“This is the gun line. It runs from shack to shack, clear around the yard. You are now inside the gun line. You step outside the gun line without my permission, you will be shot. You trip and fall over the gun, you will be shot. You spit, you pee, you so much as stick your Johnson over the gun line…..you will be shot.” This is the line from the comedy drama ‘LIFE’ starring Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy. The head warden at a prison to which they were sent to utters these words as he addresses a group of new prisoners, mainly black, at a prison in racist state of Mississippi.
Upon hearing about the deaths of 3 people in Mothutlung, North West after a service delivery protest for water, I couldn’t help but recall this line, and the way in which Nick Cassavetes who plays Sergeant Dillard said these words with gusto and guarantee. I asked myself if the officers who responded to the situation had been sitting and watching the Lawrence/Murphy flick moments before responding to the situation.
I then thought of Andries Tatane, the Ficksburg resident whose brutal death at the hands of the police was beamed on news bulletins across the country. Tatane had been part of a march demanding access to clean drinking water. I thought about the woman who was shot and killed in a housing protest in Cato Manor, Durban and also of the young man who was shot in a housing protest in Durban Deep, Roodepoort on the West Rand.
My mind was taken aback to a water incident in the little suburb I stay in when we went without water for two weeks and it had to take to make to the 7 o’ clock news on TV for authorities to act. Just last most month as well at my in-laws’, their rural homestead which draws water from a communal tank. In December 2013 the communal tank went empty just before Christmas and 2014 dawned without the tank being refilled by authorities.
I have come to ask myself as to how many other cases of water shortage and lack of housing and what other spinoffs could these have resulted in.
The North West incident took place just 16 months after the United Nations General Council (UNGC) passed a resolution explicitly recognising the human right to water and sanitation. In July 2012, the UNGC’s resolution acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. Well it would seem that some South African representative was either asleep or absent from the assembly when this resolution was taken.
Back in 1996, another UN sanctioned meeting established the UN Human Settlement Programme. That meeting which came up with the Istanbul Agreement and Habitat Agenda which identified steps required by governments to "promote, protect and ensure the full and progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing".
Granted, the protestors will have their version of what happened during the march and the same for the police. Yes marches get violent and many a times they are highjacked by criminal elements but it doesn’t have to get to communities marching if their basic human rights are taken off.
Are people of no consequence that they have to be treated like the fictional Quasimodo so that they eventually cry out “water…give me water…”?
So I ask, why do we have to die for a glass of water? Do the authorities not care that people go days, weeks and months without the basic of human rights? Then I remembered what they mayor of Ficksburg was quoted as saying, in a daily newspaper, after Tatane’s brutal killing: "People say there is no water in this town. What is this?" giggled Ficksburg's mayor, Mbothoma Maduna, reaching into his office fridge for bottles of Valpré mineral water.
So like the racist character of Sergeant Dillard who promises his prisoners a bullet at a slight transgression of his invisible line, it seems authorities and police in South Africa have also adopted Dillard’s stance on these basic human rights being water and housing……...You dare protest, you will be shot!