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Durban Water angers activists, impresses Stockholm judges

The Mercury, 3 September 2013
Water and sanitation become a living nightmare in Durban’s Inanda township
Gcina Makoba (The Mercury) 3 September 2013

Does eThekwini municipality deserve to win the Stockholm Water Industry Award, which will be granted to the Water and Sanitation Department this week?

In Inanda, we residents expect ‘development’ to at least include adequate access to water, flush sanitation, a well-built decent-sized house, affordable electricity, waste removal and air clean enough to breathe. But especially in wards 44, 55 and 56, we are underdeveloping. At the end of apartheid, even these basic need goods were better supplied and cheaper in Inanda.

Something changed in 1994 – and it was not just our liberation from racism. There was a trade-off, it now appears, leaving poor people facing new miseries.

Our communities are now very concerned with the polluted air we breathe, with raw sewage flowing into our streams and with the small size and fragility of the RDP houses built here in 2011. The stream running through our wards was once clean and clear, but it is now doubtful whether there are any species living there. Fish and riverine animals that had been common have since died.

Besides our sewer crisis, the worst service might be the communal toilets within shipping containers that have recently been installed in Durban’s townships and shack settlements. In ward 56, 150 houses are sharing two containers with just two showers and three toilets each. About 500 houses in ward 44 share four communal toilets, and 320 houses in ward 55 share four communal toilets. There are numerous challenges that accompany these toilets, including cleanliness and queues, and most of us are not happy about them.
Listen to the voices of my neighbours, such as Lindani (age 39): “Our norms do not allow us to share the toilets. Using these toilets is an insult to us, telling us directly that we have no value. I have never used these toilets ever since they came, because I am angry about them. They were imposed on us.”

The container communal toilets are not accessible to the greater part of our community. They have restrictive opening and closing times. They are not secure spaces in any case, and lead to increased crime such as rape. Many containers also have broken taps, which is a health hazard because it is impossible for us to wash hands after use. The toilets themselves are often blocked. Some are closed, which leads to males and females sharing the same toilets.

Most of us, especially those living where these container toilets are placed, feel that our lives are more difficult since these were introduced. Because they do not have sufficient drains, water is directed into the yards of nearby houses, so we are soaked in water day and night and our kiddies cannot play in the yards. In some cases, our houses are falling apart due to water coming from these toilets.
As another Inanda resident living next to a communal container toilet, Bongiwe Mnqaba (age 56), told me, “if we were consulted about these toilets, we would have disputed this type of development. We expected flush toilets per household, not this. If taps are broken it can be that people are sending the message to the Municipality that we do not want these toilets.”

Another neighbour, Mxolisi (age 18) complained, “Now that a dead body was found [hanging in a container toilet] early this year, everybody is scared to go there….I think they can now be removed because they have turned to be useless. Even more, tsotsis are hiding there to mug people who are coming from work [because] they are dark!”

Then we have an unnecessary financial expense because we pay R2 for 25 liters which we must buy, since by the time we reach home at 7pm the communal taps are already closed (it used to be 9pm).

Most of the people who are living in Inanda’s RDP houses, which do have individual water taps, have a problem with the high billing costs.
The new water meters being installed are not for everyone. For most of us, there are no standpipes nearby to provide us with water, so we ended up diverting the pipes to our yards so that we can get access to water. The Municipality must remember that we decided to connect water on our own because we were neglected. Water is a basic need and a human right.

We are waiting for a meeting where these new meters will be discussed, but if they impose these, we will make sure that they are removed from each and every house, as we are tired of water and sanitation being imposed on us.

For example, while others in eThekwini enjoy their flush toilet inside their house, 80 000 households in black communities are denied this right by the municipality, as they were given the ‘Urinary Diversion’ toilets in small rooms outside the house, without water. These are similar to the old-style bucket system, and are now recognised as a failed experiment.
The greatest fear of this type of ‘development’ is that it is permanent. The question in our Inanda wards remains: how long will our community be forced to live under these conditions, if a world water award makes our politicians smug?

(Gcina Makoba is a Dennis Brutus Community Scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society.)


PB: More quick banter, below, but I must say, I sometimes just don't know what to believe when I read Neil's replies, e.g. "The eThekwini municipality has not built VIP toilets" (i.e., Ventilated Improved Pitlatrines - the prior fad of neoliberal water management). Evidence below suggests that Bill Gates thinks otherwise.

Re: [Bubbles] [Debate-List] (Fwd) Durban's big water award on Tuesday (Stockholm Water Industry) 7 September 2014

NM: Dear Vanessa
I think that you are confusing issues here. I have never heard the city or our government say that citizens do not have a right to a clean environment or access to a basic supply of water necessary to sustain life.

