water has formed a partnership with Suez and formed JOWAM to
provide water to the residents of Johannesburg, including Phiri and Orange Farm. But the
water business is fraught with ideological underpinnings which are difficult to reconcile –
for on the one hand water is seen as a public good (proclaimed as such in the Free Basic
Water Policy) and on the other an economic good. The core argument pivots around the
claims that on the one hand citizens have a basic right to essential goods (including
water) and on the other hand, a user pays approach whereby citizens are given free access
to resources where after they have to pay for what they use.
The following diagram illustrates the interconnectedness between key actors involved in
water delivery in Phiri and Orange Farm and the core principles that are embraced by
each set of actors. Different actors have different interests driving forces. The community
is most interested in receiving water – as much as possible for as low a price as possible.
The water company is most interested in the user-pays principle as a form of demand
management and possible income. The DWAF is mandated by law to ensure citizens
have access to FBW, while also needing to implement the user-pays principle in order to
improve efficiency. Local politicians are likeky to support either the FBW principle or
the user-pays principle – depending on what pressures are exerted on them by
constituents. .
Empirical research in Phiri and Orange Farm, confirms that these seemingly
irreconcilable positions divide consumers into two camps. However, in scrutinising the
data that emerges from this research, the two seemingly contradictory world views are
not so clearly separated and there are nuances that make divisions between the two
ideological positions, less clear cut. Despite the ideological world view that water, as an
essential resource for the wellbeing of people, should be freely available, there are
financial costs associated with water supply such as storage, abstraction, transport,
cleaning and purification, distribution and waste water treatment that make it
inconceivable to deliver water at no charge at all. At the same time, it appears that
Johannesburg Water, who are responsible for delivering water to households in Phiri and
Orange Farm, have opted for prepaid meters as a technological solution to ensure
sustainable and effective delivery to consumers. However, the installation of prepaid
meters has caused contention in the two sites and for many residents in both Phiri and
Orange Farm, prepaid meters are not welcome. The problems that have been identified
around the installation of prepaid meters are problems of both process and principle. For
some consumers, prepaid meters are perceived to be a practical solution to water supply
and the contention is not around prepaid meters themselves but rather around how the
installation process was communicated (process). But for other consumers, no matter
how the prepaid meters are introduced, they remain an unacceptable solution (principle).
Technology as mediator
Free basic
water/user pays
Free basic water
Local politicians
Free basic water/user
Technological advancement, manifest in the much contested pre-paid water meter
system, is seen by the supplier, Johannesburg Water, to be a practical tool that bridges the
divide between water as an economic good and water as a public good. But the prepaid
meter has become, for many consumers & other stakeholders, a site of contestation rather
than co-operation. Residents in the two communities where the empirical data for this
research project was gathered, reflect a schizoid relationship with the state, perceived as
both benign benefactor and antagonist and aggressor. The state, as benign benefactor,
seeks to please the consumer by supplying 6000 litres of water free of charge and the
state, as aggressor, demands payment for all water consumed over and above 6000 litres.
Research process
Fieldwork was conducted in Phiri and in Extension Four of Orange Farm during the early
weeks of November 2004. The quantitative field component involved the administration
of 50 standardised questionnaires to respondents in the two communities, a total of 100
questionnaires in all. A qualitative field component involving face-to-face semi-
structured interviews with key stakeholders in both communities provided an in-depth
understanding of the attitudes of residents to pre-paid meters.
Key findings
Unequal distribution of prepaid meters
The Orange Farm community of Standerton (extension 4) is a ‘beneficiary’ of
Johannesburg’s pre-paid meter installation. The majority of respondents at this site
consider that the consultation process between residents of Orange Farm and staff of
Johannesburg Water was poor. Another area of contention around the prepaid meter
system is that there are more than 8 extensions in Orange Farm and, according to
respondents in Extension 4, there is no reason for Extension 4 to be subjected to prepaid
meters if the other extensions in Orange Farm are not. Because unemployment rates in
Orange Farm, extension 4 and elsewhere, are high, the inability rather than the
unwillingness to pay, becomes evident. For many residents, it seems that the non-
payment is because of lack of funds and is not because the residents have adopted an
ideological view that prepaid meters should not be allowed.
Local politicians and financial gains
Residents complain about the politicisation of water and they are reluctant to accept the
political deals that are drawn up between their local counsellors and Johannesburg Water.
