"Privatization is a new kind of apartheid"
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 29 09:07:39 MDT 2003
NY Times, May 29, 2003
Water Tap Often Shut to South Africa's Poor
By GINGER THOMPSON
SHAKASHEAD, South Africa — The afternoon's end brings a rural rush hour
of women walking down the dirt road that winds through this village.
Many of them barefoot and dressed in rags, the mothers and grandmothers
come pushing wheelbarrows or carrying big buckets to fetch water for
But the road quickly becomes a divide between the haves and have-nots.
Those with pennies to spend stand in line on one side and buy their
water from a metered tap.
The larger group scoops water from a giant, littered mud puddle across
the way. Sewage seeps in from leaky pipes nearby. Some of the women said
that cholera had stricken their families. Workers at a mobile clinic
have reported high rates of diarrhea among children here.
"I know it is not good to take water from this hole," said Nolulama
Makhiwa, a 27-year-old mother of two. "But I am not working. I have no
money. What else can I do?"
Not long after the country's first democratic government came to power
in 1994, putting an end to white minority rule, the new government
enshrined the right to "sufficient food and water" in its Constitution,
and pledged to make water and sanitation available to every citizen by
the end of 2010.
At the same time, the government also began to shift more of the
financial burden of those promises to a population in which at least
one-third of people live on less than $2 a day. Officials urged
municipal water utilities to adopt "cost recovery" policies that require
them at least to break even, if not turn a profit.
Municipalities have begun working to turn debt-ridden and inefficient
water utilities into profitable operations that could attract private
investment. A handful have already granted long-term management
concessions to private multinationals.
Advocates argue that such policies have become conventional wisdom,
helping governments around the world make ends meet while encouraging
conservation. Not only here in South Africa, however, but also in other
developing countries like Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina, privatization
and water pricing have met strong resistance and public protests.
"Privatization is a new kind of apartheid," said Richard Makolo, leader
of the Crisis Water Committee, which was formed to resist the
privatization effort in a township called Orange Farm, 25 miles south of
Johannesburg. "Apartheid separated whites from blacks. Privatization
separates the rich from the poor."
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