PB: If you don't hear that, no surprise, for it would be unconstitutional for a city official to say it. But there's lots of talk-left walk-right rhetoric and practice in South Africa. So this sentence seems disingenuous, given the record of disconnections and extreme cutbacks enforced on the city's poorest third who were already provided a metered supply - i.e. a reduction from 22 kl/hh/month to 15 kl/hh/month because of the doubling of the real water price from 1997-2004, during which time, at the peak of rights-denial, 4000 households per week were disconnected from a full water supply due to non-payment. The 200 l/hh/day (now 300) came in the form of yard tanks, again a system for the poor (never seen in my Bluff neighbourhood) which ignores the critical role of water pressure in assuring hygiene and the safety of the water. Rights violations were legion, as the case of the late Christina Manquele proved already 15 years ago (see her on video here).

NM: It seems that many have forgotten that the Durban metro municipality introduced the concept of free basic water rather than basic water that had to be paid for.

PB: Two serious problems here, that I don't think Neil can rebut:
1) as noted above, if during the FBW's pilot phase and city-wide roll-out, consumption by the poorest 1/3 simultaneously declined (during pandemics of cholera, AIDS and diarhhoea), because the overall water price doubled from R2/kl to R4/kl (after correction for inflation), the Durban version of FBW was diabolical, not something to brag about. Here are the 1997-2004 data from the municipality's own staff person, Reg Bailey:

2) what was the rationale for FBW being introduced, based on the Durban pilot? According to the water minister at the time (Ronnie Kasrils), the Durban pilot convinced him that ‘It would save money because local authorities would not be saddled with the problem of administering large numbers of small accounts’ (Business Day, 11 February 2000). Again, nothing to brag about if this was a matter of fiscal savings. (Also, it makes little sense as the basis for public policy, because if one then consumes 6001 liters, this logic is to charge the customer for the whole 6001, not just for 1 liter.)

NM: It was also one of the first to start emptying pit toilets once every 5 years for free and now the UD toilets every two years for free.

PB: But again, Neil, why brag about what is now explicitly acknowledged to be a class-'discriminatory' system, in your own words? Those pit toilets and UD are now acknowledged to fail the tests of dignity and fairness; they should never have been introduced as a 'sanitation solution', since now they must be replaced.

NM: When our interaction with communities through the Water Dialogues and subsequently our user platforms and focus groups,

PB: If this is true, I was mistaken, then, to think that water activists had anything to do with the pressure put on Durban municipality to change its rights-violating policies. (If this is true. But it would not be in any municipal official's interest to acknowledge that activists had anything to do with changing policy.)

NM: led us to understand that 200 litres a day was not enough water for basic living in a tropical climate,

PB: Why such a weasel word? "Tropical"? In non-tropical Joburg, the equivalent FBW allocation was from 6 to 10 (not 9) kl/hh/month, just before the court judgement in 2008 found that Soweto citizens' rights were violated by Suez - which had designed Joburg Water's FBW in alliance with the national strategy put in place in mid-2001 by the Palmer Development Group. Ian Palmer had earlier been the most vigorous advocate I ever met of denying people a FBW allocation; somehow or other, his consultancy was put in charge of FBW design. Neil was on the board of Joburg Water when it implemented its pre-payment meters (for black not white neighbourhoods), inhumane 'shallow sewer' strategy and VIPs.

NM: the Council increased it to 300 litres per family per day. To imply that the city is unresponsive is incorrect.

PB: The critique is not that Durban officials do not change and are unresponsive. Everyone acknowledges that there is a marginal improvement over the years, as activist critiques hit home. The durable concern, though, is that there is a tendency to continue new innovations in water apartheid: not using race as the explicit dividing line, but instead class.

NM: The eThekwini municipal area is covered with water pipes

PB: The critique is that there is a residual (and ongoing) apartheid logic to the verb "cover". For example, a "sanitation edge" was declared that has very little geographical logic (look at the many white areas that have sanitation services outside the 'edge'). It is based on a class-centric assessment of communities.

NM: intended to provide water to any customer who applies to be connected. Many of the illegal connections have not been made by poor families but by families living in large houses in the Ingonyama Trust areas, houses that would sell for millions of Rand if they were located in Umhlanga Rocks or Reservoir Hills.

PB: This is the sort of class analysis that is helpful. What's the logical conclusion? Enforce a stronger water credit control policy on people who can afford to pay but who don't, and charge them much higher amounts for hedonistic consumption.

NM: Then there are those in shack areas who have connected to the supply lines leading to public standpipes and as a result no water comes out of the taps at the end of the line, depriving the really poor of access to sufficient water.