The installation of prepaid meters offers a lucrative business opportunity and there are
financial gains for politicians who enter into business negotiations with their families and
friends, and who are the primary beneficiaries, according to some residents, of the
prepaid meter system.
Unintended consequence of contention
An unintended spin-off of the ‘quarrels’ around pre-paid meters is the building of social
capital. Partnership and coalitions between residents from Phiri and Orange Farm where
organisational affiliation between Orange Farm Water Crisis Committee (OWCC), the
Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) and the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) has
created networks between residents and strengthened civil society bonds. These bodies
have formed an alliance protesting against Johannesburg Water and the State position on
prepaid water meters and that ‘for those who really cannot pay, well, they know that
there is nothing for mahala (free).2 The APF – and its partners - are opposed to
Johannesburg Water whose mission is to ‘deliver a sustainable, affordable and cost
effective service’ and who have taken the position that all consumers must pay for the
costs involved in production of such a service.
Empirical evidence
Orange Farm has ‘benefited’ from prepaid meters for several years. The meters were
installed by Johannesburg Water and were supposedly, well accepted by residents. An
intensive awareness campaign has been, according to Johannesburg Water officials,
successful and ‘everyone in Orange Farm should now know about prepaid water meters’.
The micro study in Orange Farm yielded alarming data to the contrary. The following
statements reflect high levels of dissatisfaction of pre-paid meters, both the pre-paid
meter itself and the process that was followed by Johannesburg Water to install them.
This is in direct contrast to reassuring claims by Johannesburg Water officials that great
care was taken to disseminate information.
‘There are constant water cut offs. Even though I buy water my water at times
is cut off before I can use it to my satisfaction.
A higher percentage of female respondents (70%) than male respondents (57%) express
anger with the government for installing pre-paid meters. The highest percentage of
dissatisfied customers is in Orange Farm. Disconcertedly, the installation of pre-paid
water does not in all cases appear to have increased awareness of consumption nor does it
appear to have had a positive effect on consumption patterns. Seventy one percent of
consumers do not know how much water the household uses despite having pre-paid
meters. There is a correlation between awareness of consumption and acceptance of
prepaid meters with the same percentage of respondents saying that they are unhappy
with the prepaid meter system and responding that they do not know how much water
their household consumes monthly. This evidence suggests that the installation of prepaid
meters has not yet enhanced water wise behaviour and is not contributing, as was
intended, to an awareness of water consumption at the household level.
The three key concerns around prepaid water meters, that will be unpacked below are:
1. Water should be free for everyone
2. The system is inefficient, there are too many water cut-offs
3. 6000 litres is not enough
1) Water should be free for everyone
2 Introduction to ‘Nothing for Mahala’ report by the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), Report 16, Centre for
Civil Society Research
87% of respondents in Phiri believe that water should not be free for everyone but only
45% in Orange Farm have the same opinion. The vast majority of respondents in both
places are aware that the free basic water policy does not imply that households can use
as much water as they want without paying. In Orange Farm there are only 16% of
respondents who do believe that this is true and a very low percentage, 3% in Phiri who
believe this to be true. This is critical to the understanding of what the objections are
about pre-paid meters and the findings are reassuring for those who are in the business of
delivering water because the data suggests that residents accept and understand that water
has an economic good.
On the other hand, there was a high percentage of residents, at both sites, who felt that
water should not be cutoff if households do not pay for their consumption. These
perceptions suggest that water is considered to be a public good and that if there is an
inability to pay, water should not be cut-off. The statements, in direct contrast to one
another, reflect an unresolved tension between water as a public good and water as an
economic good.
6000 litres is not enough: water should be free for everyone
60% of consumers in Orange Farm feel that that water supply to their homes is
inadequate and the same percentage oppose the installation of water meters. In Phiri there
are only 18% who feel that their water supply is inadequate and who oppose the
installation of prepaid water meters. There are some residents in both sites who are
conscious of water saving and whose consumptions patterns reflect responsible usage of
water but in Phiri, more residents have a sense of the value of water. This is reflected in
the following statements:
I have enough water and since I know how much I can afford I try to use
what I can afford’
or comments such as
I think the service is right, you get what you pay for. I have no problem with
are in contrast to statements such as
lot of people try to save water since we can’t afford it, we have cooking and
laundry to consider and it is not enough’.
