Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
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After six years without water, the people of Kwamasiza Hostel, a huge low-income housing block in the Vaal region of South Africa, finally got their water back. The news came from our partner the Coalition Against Water Privatisation (CAWP), after their year-long campaign for water rights finally led the municipality to take action.
CAWP had written a letter in January 2008 to the municipality's water provider, Metsi a Lekoa, concerning water and sanitation problems at Kwamasiza Hostel. Instead of sending a customary written response, as so often happens, the municipality actually went ahead and reopened the local water valve, which was closed in September 2001 during an attempted forced eviction of local residents.
Patricia Jones and I traveled to South Africa in November 2007 to visit the community. There, a community organizer, Elliott Nsundu, told us about the day that police, military, and private security were called in and used tear gas and rubber bullets against local residents to clear them out. Refusing to leave, community members fought back. They had no where else to go.
Eventually, the police and military attack was repelled, and the community stayed in Kwamasiza. But as the police left, they cut off all basic services to the community, including water, sanitation, and electricity. Thousands of people living in the 10-story building block were forced to use the surrounding fields for their sanitation needs and buy water from a water-supply truck that came through once a week.
In this case, it's important to remember that restricted access to water and housing evictions have a different tone in South Africa, with its recent history of apartheid and the new national constitution that protects the right to water and the right to housing. This progressive legal framework has enabled South African citizens not only to fight for what is morally right, but to fight for what is legally entitled to them.
In Phiri (pronounced "piree), Soweto, the community is waging a battle against prepaid water meters in the High Court of South Africa. 
Now, with their water services reinstated, the Kwamasiza community can begin to live their lives again with the dignity, health, and safety all people deserve.