SA Judge's ruling - prepaid water meters are unconstitutional

Mon 05 May 2008 - A Johannesburg High Court judge has declared prepaid water meters unlawful and unconstitutional, and has described the consultation leading to the adoption of prepaid meters as inadequate and "more of a publicity stunt than a consultation"..

The case involved five poor residents of Phiri appearing on behalf of themselves and their community, and centred around one the realities of one the most controversial issues affecting the poor in South Africa - water privatisation.

As part of his historic and far-reaching ruling, Judge MP Tsoka also set aside the current limitation of six kilolitres of free basic water per household and ordered the City of Johannesburg and Johannesburg Water to supply residents of Phiri with 50 litres per person per day.

Judge Tsoka said: "Twenty-five litres per person per day is insufficient for the residents of Phiri. To expect the applicants to restrict their water usage, to compromise their health, by limiting the number of toilet flushes in order to save water, is to deny them the rights to health and to lead a dignified lifestyle."

Tsoka said that it was the obligation of the city "to ensure that every person had both physical and economic access to water".

The judge said that in "established democracies, prepaid water meters are illegal as they violate the procedural requirement of fairness by cutting off or discontinuing the supply of water without notice and representation.

Tsoka ruled that the policies are discriminatory because they differentiate between the allowances of those who live in historically poor black areas and historically richer white areas, said the judge.

Dale McKinley, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Water Privatisation, said: "The city has egg on its face and is saddled with a R320-million loan for prepaid meters that it now can't install".

"If the city had followed the writ of the law in implementing its water services, consulted the community and listened to the voices of protest, this would not be the case", said McKinley.

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