The difference between Phiri and Orange Farm is striking with Phiri community being
more observant about a range of issues concerning water and water wise practise. A high
percentage of consumers from Phiri have a good sense that because nothing is free,
consumption patterns need to be carefully monitored.
The Orange Farm community manifest less ‘responsible citizen’ attributes and their
water consumption patterns appear to be more careless, for instance, reportedly, these
residents are likely to wash clean the street outside their dwelling in contrast to Phiri
citizens who use a broom to sweep in front of their dwellings. The statements made by
residents of Phiri and Orange Farm below speak well to the issues that emerge around
prepaid water meters.
In Phiri, for instance, despite efforts at saving, the water supply is inadequate:
When I have not money to buy water, I can’t use the toilet, I can’t do laundry,
and most importantly I can’t even cook or do anything without water
Or another
I don’t want to pay for water cause I am unemployed: If I don’t have money,
I won’t have water and I can’t live without water
I don’t think it is right to buy water. I always have to wait until I have money
to have some more water. So I can not see anything good about this system, I
am not happy at all
The statement above is counteracted by the following
I am not happy because some extensions are not paying for water and do not
have the prepaid meters. Everyone should have prepaid meters
The two issues, free basic water and the amount of free basic water appear to be conflated
and the separation of these issues is problematic. It is difficult to judge whether 6000
litres is an adequate supply. For some consumers, the problem with prepaid meters is the
quantity of water that is provided free of charge but for others all water that is consumed
should be free, even if more than 6000 is consumed. For this set of consumers, the
principle of paying for water is intolerable.
This water gets finished just when you need it the most, If you have a large
family it means your water will get quick to finish
But all residents are not unhappy with prepaid meters:
What I like about these meters is that you don’t see water flowing in our
streets and being wasted
Several respondents recognised the advantage of saving water and of having a more
efficient water management system in place:
Since they installed pre-paid metres, there is no pipe leakage in the street and
they fix it quickly. People don’t waste water like before
Or again the satisfaction that water consumption is controlled effectively
I am satisfied with 6000 free litres. If I use the water correctly, its enough for
the families to consume and use and its sufficient cause we use it sparingly
I have never had a problem with it and the service for me is a great service
I am happy now because I don’t get a huge bill and I pay for what I use
The ambivalence about prepaid meters is eloquently expressed in the following statement
I can say yes and I can say no at the same time. Yes because every 1st day of
the month 6000 litres of water is free. But I can say no because these meters
are quick to finish the water
The following reflects a strong position taken against water as an economic good:
Water was not created to be sold. It is a free flowing substance
Or again
How can we pay for water, we can pay for the labour to bring it here but then
it must be free for everyone
The system is inefficient: there a number of water cut-offs
Some consumers feel they are not beneficiaries of the 6000 litres on the 1st day of every
month as promised, for others, they feel that they are beneficiaries but that 6000 litres is
inadequate. The following observations suggest that prepaid water meters are considered
problematic because of inefficiency in the system:
‘even though I buy water, my water at times is cut off before I can use it to my
or again,
there are constant water cut-offs, the more I want to use it the harder it is to
get it’
and Remember, the water meter is only a machine. It can stop functioning at
times. It cannot work like humans. When it stops I do not have water at all. So
I can’t say whether I have sufficient or not because sometimes I don’t have
any at all
The data reflected on the vulnerability of households when water is cut-off. In Phiri it
appears that water cut-offs are experienced independently of whether or not a family has
consumed the full quota
Water just stops, it is cut off anytime without notification
Technological problems do not make the issue any easier
The machine is not properly installed. It stops any time when you need to use
It is not always clear however whether the problems are always technical or whether the
source of the problem is misunderstanding how the system functions or/and unawareness
of consumption patterns because the same respondent noted that
The meter is running fast and water is too expensive
Summative remarks
The prepaid meter system is highly contentious and the communities in both Orange
Farm and Phiri are divided around the prepaid water meter system.
Johannesburg Water officials were consulted in Orange Farm and interviews with these
officials suggests that officials were despondent and felt that the residents of Orange
Farm were ‘very ignorant’ and that ‘there are brochures available for everyone’.
Johannesburg Water are also aware that the project has only just begun in Orange Farm
and that the first phase of the project in Extension 4 is experiencing obstacles that should
be smoothed out by the time the pre-paid meter rollout to other extensions was ready.
