DA: Delivering Drops of Water

by Sep 2, 2010All Articles

By Jeff Rudin

It’s a shame that the provision of water is made into a football to be kicked about by opportunist politicians in the pursuit of the so-called coloured vote, and that the real scandal of anti-poor measures imposed by the DA in the Western Cape goes unnoticed and unreported.

The then DA Mayor of Cape Town and current Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, had a water-centred publicity coup shortly before the national election of April last year. She arranged to be photographed as one of Cape Town’s flow-restrictor water meters was being installed in her own garden. Claiming to be at one with the people, and in order to allay their fears about these meters that were being installed in many of the poorest areas of Cape Town, she was giving the lie to bad impressions created by trouble-makers, by having one of these meters installed in her own home. Match to Zille, as the ANC looked on in glum silence envious of her gall.
For it was gall filled with buckets of cynicism that produced the stunt. And it was sheer good fortune that allowed the DA to get away with it. The stunt relied entirely on the indifference of other political parties to what was being done to the poor.

The DA relied on a barely concealed subterfuge – yet they got away with it. The ANC, having other agendas, was unable to expose her unconscionable opportunism.

The following observations by Amandla! show aspects of the DA’s deceptions:

• Pre-payment meters are so hated by the poor that the DA was obliged to exile the very name “meter”. Their instrument is called a “device”!

• To further ensure there’d be no connection between this “device” and the collection of money that pre-payment meters do so effectively and heartlessly, the official purpose of the “device” has now been given as water conservation. Hence its name: Water Management Device.

• Rocket science is not required to smell a rat even at this early stage. If the purpose of the “device” is water conservation, why is its use not mandatory for everyone? More still, why, other than in Hellen Zille’s house, is the meter being installed in precisely those areas where poverty limits water use? Why have these Water Management Devices not hit the leafy suburbs? If water conservation is their main if not exclusive function, why are they not in the very areas of hedonistically high water consumption caused by waterguzzling gardens and swimming pools?

• The DA makes much of the fact that its meters are not pre-payment ones. And they aren’t. Yet this a technical difference with no meaning for people who rely on the very limited amount of water that is provided free. Pre-payment meters cut off the water supply once this free amount has been used. Cape Town’s “Water Management Device” does exactly the same thing – not an extra drop is available after the daily equivalent of two flushes of a toilet per person has been used. The difference between the two types of meters exists only for those people with the money to buy water over and beyond the free supply. This has little if any meaning in those “poorest of the poor” areas chosen by the DA in which to flood its “devices”.

• The DA claims to provide more than the legally required amount of free water, thus out-manoeuvring the ANC by being able to pose as the real friend of the poor. But this posture, like the others, is easily blown. The DA’s cynicism stands naked and visible, provided only that the ANC bothers to read Cape Town City’s own publicity material. Beneficiaries of the extra amount of water have to be registered “indigents” (the very use of this awful feudal term ought to be offensive in a country supposedly at war with poverty while, at the same time, constitutionally guaranteeing dignity to each one of us in all our 48 millions). Putting to one side the stigma, the social divisiveness and the bureaucracy of such registration, it emerges that the City has unilaterally decided that the previous small monetary grant given to its “indigents” is now to be used to pay for the extra water they receive. The City’s own publicity material makes this plain. There is, therefore, nothing free about this extra water: unknowingly the “indigents” are paying for it themselves.

• The City claims it is saving water by fixing leaks. And so it is. What it does not say – because it can’t – is that fixing leaks has nothing to do with installing its flow-restrictor meters. It is entirely part of the City’s bad faith that it seeks to pretend a necessary link between these two issues. Fixing water leaks is in no way technically dependent on the installation of flow-restrictors.

• User consent is required before the flow-restrictor is installed. To buy this consent and in addition to the free fixing of water leaks, the City also offers to write off debts under certain conditions. Moreover, the City abused the Community Development Workers, the people employed to work with and empower the community, by using them to get community consent for the installation of meters that would leave most of the community without any water unless they sacrificed some of their basic needs for water. Additionally, research shows that the most reprehensible of other measures have been used to gain alleged consent.

• Amongst these dishonest measures is presenting the meters as though the household has won a prize. The City’s leaflet explaining the meters to the people begins: GOOD NEWS, the Water Demand Management section … has identified your property as having possible water leaks and will fix your … leaks and install a Water Management Device (WMD) … FREE of charge. Take Note: The FREE repair of the … leaks and installation of the WMD is a ONCE OFF OPPORTUNITY.

What lies behind all this deception? What is the main purpose of these meters? Again, no rocket science is needed. The over-riding primary purpose is to avoid unpaid water bills adding to the City’s debt. The Water Management Devices do this admirably – but they do so only by keeping the poor starved of water.

Understanding all of this requires no special knowledge. A party claiming to be from and for the people, while knowing none of this ought to be looking highly critically at itself and more especially at its elected councillors.

There are some technical matters that are not so readily known. These include:

• The electronics measuring and controlling the flow of water are not South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) approved.

• Replacing the battery requires not only the expensive digging out of the whole meter but, even worse, the throwing away of the whole electronic measuring device. Its like having to throw away a cellphone when the battery needs re-charging.

• The meters are appallingly unreliable, with large numbers of them having to be replaced.

• The unreliability also means families having their water supply cut off even though they have not used their provision of free water.

• The meters are also considerably more expensive than competitive ones.

• There is indeed prima facie evidence that administrative malpractice might have been involved in the award of the contracts for these particular meters.

• Helen Zille, while still Mayor of Cape Town, was alerted to this possible malpractice nearly a year ago. The City undertook a forensic audit. Besides never meeting its own repeatedly
declared deadlines for completion of this audit, the City has never informed the whistleblower of its position. Much of the above, including the alleged malpractice, was shared with a senior member of the ANC. That was several weeks ago. Nothing has happened since. What is one to make of this persisting silence?

Read more articles from Amandla! Issue#13, March/April 2010

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