Shops fined for selling tap water

Aura Water at Watergate shopping centre was closed for a few hours, after the City of Cape Town slapped them with a fine for selling purified municipal water.

Members of the Water Crisis Coalition (WCC) managed to get a shop at Watergate shopping centre, selling purified municipal water, fined R1 500.

The Watergate, Ottery, Belhar and Parow Aura Water shops, were each fined between last and this week, with a total amount of R15 000 for selling municipal water in the midst of the water crisis.

According to the notice to appear in court, which was issued on Friday February 2, by the City of Cape Town’s Water and Sanitation department, Hennie Nel, owner of the store, is due in Mitchell’s Plain Municipal Court on Thursday May 10.

The shop had contravened the Water By-law by selling unmodified municipal water.

However, it is not unlawful to sell “prepared water”, that is water that has been modified with added flavours, bubbles or otherwise.

Faziel Davids, from the WCC, said the water came from a fire hydrant and that the sale of the water is a “scam”.

Since the coalition was launched on Monday January 15, members have been questioning whether there was a drought if shop shelves were stocked with bottled water and cool drinks.

The City of Cape Town has been enforcing Level 6B water restrictions since the beginning of February, giving each citizen a quota of 50 litres of water a day and imposing punitive tariffs to force high users to reduce demand.

Speaking to the Plainsman on Monday February 5, Mr Nel said his Parow store had just been fined and confirmed that the company’s water source is the council.

“Firstly, I am not selling ‘such’ water. Aura water differs in many ways,” he said.

Mr Nel said the community benefits from the shop as it gives them access to water, which had been through seven stages of purification.

“Secondly, I am not selling the water. I am asking my clients one rand to purify and supply one litre of water to them,” he said.

He said customers get better quality water at a fifth of the regular retail price. “It is therefore in the interest of the people of Mitchell’s Plain keep the shop open,” he said.

Mr Nel then quoted from the by-law, citing the resale of water, whereby no person, who is supplied with water in terms of this by-law may sell such water unless provision has been made therefore in special agreement; or they
have written permission from the director.

“If the director grants the permission referred to in sub-section 91)(b), he or she may stipulate the maximum price, determined by council, at which the water may be sold and impose such other conditions as he or she may deem fits,” read the by-law.

According to the by-law permission can be withdrawn at any time and that resale is intended to cover the supply of water.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy, said: “We can enforce our by-law, but the supply of bottled water is a supplier-consumer issue with which we cannot interfere.”

If water is taken from the municipal supply, it will constitute the resale of water, which is prohibited in terms of Section 31 of the City’s Water By-law, 2010.

Contraveners will be liable to pay a fine or imprisonment in terms of Section 64 of the same by-law.

Ms Limberg said it is the responsibility of consumers to do their homework and to find out where the water comes from (municipal supply or not) or whether approval has been granted by the national government for such use.

“Consumers must ensure that what they purchase is not unlawful. Demand proof of the source of the water and whether it has been legitimately extracted,” she said.

“The City can only guarantee that the water that we provide via the municipal supply is of drinking-water quality.”

For all alternative sources of water, such as greywater or borehole water, or water from springs and other sources, the City advises residents to only use it for flushing toilets.

Residents can contact the City via email at water@capetown.gov.za to report contraventions of the water restrictions (evidence should be provided to assist the City’s enforcement efforts), or they can send an SMS to 31373.