There was some defensiveness because officials felt that residents did not bring their
grievances directly to the officials but complained indirectly to others making it more
difficult for Johannesburg Water to address the problems that were emerging around
prepaid meters face-to-face with residents.
Interestingly, the boundaries between APF and the State (in the form of local
government) are more fluid than expected and members of the APF are also members of
the State, holding therefore ambivalent identities around the water issue. Contentions
around water as an economic good are sometimes difficult to resolve within government
and some officials retreat to the APF which serves as a platform for them to express
freely views on prepaid meters that do not coincide with official government policy.
Levels of awareness of water consumption vary considerably both intra and inter
community but it does seem that where information is better disseminated, for instance in
the case of Phiri, there is less resistance to the prepaid meter system. Johannesburg
Water faces problems that are at the core of concerns around whether water is a public
good or an economic good. Heated debate continues and will most likely continue for
some time until the tension between water as an economic good and water as a public
good is reconciled.
Appendix 2: Sample Letter
Appendix 3: Stakeholder participation process
Supplied by Johannesburg Water & not edited by authors of this report:
Consultation process was conducted through formal structures representing the
community, i.e. through the ward councillors and ward committee structures.
The following structures were consulted and engaged with from July 2002.
Regional Directors: Region 1 & 2; 6, 7, 10 and 11
Greater Soweto
Councillor Mobilisation Programme commenced in October 2002
- 6 workshops held
- Study tour to Mogale City (visit large scale prepayment intervention
programme and obtain first-hand info from Kagiso residents: January
- Communication packs developed and distributed to assist Councillors
in their feedback sessions to their constituencies (May 2003)
Ward Committees Roadshow
- workshops held with all ward committees in Greater Soweto
- Follow up meetings held with all 43 ward committees
- Feedback sessions of ward committees to their represented sectors
Other stakeholders
- Other CBOs and NGOs identified and workshopped
- JW advised not to engage with political structures as it may create
impression that this is a political project. Instead, JW advised to
engage with structures representing community as this is a
community-based project.
- Furthermore, JW advised not to engage with civic associations
exclusively as these are represented in the ward committee structures
- Contact sessions with SANCO held with some of the sub branches in
Soweto but overall fragmentation of this structure proved difficult for
meaningful engagement.
Public Meetings (held in Greater Soweto since November 2002)
Consultation Process for Phiri Prototype
ward committee workshops
Follow up meetings of the ward committee sectors with their respective
Briefings by Clr Kunene at monthly public meetings since November 2002,
where Operation Gcin’amanzi is a standing agenda item at these meetings.
JW attended some of these meetings and were given platform to discuss the
Additionally, 4 public meetings held to formally present the project and
address issues and/or concerns
Targeted sectoral information sessions held with stakeholders including
women’s forum; youth groups; schools, teachers and parents; pensioners and
veterans groups (12 sessions held)
Commencement of project formally announced at public meeting held on 26
July 2003 and flyers distributed to affected residents of the first phase
Consumer education including door-to-door campaign and community
workshops commenced in September 2003.
Study tours to Kagiso and Stretford Ext 4 for various community groupings
Public meetings continue to be held on an ongoing basis in various wards
throughout Soweto. The bulk of these sessions were organised by CoJ Regional
Council Liaison and Support who are mandated to facilitate public meetings
through their ward administrators.
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In South Africa, a lot of people are unable to access clean water despite the fact that the Constitution provides that everyone is entitled to have access to adequate clean water. Although, generally, water resource is scarce in South Africa, a lot of strategic interventions have been put in place to ensure that people have access to adequate clean water. The problem is that those who have the responsibility to provide the water have continuously been delivering poor water services to the people. At times, deliberate artificial scarcity is caused with the aim of making demands greater than the water supplied. This has caused desperate situation to the extent that people in the Phiri community in Soweto have approached the court to enforce their rights of access to adequate clean water. The paper explores various fundamental issues considered by the court and the notable pronouncements of the judges with regard to the right to access clean water, the issue of pre-paid water meters, the free basic water policy and their impacts on access to adequate clean water. The paper also considers why it is necessary to encourage people to register under the Indigent Persons Policy
Technical Report
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Following South Africa’s transformation to democracy the country has seen major shifts in virtually all policy fields, including water management and international trade, which are of relevance to this project. Much of South Africa is considered “water stressed” (DWAF, 2004) and competition over water resources between water use sectors is likely to increase. This competition has to be managed within the new policy framework for water management in South Africa, which places emphasis on redressing the current imbalances in access to water resources and services. At the same time South Africa has been re-integrated into the international trade system, in which it fully participates as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). South Africa has to align its policy objectives with respect to water resources management and water services with its obligations from international trade law in a way that is most beneficial to the country and its people.
