This is an article that I wrote for the Human rights defender in 2008. I am reprinting it here now, because I think it is relevant to what is going on right now in South Africa. All over the country people are protesting the way that the government has gone about providing (or not providing) basic services. The forced installation of prepaid water meters into Soweto is just one example of the autocratic approach that has characterised much of the delivery. Sincethe publication of this article the Constitutional Court handed down its decision in Mazibuko and found in favour of the City of Johannesburg – i.e. that Operation Gcin’amanzi was not a violation of the human right to water. This is one of the central topics of my PhD thesis.
When I arrived at her house, Jennifer Makoatsane and her daughter were sitting in their dusty courtyard washing clothes. Jennifer is a key member of a grassroots campaign working to rid Phiri (a section of the Soweto township on the edge of Johannesburg in South Africa) of prepaid water meters installed by the government-owned water company.
I went to Phiri to speak to Jennifer and her community about the impact the meters are having on their lives and the washing seemed a natural place to start. Small buckets crammed full of clothes and bedding crowded the tiny space. While we spoke, Jennifer’s daughter continued scrubbing the clothes carefully so as not to waste a single drop of precious water.
‘We used to rinse under running water so that clothes can get rinsed properly. But now it becomes difficult,’ Jennifer said, lifting some clothes out of a tub so I could see how dirty the rinse water had become.