Taking a stand

Ria Ockhuys-van Niekerk from the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA); Tony Ehrenreich from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); Marcus Solomon, from the Childrens Resource Centre, and Mercia Andrews, from the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE).

The Water Crisis Coalition, formed to oppose some of the City’s measures to tackle the drought, held its first meeting in Salt River on Monday.

More than 100 residents and business owners were at the meeting at Community House.

The coalition represents about 60 civic groups that are against the draft Water Amendment By-law, the proposed drought levy and the use of water management devices (WMD).

Warda Rahim, chairperson of Salt River Residents’ Association, agreed to the coalition’s plan to protest at the Civic Centre in Cape Town on Sunday January 28, ahead of the deadline for comments and objections to the by-law’s amendments, which, among other things, proposes greater regulation of alternative water use.

“I attended the meeting because I am concerned about implications of the water tax and the installation of the water management device,” she told the Tatler.

Ms Rahim refuses to pay the tax.

“I am doing everything in my power to keep costs down and to limit water usage, and now they want to tax me,” she said.
She said three-quarters of the households in Salt River could not afford higher water bills, paying for the installation of the WMD and a tax.

“It is my understanding that the WMD increases costs,” she said.

Ms Rahim said households had a head count of up to 15 people, who have to manage using 350 litres, which is just not enough.

“There are about three generations living in households in Salt River,” she said.

Level-6 water restrictions came into effect on Monday January 1. All households that use more than 10.5 kilolitres a month will have a water management device fitted to their water mains.
Crispian Swarbreck, of the Woodstock Community Outreach Forum, said national government should step in.
“And because we are not part of that family, we are treated like the stepchild. This is all because of poor planning by the council,” he said.

WMDs were being installed without considering how many people lived on a property.

“The water controller is compromising a lot of people,” he said.
Cosatu secretary general Tony Ehrenreich said there were several key things the meeting had wanted to agree on.

“We want to avoid Day Zero. We want to avoid the increase in the cost in the form of the drought levy. We want an impact assessment on these by-laws that are changing and what the consequences are on different communities. We must make sure there is water available to everybody and that the constitution’s obligations are met,” he said.

He said a collective stand had to be taken to stop the City from pushing through regulations that would have a detrimental effect on everyone.

Mercia Andrews, from the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE), said the water crisis was being spoken about as if it was manufactured.

“There is a severe drought,” she warned.

Ms Andrews said people with cars, who could afford to get to Newlands spring, were collecting and hoarding water.

“We need to talk about critical issues like the setting up of a water committee in our areas and address how we are going to manage,” she said.

Janine Myburgh, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there was no justification for the proposed drought levy, which the council wants to introduce to compensate for the loss in revenue from water-saving.

“The City should find ways to reduce its costs just as any private sector company would do in these circumstances,” she said.

“The chamber rejects the idea that some form of surcharge on water users would be appropriate to cover the revenue shortfall.

“You cannot punish customers for buying less of what the City cannot supply anyway. The water problem is the result of poor council planning, and it is the council that must pay, not the victims. Many property owners have gone to great lengths to save water. They have installed well points, grey-water systems and bought tanks to capture rainwater. They are deserving of our gratitude. Their water savings, at their own cost, will mean more water will be available for others. They should be rewarded,” said Ms Myburgh.