PB: This is not just a problem in shack areas; Mike Muller can testify that this is the way ordinary people have responded to the inadequacy of off-site water access all over the country. They put pipes and hoses into water systems so as to achieve yard-based access. Many of the projects were set up with a design specification of 25 l/c/d which was what some of the water experts says is what a woman can carry each day for her household for a targeted maximum of 200 meters. The possibility of a community increasing its population or moving up a 'ladder' of consumption to yard or in-house supply was not taken into account. The public health, gender equity and micro-economic benefits of moving to the

PB: For that I blame the policy people and municipal designers who provide too few taps, too far away. Worse, they cite "RDP standards" to justify this - when in reality the RDP has much more generous medium-term targets. (The short-term emergency mandate, to be provided by water tankers if necessary, was at least 25 lcd; the medium-term was on-site 50-60 lcd.)

NM: Instead the water runs out of ‘private’ taps at individual shacks - taps that are hardly ever closed.

PB: Where are these taps for private individuals that are 'hardly ever closed'? What is the water being used for? If these shack settlements typically have no soakaways or drains, why would an individual private tap owner let water run constantly?

NM: We monitor consumption per house in these shack areas and it is far more than 300 litres per family per day, but the excessive consumption is not being paid for by those responsible.

PB: I find it hard to believe that shack settlements have that kind of per household consumption if they are not sharing their supply with immediate neighbours, as I know so many do, who are illegally connected to water or electricity grids.

NM: Our research has shown that there are businesses active in making these illegal connections for a cost that typically is around R600. We have been given the pamphlets that are handed out by these companies and that offer unlimited free water for ever. We have approached the police to take action against them, but nothing seems to have been done.

PB: So why not solve that problem by putting in municipal taps?

NM: Sadly there is also evidence that some of the contractors and employees working for EWS are also involved in making illegal, unmetered connections for a fee.

PB: Why does eThekwini hire so many crooks, especially in Public Private Pilfering partnerships? (See Manase Report for a small sampling, or for a particularly telling example, how about Carver Media trying to loot a WWF award. Or just recall Mike Sutcliffe's overall looting spree. Or Mayor Obed Mlaba's R3 bn tender hijack.) Don't the activists critics have a point, about tenderpreneurship being a primitive mode of class formation? Why can't the water department at least hire its own staff and not outsource its work - especially wastewater treatment here in South Durban - to a criminal operation (Veolia) that is involved in internationally-recognised illegal Occupation-related services in East Jerusalem, for example? The impression that Durban municipality gives the world is unending corruption; surely the celebrated Water and Sanitation group can work against that trend, not amplify it?

NM: So the eThekwini municipality has a plan to make water available in the form of metered connections to individual homes and communal ablution blocks in dense shack areas. We have connected 1,3 million people to safe drinking water since 2000, another fact that is overlooked by the critics of EWS.

PB: No, it is the exorbitant price rises over that period to all those connected that is most disconcerting (as the Bailey/Buckley data above indicate).

NM: 280 000 families who are legally connected to the network do not pay for water each month.

PB: But they don't get enough water, do they, nor with sufficient pressure to meet the society's public health and hygiene objectives.

NM: Our experience over the past 22 years has shown that the water ‘consumption’ for families who use water through unmetered connections is generally three times more than those who are supplied through metered connections.

PB: Are they then also commoning the water, sharing with others? (I would, if in that situation.)

NM: Johannesburg Water saw an even more dramatic drop in consumption in unbilled areas after the installation of meters (from an average of 60 kl per month to less than 15kl per month)

PB: And they also witnessed the world's second greatest water war (after Cochabamba).

NM: Threatening to vandalise meters and remove them is a clear indication of an attitude that does not relate to poverty or to human rights – in my view it is plain anarchy or criminality.

PB: If the meter charges too much to allow water to be consumed by poor people, and if the authorities refuse to permit a generous FBW allowance, then surely it's better to have that meter sabotaged than face the public health and personal household burdens of inadequate water access. As a taxpayer and a fellow citizen, that cost-benefit analysis makes sense to me.

NM: Turning to the toilet issue, the cost of providing water borne sanitation to the 370 000 families living in rural and shack areas would cost more than R60 billion.

PB: What, R162 000 per household? For a simple low-flush and on-site septic tank in peri-urban and rural areas, and for a much more generous approach to shack settlement sanitation? That sounds like an exaggeration.

NM: The ongoing additional operational costs that would have to be funded from a revenue source would exceed R1,5 million a day.

PB: That amount - if true (like the R162 000 per hh?) - is barely 1.5% of the municipal budget. Since Durban is one of the most unequal countries in the world, that kind of redistribution is justifiable. We spend so little of the fiscus on w