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Support Jailed Water Anti-Privatisation Activists

MEDIA BACKGROUNDER:
WATER PRESSURE GROUP (AUCKLAND)

"A CALL FOR FURTHER INTERNATIONAL ACTION IN SUPPORT OF JAILED WATER ANTI-PRIVATISATION ACTIVISTS AND AGAINST THE ANC'S ECONOMIC APARTHEID!"

14 September 2003

There were no police in sight, as about 70 anti-globalisation protestors streamed from the US Consulate, two blocks down Auckland's main street - Queen Street - to the office of South Africa Airways.

This was in marked contrast to the anti-war, anti-WTO protest in Wellington, where the law guaranting New Zealanders rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest was broken by the very same people who are supposed to uphold and protect that law - the NZ Police! At least 7 arrests were made.

"The arrests came as a complete surprise as nothing remotely illegal had been going on", said activist Mark Eden who was present during the arrests.

Wellington activists are demanding an explanation!

**************

Opposition to 'corporate rights', and the corporate privatisation agenda being promoted by both WTO trade 'talks' and the war in Iraq, was a common theme in both demonstrations.

"Human rights not corporate rights!

War and the WTO put corporate greed ahead of people's needs!" shouted the words on one Auckland placard.

However, the protest in Auckland had another dimension - a stand of solidarity with anti-privatisation activists in South Africa, who have been 'criminalised' for defending water as a basic human right, by destroying pre-paid water meters.

In Auckland NZ the globalisation of resistance was shown in solidarity with the community at Phiri, Soweto, and those organisations supporting that community - the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) and the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC).

Their battle against pre-paid water meters, water multinational SUEZ and their political supporters in the ANC had the protestors full support.

Words on the placards told the story:


"Pre-paid water meters = no money = no water!
Pre-paid water meters = WAR ON THE POOR!"

"Water is a basic human right
guaranteed under the South African constitution!"

"Defend the human right to water in South Africa
by destroying pre-paid water meters!"

"Criminalise the use of pre-paid water meters
NOT APF/SECC activists in South Africa
defending water as a basic human right!"

"Jail water multinational SUEZ & their ANC supporters
for forcing pre-paid water meters on the poor!"

"ANC! Release APF/SECC activists NOW!
Drop all charges and stop forcing
pre-paid water meters on the poor!"

"ANC! Your pro-corporate policies
support economic APARTHEID!
Support your people NOT multinationals!"

The links with the anti-globalisation struggle against the WTO in
Cancun Mexico, were direct!

" In Cancun Mexico, in Soweto South Africa
water multinational SUEZ deprives,
not provides water to the poor!"

**************

"I was a former anti-apartheid activist, who along with thousands of other New Zealanders, took internationally solidarity action to the point of arrest, to help bring about change in South Africa,"

said Penny Bright, Water Pressure Group (Auckland) Media Spokesperson.

"However - this economic apartheid which has been introduced by the ANC Government, (following the same neo-liberal agenda as the New Zealand 1984 - 87 Labour Government), has now left the majority of black South Africans worse off.

The ANC is supporting the corporate rights of multinationals ahead of the human rights of their own citizens.

That is not the South Africa I was fighting for, half a world away, when I put on my crash helmet, and protective gear and along with thousands of others faced riot police with batons during those unprecedented days in NZ, of the 1981 Springbok Tour.

The solidarity is still there, with fellow battlers from South Africa, but by supporting the corporates 'right to make a profit' , the ANC are clearly on the wrong side of the barricades!"

**************

The background to this struggle in South Africa, was spelt out in a press release from the Anti-Privatisation Forum on September 7, 2003.

"Johannesberg Water's war against the Phiri community and those who support their resistance.

Johannesberg Water is attempting to silence and criminalise the voices of those who are resisting its programme (Operation Goin'amanzi) of installing pre-paid water meters in the Phiri community of Soweto.

Instead of listening to the very community it claims to be helping, Johannesberg Water has brought in the South African Police Services and the hated 'Red Ants' of Wozani Security to crack down on community opposition.

