||a report by the Coalition Against Water Privatisation (South Africa), the Anti-Privatisation Forum (South Africa) and Public Citizen (USA)
dedicated to Emily Lengolo, a founding member of the Orange Farm Water Crisis Committee who was murdered by unknown gunmen in her home on 8 February 2003.
"For those who really cannot pay, well, they know that there is nothing for mahala (free)"
"They say there is nothing for mahala.” respondent 30
‘Nothing in life is free’, ‘There’s nothing for mahala’, are stock phrases given by state bureaucrats and managers of private corporations these days when they are reminded of the commitments in our constitution to the provision of free, basic services for all South Africans. In the years following the first democratic elections in South Africa, the African National Congress’ commitment to offering free basic services has changed to fully embrace policies of privatisation and cost recovery, championed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. These policies act in the interests of transnational corporations wanting to increase their profits by turning scarce natural resources into money-making opportunities. While just a few years ago, the majority of township residents were mobilised against the payment for basic services, making the call for free water, electricity and housing for all, the stock phrases quoted above indicate how entrenched the logic of the market and making profit has become in the minds of powerful people.
This logic has most recently been used to introduce prepaid water meters in Orange Farm and Phiri, Soweto, with plans already underway for the expansion of this system to the rest of Johannesburg and the country. ‘Nothing for mahala’ is being used to force people into taking on the responsibilities of the state to provide free, basic services, such as water. This logic is used to make people believe that gaining access to water is their individual responsibility, for which they have to work to earn money to pay. This research project is an attempt to explode the myth that there is ‘nothing for mahala,’ and to reassert the need for free water for all South Africans as a basic human need and right. In doing this, it will show how the delivery of water based on the needs of big business only hurts the majority of people, and cannot deliver the water necessary for decent standards of living.