The Policy Review reports on a gendered analysis by the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) of water and sanitation services policies and programmes in South Africa, covering the period 2006 – 2010, in line with the National Implementation Strategy and Action Plan for mainstreaming water into the Water Services Sector (DWAF, 2006) which will take place in May. The CGE has a constitutional obligation to monitor and evaluate all laws and policies to ensure that they treat women and men equally. Access to land, water, sanitation, transport infrastructure are used as key entry points by the CGE in poverty alleviation. The CGE recognises that gender-sensitive provision of water and sanitation services is significant because water is at the heart of economic growth and social development and is consequently a clear indicator of poverty levels. A guiding principle for the study is the existence of gender disaggregated data in the water services sector and a response to two main questions, namely: Are women benefiting equally as their male counterparts in accessing water and sanitation services and are women participating in decision-making structures and processes around the delivery of water and sanitation services? The democratically elected South African government has created an enabling environment for the promotion of gender equality through policies and legislation. The study will review the laws and policies enacted to ensure that all South Africans would obtain equitable access to water services and the international and regional conventions which South Africa has ratified to promote gender equality. The CGE, through this study, intends to determine the extent to which gender equality is attained in the water sector, and to ascertain whether or not systems have been put in place to measure progress towards the provision of water services in a gender-sensitive manner.
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In August 2000 South Africa was experiencing one of the worst cholera epidemics in the country’s recent history. Initial reports of the cholera outbreak came from the largely rural and impoverished communities on the outskirts of the Ngwelezane Township, near the Empangeni town. The source of the epidemic was traced to the uMhlathuze River, also in the northern part of the KwaZulu-Natal Province. However by the end of the year 2000, the northern KwaZulu-Natal cholera outbreak had replicated itself in eight of South Africa’s nine provinces.Poverty was a common thread that ran through all the areas surrounding the Ngwelezane Township from which the initial reports of the cholera outbreak were reported. The Madlebe Tribal Authority stands in incongruent proximity to the industrialised heartland of the KwaZulu-Natal province, its population shifting with the changing thirst for labour. Unemployment is endemic and the majority of people live below internationally accepted benchmarks of absolute poverty. The water-borne epidemic, however, was specifically indicative of a serious failure of government’s policy on water and sanitation provision. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) also concurred that there was a causal relationship between the cholera outbreak and persistent poverty. However DWAF’s overemphasis on the poverty factor in the cholera outbreak tended to clear its own water policies of any fault. DWAF’s exposition on the cause of the cholera outbreak seemed to eliberately omit factoring how its cost-recovery water policies impacted on the spread of the cholera epidemic in the poverty stricken rural communities of Madlebe and the greater uThungulu region
The people's mandate In 1955, the African National Congress (ANC), alongside a wide range of liberation organisations and movements, adopted the Freedom Charter as a popular expression of the political and socio-economic desires of the majority of South Africans. One of the most important clauses in the Charter, which the present-day ANC government still claims as their guiding manifesto, states that, "the national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people." An integral part of that 'national wealth' is water, a natural resource that is essential to all life. When the vast majority of South Africans gave political victory to the ANC in 1994, they were also giving the new ANC government the democratic power and political mandate to ensure that natural resources like water would be controlled by, and accessible to, all citizens irrespective of race or class. Besides the broad-based people's ownership of natural resources set out in the Freedom Charter, the RDP, on which the ANC rode to power in 1994, explicitly recognised water as a public good whose commodification would inherently discriminate against the majority poor. This historic and popular mandate was then further enshrined in one of the most celebrated achievements of the liberation struggle -the Bill of Rights in South Africa's Constitution. The Bill of Rights provides that, "everyone has the right to have access to sufficient water". Likewise, as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (to which the South African government is signatory) acknowledges, "water is a public good fundamental for life and health … the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life of human dignity, it is prerequisite for the realisation of other human rights". The majority of South Africans, made up of the poor (workers and unemployed), fought and died not just for political freedom from apartheid, but for socio-economic freedom and justice and for the redistribution and popular control and ownership of all 'national wealth'.