Workers won't intensify protest

2012-04-05 00:00

A WIND of relief is blowing from Cape Town for city people who have lodged disputes against the Msunduzi Municipality over their water bills.

 

A court there ruled yesterday that city councils across South Africa may not disconnect people’s water over arrears if a dispute is pending.

However, locals who have not taken the dispute route, but are nonetheless in arrears, have only their constitutional right to water to fall back on — six kilolitres a month.

Julie Smith, a University of KwaZulu-Natal researcher, said Pietermaritzburg’s vast numbers of people in arrears would find little comfort in the ruling passed by five appeal court judges.

“We have a different situation here in Pietermaritzburg, so it will have a very different bearing because there are many people in arrears,” she said.

Such people were usually not in a position to lodge disputes.

“Basically this will favour those who have money, who are able to lodge a dispute.”

What was more relevant was people’s constitutional right to water, whether or not they could pay, she said. This was also raised in the case, which centred on a dispute between a Strand resident and Cape Town’s metro council.

The ruling now applies to all other city councils in the country because it is an appeal court judgment.

The judges said the Cape Town metro council had clearly lost sight of the fact that both the Constitution and the Water Services Act state that everyone in South Africa has the right to water.

“If you are in arrears, you must be given six kilolitres,” said Smith.

“Six kilolitres is, however, inadequate to live a dignified life. It might be enough for a family of two.”

Smith pointed out that people did not fall into debt by choice, but rather after having been pushed into a corner. However, she added that more work was needed to be done on the ruling, which would affect suburbs and townships differently.

Msunduzi municipality’s draft budget proposes a 22% water tariff hike — almost three times last year’s water increase, which was eight percent.

Msunduzi residence have just short of six weeks to interrogate this and other aspects of the draft budget. In the case in the appeal court, Marcel Strümpher from the Strand had received a water account for R182 000. He declared a dispute with the Cape Town metro council, but despite this, his supply was summarily cut off a few days later.

The judges found that the metro council did not comply with its own dispute procedure before disconnecting the water.

If they had allowed the dispute process to be completed and come to an agreement with Strümpher that, pending resolution of the dispute, he could continue paying his average normal monthly water account, justice would have been done to the principle of fairness and equity. The metro council was ordered to restore Strümpher’s water supply immediately. The metro council also has to pay all Strümpher’s supreme and appeal court legal costs.

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