Already 8 community residents have been arrested on charges of 'malicious damage to property' and are now being subjected to apartheid-era bail conditions that include:

a ban on any interference with Operation Goin'amanzi; a ban on coming within 50m of any physical work of Operation Goin'amanzi; and a ban on attending/participating in any meeting or gathering dealing with Operation Goin'amanzi.

Johannesberg Water has now gone further and has been granted an interdict by the High Court.

According to the court papers, the interdict applies to

1) Those attempting to interfere with the Goin'amanzi project.

2) The Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee

3) The Anti-Privatisation Forum

The interdict "orders" that all of the above "respondents" are bound by the same conditions as those imposed on the previous mentioned bail conditions.

It goes further in authorising the "sheriff of the court to attempt to obtain the names of the first respondents" and to "engage the services of a private security company to assist" in arrests.

Even though Johannesberg Water admits that it has no legal way of identifying those "interfering", and even though the interdict papaers have not been properly served on either the SECC or the APF, all those community and SECC/APF members who oppose Operation Goin'amanzi have now been effectively prevented from engaging in any active resistance.

In a cynical attempt to rationalise such blatant anti-democratic actions, Johannesberg Water's Executive Director Anthony Still, has claimed in an affadavit before the High Court that the community of Phiri, alongside the SECC and APF, are "preventing Johannesberg Water from fulfilling its constitutionally-sanctioned mandate to provide safe and clean water.

Of course, no mention is made of the actual constitutional provision of the right to water for all South Africans.

Likewise, no mention is made that giving the hated 'Red Ants' powers of arrest is effectively an illegal act of privatising law enforcement, much in the same way that the installation of pre-paid water meters is an illegal act of privatising the provision of the most basic resource of life.

Instead, Still rationalises such outrageous privatisation of public authority by smugly claiming that it "will give Johannesberg Water far more flexibility in responding to any threats to its project".

OPERATION GOIN'AMANZI MUST BE STOPPED! THE STRUGGLE FOR FREE WATER IS A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE!

It is Johannesberg Water and their Operation Goin'amanzi who are the real criminals.

The real motto of their campaign to commodify water should be 'No Money- No Water-No Life".

The simple fact is that the privatisation of water through the installation of pre=paid water meters will mean that poor people unable to afford access will die.

That is exactly what happened in Kwa-Zulu in 2001 when over 300 people died of cholera after having been forced to drink water from polluted streams due to Umgeni Water Board charging the poor residents of Ngwelezane for water provision.

Pre-paid water meters must be declared illegal - they are the practical means being used to violate the fundamental human rights to water.

In the United Kingdom, the High Court declared pre-paid water meters unlawful in 1998. The new law in the UK takes away water companies powers to disconnect water supply for non-payment, or to limit the supply with the intention of enforcing payment.

How much more do we need such a law in South Africa where over 60% of the population lives in poverty?

Are we simply to stand-by and watch as greedy privatised corporations like Johannesberg Water go about denying water to poor communities simply because they think they can get away with it?

Johannesberg Water will not get away with its arrogance and lies.

Besides ongoing struggles on the ground that will not stop, the SECC/APF is presently seeking legal advice on challenging the interdict and persuing a constitutional court challenge to the legality of pre-paid water meters.

The community of Phiri, along with the SECC and APF, are taking up the struggle against pre-paid water meters because it is every South African's (and human being's) right to have water.

We cannot and will not accept that it is only those who can afford privatised water who can enjoy that right. We call on the residents of Soweto as well as poor communities across the country to rise up and say enough is enough!"

**************

What went wrong in South Africa?

Black South Africans had high expectations of the 1994 democratic elections.

"The African national Congress (ANC) had promised a "better life for all", including the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, and proper housing, and - most importantly - jobs for their community.

The 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), drafted by the unions and fully endorsed by the ANC as its electoral manifesto, established a commitment to meet two challenges head on: the government would simultaneously create jobes while extending basic services to the newly enfranchised majority.

But Mandela and his government quickly changed their mind.

By 1996 Thabo Mbeki, then Vice-President, imposed GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) a financially orthodox macroeconomic strategy of privatisation and cuts in social spending.

Facing a huge demand for quality housing and access to electricity and water, the ANC believed that only the private sector could efficiently reverse the inequalities left by a century of segregation and apartheid.

