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Blue Planet Project opposes ‘water management devices’ in Witzenberg, South Africa

A protest against pre-paid water meters in Witzenberg.

Please see this update from our Blue Planet Project team in Cape Town:

After winning a partial victory last fall our partners in South Africa are once again mobilizing to contest the commodification of water.

In the municipality of Witzenberg, about two hours outside of Cape Town in the agricultural heartland of the Western Cape province, local Housing Assembly activists from the Witzenberg Activist Group are fiercely contesting the installation of Water Management Devices (WMDs), a key component of the municipalities cost recovery agenda.

As detailed in a previous post, since 2014 the Blue Planet Project has been working with partner organizations in and around Cape Town to contest the commodification of water and realize the constitutional right to clean, safe drinking water. This includes fighting the installation of WMDs, which restrict the amount and flow of water to ‘indigent’ households eligible for Free Basic Water.

In the second half of 2015, activists from Witzenberg joined workshops hosted by the Project, facilitated by Cape Town-based activists from the Housing Assembly, an organization struggling for access to decent housing and public services in Cape Town and the Western Cape. These workshops focused on mapping the water needs of communities, collecting experiences of living with and organizing around inadequate service policy and delivery. These workshops have contributed to ongoing community organizing in the municipality and to the organization’s critique of municipal policy on water provision and services more generally.

Following these workshops and an intensive process of community organizing, several hundred citizens marched on the Witzenberg Municipal offices in the town of Ceres in August to protest poor housing and service delivery and an unaccountable municipality. A memorandum was presented to the council detailing the community’s demands, which included cancelling plans for the installation of WMDs. While the municipality was slow to respond, the community mobilization succeeded in having the mayor thrown out of office. After a number of unsatisfactory interactions with the council and interim mayor, activists were frustrated with the status quo: more meaningless consultation and deteriorating service delivery.

In September another march to the municipal offices took place. This time the community had the added clout of a strategic alliance with striking fruit workers and their union. With this added pressure the Witzenberg municipality agreed to suspend the installation of (WMDs) pending further consultation with communities, national agencies and ‘experts’ as well as to review the community’s other demands around housing, services and social grants.

While this represented an important victory in the struggle against the commodification of water, the municipality has continued to drag its heels in the consultation process especially as it pertains to including the voices of those who suffer from the inadequate provision of water in Witzenberg. Just last week the municipality informed the Housing Assembly that it would be going ahead with the installation of WMDs, though no date for the start of installations was specified.

As a part of ongoing work in the region, activists continue to come together in workshop spaces hosted by the BPP. The next round of workshops begins later this month with the aim sharpening tools  need to effectively engage and contest the state around water policy and service delivery. Activism has stopped the Witzenberg installation of water management devices in the past and can continue to do so into a future built on a liberation that puts people before profit.

For more on this issue please see the ‘Beacon Valley against Pre-paid water meters’ Facebook page here.