Talk Left? Walk Right? South Africa Turns the Tap Water off for Poor People

Some argue that the 25-litre threshold for free basic water is too low. Supplies in some areas have been erratic, forcing households to collect water from far away. Moreover, government pricing policies have led to supply cutoffs for nonpayment in some areas, raising concerns about affordability. Progress in sanitation has been less impressive than in water. There are still 16 million people- one in three South Africans-without access to basic sanitation. The absence of a consensus on an acceptable basic level of sanitation, allied to problems in generating demand, has contributed to the failure.’ This is a damning indictment of post-apartheid water policy design and implementation mistakes.

It helps explain why SA witnessed nearly 6000 protests in a recent 12-month period (reported by the SA Police Services). South Africa’s water wars have become world famous, as citizens’ groups illegally reconnect pipes that have been cut off due to nonpayment, or destroy the hated pre-paid water meters, or dump excrement from the apartheid-era ‘bucket system’ of sanitation at the doors of their elected officials.

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