Tightening the taps

Operation Gcin’amanzi (conserve water) was launched by Johannesburg Water last year as a fail-safe solution to retrieve billions of rands in arrears that accumulated from the flat-rate system used during apartheid.

Gcin’amanzi’s centrepiece is the roll-out of prepaid water meters to “conserve water and stop the bleeding in arrears”, says Brian Hlongwe, chairperson of the Municipal Services Entities for the City of Johannesburg and a member of the mayoral committee. He says the city loses R300-million a year in unpaid bills.

The company buys R1-billion worth of water from Rand Water a year and records a R2,1-billion turnover. Each household is supplied with 6 000 litres of water free. Therafter it can buy 1 000 litres for R13,20, 1 500 litres for R35,20 or 5 000 litres for R272,70.

Gcin’amanzi is a R342-million operation that aims to roll out prepaid water meters to all of Soweto, Orange Farm, Ivory Park and Alexandra by 2006.

“The 6 000 litres of free water each month fulfils the constitutional obligation of supplying everyone with potable water,” says Hlongwe.

He adds that according to a survey conducted by Johannesburg Water, 98% of residents in Phiri are satisfied with the meters. “I can tell you there is no rocket science in this — ordinary people are starting to see the benefits of going this route because it places responsibility in their own hands.”

Johannesburg Water promotes the prepaid system as part of a move to allow residents to choose how much they want to spend on consumption. The company also argues that the meters are a solution to the outdated piping infrastructure, which is leaking.

The South African Municipal Workers Union argues that the prepaid system does not resolve the fact that many households are unable to pay for water.

The union proposes a return to the flat rate system because that protects access to sufficient clean water.

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Vicki Robinson
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