‘Water is a human right’

Community activists Nadeema Petersen, from Tafelsig, and Ebrahim Fourie from the Housing Assembly and Beacon Valley resisting water meters campaigns.

Mitchell’s Plain civic organisations have joined the Water Crisis Coalition to oppose the City of Cape Town’s drought mitigation measures.

They are against proposed amendments to the current draft Water Amendment By-law; the proposed water levy, as well as the use of water management devices (WMD). They tabled alternative water resources which could be used, including spring water which they want made available to the public directly and not through private companies.

The coalition, representing about 60 civic organisations, from across Cape Town, is planning a mass mobilisation campaign to prevent the privatisation of water; to ensure the public is properly consulted about the water crisis; and to ensure the basic human right to water is upheld.

They will be protesting at the Civic Centre in Cape Town on Sunday January 28, ahead of the deadline for comments and objections to the amendments on Wednesday January 31.

The coalition’s interim committee addressed more than 100 residents at Salt River House on Monday January 15.

The by-law was amended in 2015 to ensure the City could adequately monitor and control all water-related services and oversee the plumbing industry.

With the onslaught of the worst drought in the last century, the City has called for further amendments.

Representatives at the meeting said water was a human right that should not be limited by anyone.

They called for more consultation with the public and said they did not want businesses to be consultants in tender processes.

Community activist Nadeema Petersen, from Tafelsig, cited examples in Soweto, where residents ripped out the water management devices.

She said these devices should be “denounced”.

“It is heartbreaking and sad to go into a house, where a granny is sitting, the granny is the only breadwinner. There is a stench and you can’t pull the chain (to flush the toilet),” said Ms Petersen.

She said the device was an infringement on the rights of the poor.

“Extended families are not considered. There are more than four people living in a house in all of our average households,” she said.

Ms Petersen said they had done research and confirmed that the WMD was not SABS approved and that the allocated 350 litres of water a day was not enough, with extended families and backyard dwellers also adding to the numbers.

Ebrahim Fourie, a supporter of both Housing Assembly, a campaign opposed to the installation of the WMDs, and the Beacon Valley resisting water meters campaign, said he came from an area where people did not believe there was a drought.

“We feel on the grass roots this day zero is pushing fear to privatisation,” he said.

“I’m saying people do not believe in this drought because people are saying as long as retailers have bottles (of water) on their shelves there is no drought. As long as SA Breweries are making beer, there is no drought. We are being indoctrinated by the City,” he said.

The assembly argues that the device is a cost recovery tool geared towards the poor.

Tony Ehrenreich, secretary general of Cosatu, said there were four key things the meeting had wanted to agree on.

“We want to avoid Day Zero. We want to avoid the increase in the cost in the form of the drought levy. We want an impact assessment on these by-laws that are changing and what the consequences are on different communities. We must make sure there is water available to everybody and that the Constitution’s obligations are met,” he said.

He said a collective stand had to be taken to stop the City from pushing through regulations that would have a detrimental effect on everyone.

Mercia Andrews, from the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE), said the water crisis was being spoken about as if it was manufactured.

“There is a severe drought,” she warned.

Ms Andrews said people with cars who could afford to get to Newlands spring were collecting and hoarding water.

“We need to talk about critical issues like the setting up of a water committee in our areas and address how we are going to manage,” she said.

Janine Myburgh, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there was no justification for the proposed drought levy, which the council wants to introduce to compensate for the loss in revenue from water-saving.

“The City should find ways to reduce its costs just as any private sector company would do in these circumstances,” she said.

“The chamber rejects the idea that some form of surcharge on water users would be appropriate to cover the revenue shortfall.

“You cannot punish customers for buying less of what the City cannot supply anyway. The water problem is the result of poor council planning, and it is the council that must pay, not the victims. Many property owners have gone to great lengths to save water. They have installed well points, grey-water systems and bought tanks to capture rainwater. They are deserving of our gratitude. Their water savings, at their own cost, will mean more water will be available for others. They should be rewarded,” said Ms Myburgh.