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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Press Release: Phiri Water Challenge

Wednesday 31st October 2007


After three years of constant community struggle, a year after a legal application was launched at the Johannesburg High Court and after the filing of thousands of pages of legal documents, the battle of Phiri (Soweto) residents against Johannesburg Water's limitation of free basic water supply to 6 kilolitres per household, and unilateral installation of pre-paid water meters will finally be heard from 3 rd – 5th December 2007.

The Court will be asked to declare these measures unconstitutional and unlawful and to further order Johannesburg Water (Pty) Ltd. to provide a free basic water supply of 50 litres per person per day, and the option of a credit-metered supply installed at the cost of the City of Johannesburg, to the residents of Phiri, Soweto. Besides Johannesburg Water (JW), the other respondents in the case are the City of Johannesburg (COJ) and the Department of Water Affairs & Forestry (DWAF)

The applicants in this case are five residents of Phiri who are all unemployed and living in conditions of poverty, on behalf of themselves, their households and all residents of Phiri who are in a similar position to the applicants, as well as everyone in the public interest. The case has, from the beginning, been undertaken through the auspices of the Coalition Against Water Privatisation (a collection of community organis ations and progressive NGOs struggling against the negative effects of current water policies on the poor) . The attorney of record is the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at the University of the Witwat ersrand.

This case is of enormous significance for all of South Africa (and will be of great interest internationally) in that it has crucial constitutional implications about the right of access to sufficient water (section 27(b) of the Constitution) as well as the right to administrative justice (section 33 of the Constitution).

Back in 2004, COJ, through JW, began rolling out the first phase of Operation Gcin'amanzi ('Conserve Water') in Phiri (Soweto). Residents were told that Operation Gcin'amanzi was being implemented in order to repair old piping infrastructure and would improve their water supply and it was on this understanding and promise that most subsequently signed a consent form allowing JW to enter their properties. Instead, JW began forcibly installing pre-paid water meters (which automatically disconnect water supply after the provision of the free amount of 6 kilolitres), illegally disconnecting the water supply of those residents who refused and/or unilaterally installing water stand pipes, thus robbing residents of access to proper sanitation.

Despite numerous attempts to engage in serious dialogue, COJ and JW chose to ignore legitimate community concerns and embarked on a path of confrontation. When residents, under the banner of the Phiri Concerned Residents, the Anti-Privatisation Forum and the Coalition Against Water Privatisation, openly resisted, COJ and JW turned to law enforcement agencies and the courts to punish resistance and enforce their undemocratic and anti-poor water policies. JW succeeded in obtaining a High Court interdict against resisters, hired a private security firm to guard their equipment/ machines and even brought in the South African Police Service and the South African National Defense Force to intimidate, beat ,shoot and arrest resisters.

Many residents of Phiri have, over the last three years, paid a high price as a result of standing up for their rights and now, they will finally have their day in court. Leading up to the court hearing, the Coalition Against Water Privatisation will embark on a sustained series of activities to highlight the importance of the case for all those, across South Africa, who desire equitable and just provision of water and to mobilise various poor communities to show their support for the applicants, the Phiri community and all others suffering under the continued implementation of Operation Gcin'amanzi.

During the three days set aside for the hearing, residents of Phiri and other communities in Gauteng, under the banner of the Coalition, will be at the Johannesburg High Court in their numbers. The Coalition calls on all community organisations, progressive NGOs & individuals and trade unions to show their support for this ongoing struggle for water rights.

**All legal documents filed in this case are available on the CALS website – **




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