Following the policies prescribed by by GEAR, the Johannesberg Municipal Council intitiated its own restructuring. 8000 municipal workers were retrenched in 2000 -2001 after most municipal services were farmed out to private contractors.

In January 2001 a new company Johannesberg Water, was created by the city of Johannesberg to provide water and sanitation.

Only one month later, a 5-year contract for the management and billing of water services was awarded to the Water and Sanitation Services South Africa (WSSA), a subsidiary of the French water giant Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux.

Following the implementation of these privatisation policies throughout the country, the attacks on South Africa's poor only worsened.

In 2000, pre-paid water meters were introduced in KwaZulu-Natal. Facing recurrent cutoffs because they were unable to to afford the pre-paid cards, people had no other choice than to get their water from surrounding rivers.

The result was catastrophic: 300 people dead and more than 120,000 infected in the biggest (and ongoing) cholera outbreak in South African history.

Since 1996, more than 10 million South Africans have lost their access to water, a direct consequence of the privatisation and cost recivery policies which have increased tariffs up to 600%."

"Break the Meter - Enjoy the Water," April 24 2003 by Francois L'Ecuyer

**************

International solidarity against apartheid helped to bring about its down fall. Now we need to build that same international solidarity against the 'economic' apartheid that has replaced it!

Release the APF/SECC community activists NOW! Drop all charges! Outlaw pre-paid water meters in South Africa and internationally as being in breach the international human right to water!

**************

The call for international solidarity that went out from the APF is repeated.

**************

"APPEAL FOR SOLIDARITY

The APF is urgently requesting that all allied and concerned comrades, organisations, movements etc. - both within South Africa and internationally - take up this struggle in solidarity withthe community of Phiri, the APF/SECC and with the poor of Soweto.

For international comrades, spreading the word, public demonstrations/pickets at South African embassies/consulates and messages of solidaritysent to the APF (through drdalet@metroweb.co.za) would be most welcome.

For South African comrades,embarking on solidarity actions in communities, at universities, at City Council and ANC offices etc. would be greatly beneficial both for our struggles here and throughout South Africa.

The writing of political articles in both progressive and mainstream print media (if further information is needed, please contact Dale on drdalet@metroweb.co.za ) is also encouraged. The Indy Media collective in South Africa already has video footage of the resistance earlier this week - please get in contact with Comrade Ahmed at ahmed@red.org.za .

Very crucial at this stage of the struggle is the need for legal defence funds. The APF is already struggling to provide such funds for the comrades who have already been arrested and the intensification of the struggle will ensure that the need for legal defence funds is going to become even greater in the coming weeks and months.

We are appealing toall international and South African comrades and organisations/movements to provide whatever financial assistance as is possible to the APF so that we can defend the community activists and our comrades. We alsorequest that South African comrades assistin identifying any avenues of pro bono legal assistance that might be available (it is time for all those 'progressive' lawyers to stand up and be counted!).

Any financial assistance given should be sent directly to the APF account as below (for any further information on this front contact the APF Tresurer, Florencia on flor@netactive.co.za):

Bank Account Information for the APF

Account Name: Anti-Privatisation Forum Bank: First National Bank Branch: Bank City Bank Address: Block A, #3 First Place, Bank City, FNB, Johannesburg, 2000 Branch Code: 250805(00) Account Number:62027851452 Type of Account:Cheque Swift Code: FIRN ZAJJA046 Telephone: 011 352 1338/492 3321/492 3345 Contact Person: Vanitha Maharaj Foreign Transfer Desk: (27 11) 352 8290 - Tel; (27 11) 352 8219 - Fax “ Attn: Paulina E-bus No: (27) 083 123 3000 (drop the first 0 if international call)

As one of the APF comrades in the community of Orange Farm (jut outside Joahnnesburg in the Vaal Triangle) recently stated in relation to ongoing struggles against the privatisation of water -"The government promised us that water is a basic right, but now they are telling us our rights are for sale ... Destroy the meters and enjoy the water."

In struggle and solidarity, THE ANTI-PRIVATISATION FORUM (Johannesburg, South Africa)

**************

Penny Bright Media Spokesperson Water Pressure Group (Auckland) Ph (09) 846 9825


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