“Pre-paid Water Meters: a vicious attack on the poor,” Phillip Nyalungu, ZACF/ Phambile Motsoaledi Community Project , October 2004

This article was circulated on the African Anarchism emailing list on 21 October 2004. It is not clear if it was from Motsoaledi News, but its author was the main writer for that newsletter.  The statement that “If you take a walk behind the Chris Hani hospital (Baragwanath hospital), along its outside wall, you will be shocked to see this big water pipe…” refers to the back area of the Motsoaledi squatter camp, which is next to that hospital.

PRE-PAID WATER METERS – A VICIOUS ATTACK ON THE POOR by Phillip Nyalungu, Black Action Group, ZACF, Motsoaledi, Soweto

Privatization of basic services is a daylight attack on the poor and the black majority of this country. On a daily basis doors are being closed in the faces of the poor.

YOU PAY OR DIE!!

The installation of water prepaid meters has no other meaning except the one above. It appears as if the government wants to make justice by making the rich pay because they have cars, swimming pools and big baths. But how many needy people are there in the household of the rich family? Frankly there is nothing like a needy person in the rich families. And the number of the people per households are so small with more than enough space, food and everything. Or the government wants to stop those who are wasting our precious resources such as water: by making them to pay.

Normally the poor people blame each other for problems they are faced with. And the government is taking the advantage of the absence of a political challenge from the poor. Where the government is appearing as if it is sacrificing for the benefit of the poor: by making every citizen responsible in saving our water; thus offering each household 6000 liters free before they pay. It is enough to keep the poor alive. Where the government is showing sympathy to the poor.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO THE BLACK AND POOR PEOPLE’S NORMAL LIVES?

The numbers of family members are normally big and the relationships are kept close in order to give each other support, especially in the townships where the family members coming from different family branches in the rural areas converge in one household – to have a place to stay while looking for jobs or furthering their studies if lucky, preparing themselves to become future breadwinners of their families. This way the ordinary black and poor exercise their creative spirit to support one another.

Already the households in the townships are swelling because of unemployment which is causing a scourge in the families. Many families depend on pensions, child and disability grants for survival. And these families cannot afford three square meals a day. Some people have initiated and resorted to starting vegetable gardens to supplement their meagre diet and income. Many people are following in the same footsteps to save the lives of their family and community members who have the HIV & Aids epidemic because the government doesn’t want to grant help to the people suffering from this epidemic.

The same government is advising the people to start vegetable gardens, while at the same time it’s taking away their water. People are already swimming in a sea of misery and hardship. Instead of rescuing the sinking people, the same government people love dearly is shutting any chance for survival on them. There is no way that the people in the townships can turn their brothers and sisters away when they are thirsty, or send them onto the streets because there is not enough water. They will warmly welcome them inside to drink the blessed water and share it equally according to their needs. Unity is the only way to fight against this senseless attack.

If you take a walk behind the Chris Hani hospital (Baragwanath hospital), along it’s outside wall, you will be shocked to see this big water pipe which is oozing zillions of litres of clean water every day, making a tributary into a river which divides the squatter camp. This pipe has had a burst ever since when the people at the nearby squatter camp called Elias Motsoaledi settled there. Elias Motsoaledi is the name of one of the freedom fighters during the  apartheid.

It is now twelve years since this squatter camp was around. Any attempt to report the incident to JHB Water about the pipe has been unsuccessful.

Obviously the installation of pre-paid meters has nothing to do with making the lives of the poor easier, as JHB Water and the government claim: it has to do with making profit for the rich, who are collaborating with our government. The fat cats are taking control of basic services because they know everyone needs to live. And without these services, they will die. Therefore they will make profit forever. But as a result, those without money will continue dying.

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).