'If there is no money, there will be no water'

Citizens of Chiawelo in Soweto protested on Wednesday against the installation of prepaid water meters, the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) said.

“The people of Soweto are already receiving water and they are satisfied with the current system. This change of water meters is being done without proper consultation with residents. It’s being imposed on them and we are resisting the installation,” APF organiser Trevor Ngwane said.

Ngwane said protesters marched to where Johannesburg Water employees were digging pipe trenches for the installation of the meters.

“Residents mobilised and succeeded in halting any further work, until police arrived at the scene and held one APF member for about an hour before releasing him.”

Ngwane said a similar protest was held in Dlamini Extension Two on Tuesday.

“We are demanding to meet with the councillor for Dlamini Extension Two, Eric Nkomo, but have received no reply yet.”

He said the APF’s research found that prepaid water meters are unpopular with the majority of people in Soweto.

“If there is no money, there will be no water, because there is a high rate of unemployment here.
How will we afford to buy additional credits?”

Ngwane said many Sowetans have casual employment only, “without a living wage. Many households rely on pension grants.”

He said water meters also reduce consumption of water “below minimum hygienic levels”.

“People avoid flushing toilets unless a few people have used the toilet. Many people also store dirty water so that they can flush toilets…”

Ngwane said water meters will discourage people from watering vegetables planted in their gardens to supplement their diets.

He said the government had made a wise choice by granting all households 6 000 free litres of water each month, but an average family of six uses about 20 000 litres of water each month.

Soweto police spokesperson Captain Mbazima Shiburi said on Wednesday the situation is calm in Chiawelo and police are monitoring the process daily.

“There have been no incidents to report. The residents are protesting because they are not in favour of the water meters, but it is nothing new…”

Shiburi said a police car accompanies municipal workers daily to the site of work and patrols the area as a precaution.

He was unaware of anyone being held in police custody on Wednesday.

Jameel Chand, spokesperson for Johannesburg Water, said the protest was not about the installation of prepaid meters.

“People are protesting because the expectation is that we use unemployed people from the areas being worked in, like we did in Phiri earlier this year, it’s not about putting the water meter project on hold.

“Instead, the old employees contracted to work when installations were done in Phiri are still being used instead of the local labourers.”

Chand said the APF will “use any kind of tension in the area to raise alarms about the prepaid meters, when people had signed up for the meters to be installed”.

He said Johannesburg Water will arrange with the contractors in Chiawelo and Dlamini for local, unemployed people to be contracted to work on the project.

“The problem is merely an administrative thing. We will have to stop digging for a few days until the problem is sorted,” Chand said.

He said Johannesburg Water requested a police presence after a few violent incidents when the water meter project was launched a year ago.—Sapa

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