Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
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We were excited this morning because our partner, the Coalition Against Water Privatisation (CAWP), informed us that they were to get international news coverage of the water problem in Phiri (pronounced "pirri"), Soweto from Al-Jazeera. CAWP had been so successful in their awareness-raising campaigns and demonstrations that many people around
This case against pre-paid meters and challenging the minimum monthly allowance of free water per household to poor families are possible because the South African constitution, ratified in 1996, is the most progressive constitution in the world. For example, it fully recognizes social, economic, and environmental rights. The human right to water is recognized in section 27 and is being used by the residents of Phiri to fight for enough water to meet their daily needs.
I had been to
When we arrived in Phiri, we were welcomed by Jennifer and other members of the community. She took us into her home and showed us the difficulty of daily tasks without sufficient water, such as doing laundry or bathing. For even the poorest households, Johannesburg Water only provides 6 kl of water per household per month. For a large family like Jennifer's, this only allows the toilet to be flushed once every few days, and a bath for each member of a the household twice a month, and it leaves virtually nothing for laundry or food preparation.
She also sat down with us and talked about how CAWP and the upcoming trial had given her hope that maybe things might change – maybe the minimum monthly allowance would be increased to allow poor families such as hers to meet their daily needs and allow for adequate sanitation and a healthy living environment for her elderly mother, the four children living in the home, as well as the four adults.
Jennifer then led us around to meet other community members with similar water problems. All of the people we met were "makoko's" (meaning "granny's" in Sotho). They were all women over 70 who had lived most of their lives under apartheid and are still fighting for their rights under this new democracy. The makoko that made the greatest impression on me was Serafina. She is 71 years old and still as strong as ever. She spoke about her fight for access to water with a strength of conviction that was powerful for me, being about 40 years younger. She described bypassing the water meters because her pension could not pay for water and without sufficient water at her age, she could not survive. When the police came and told her she must not continue, she dared them to arrest her. The police left defeated, knowing that arresting a 71-year-old woman would create a martyr for the cause.
While I was listen to her sing and shout and swear and laugh, I hoped that I will have the strength to fight when I am her age. Although witnessing the deep suffering of others is emotionally exhausting, its also inspiring for me to know that the struggle continues and that I am a part of the fight for justice.