Monday, 19 November 2007

Monday 19 November

From Vicky, WDM:

It’s now Monday and most of the Africa Water Network delegates have left. I’m staying on just for a day or two more to do a bit of research and to talk to a few other South African activists.

Lebohang Pheku works for the Trade and Gender Network and I meet her just before she heads off for Botswana to track the ongoing negotiations on EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreements) that the EU wants to sign with countries in Africa and the Caribbean. I show her some of the evidence which WDM has been collecting about the impacts of the 1999 free trade agreement between the EU and South Africa.

We’ve found that the South African producers of processed fruits, agricultural products and textiles or garments have been especially badly hit by the reduction in import duties on EU goods coming in. She points out that women are heavily employed in these industries – working in clothing factories or on farms, mostly as low-skilled workers.

She spoke of one case that she knew where one garment factory worker worked in 6 factories in 5 years – not through choice – but because the textiles sector has been so weakened in recent years. This is partly through cheap imports of clothes from places like China, but the reduction of tariffs on EU-exported clothes can’t have helped either.

“Also hit”, she said, “has been the wine sector which has taken a heavy beating in recent years. Again, this is a sector which predominantly employs women and the crisis facing the SA wine industry has impacted negatively in terms of labour rights and standards as well as overall employment levels. This is an industry which is already full of inequalities eg. over land, and these power deficits are now being reinforced.”

When I tell her that the EU wants to open up markets in other countries like India, Korean and those in Latin America, like they have done in SA, she says “Free trade agreements are evil and must be stopped. Don’t sign!”

Next I meet up with Trevor Ngwane from the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee. Trevor talks about how the SECC was formed in 2000 on the model of the Education Crisis Committee in the 1980s which raised consciousness and mobilised young people losing educational opportunities during apartheid.

SECC is part of the Anti-Privatisation Forum and they have had a major programme to informally re-connect those cut-off from electricity because they can’t afford the bills. The system is very iniquitous – big industry uses up 85 per cent of the electricity but pays a fraction of the costs that households pay. At one point in the early years, 20,000 people a month were being cut off!

“Poverty is at the heart of this matter, where the poor pay more than the rich!”

Far fewer disconnections take place now as the SECC’s Operation Khanyisa (turn on the light) has successfully demanded a wipe-out of previous debts and an improved tariff structure by the provider ESKOM. This struggle is part of the many struggles, especially in Soweto other black townships, to bring housing, education, water and electricity services to the black townships.

Now it’s Monday night and I have just a couple more meetings with people before heading back. Jo’burg and South Africa ore generally are places in flux and there is a lot of disaffection and disappointment with the African National Congress leadership of the country.

I asked Trevor’s colleague Zanele Bheneki if she was positive for the future of her country, “Yes, most definitely” she said. “We are winning the arguments and change is happening. It takes time, but we are winning.”

Viva South Africa, Viva!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Sunday 18 November

From Christian Lawrence, Campaign for Good Governance, Sierra Leone:

I departed Freetown, Sierra Leone to Johannesburg, South Africa with great excitement to participate in the Africa Water Network (AWN) Annual General Meeting scheduled for the 14th – 18th November 2007. My expectations of the meeting were certainly great. Having to meet and share knowledge, experiences and lessons on water struggles and also to develop joint strategies to achieve our set aims and objectives with comrades and supporters from not only in Africa but in other continents was fantastic.

All the sessions were very interactive. Starting off by reporting on water audit (updates on the status of water management, civil society/union mobilization and actions etc. in some African countries) set the pace for extensive productive deliberations in the days that follow. In just three days of meeting, the network incredibly and effectively dealt with the following issues: ramifications of pre-paid water meters, public companies and management contracts, overviews on PUPs zeroing on their successes and challenges, future opportunities and promotion of PUPs, GWOPs-understanding the issues and players, state repression of water actions and a review of the governance structure of the network. What made the sessions more enriching was the usage of audio visual materials (documentaries on water management in specific communities in some countries around the globe). These vivid images on water management were irrestible and gave comrades a true picture of situations on the ground. Solidarity in our struggles was one of the key themes throughout the meeting, as was exemplified in the street match in Johannesburg on Saturday, 17th November to support our South African comrades in their water struggles.

As a way forward, the network assembled a gamut of strategies and actions to address water management and privatization issues in the African continent. Funding for the effective running of the network was critically discussed. Inputs were made to shape the governance structure and the Steering Committee was given the responsibility to draft a strategic plan, budget and constitution and plan of action for the network. Plans were also discussed to incorporate other African countries into the network.
The plan of action that the Steering Committee is expected to develop would include among things specific actions to be undertaken in specific African countries to support the water struggles.

I plan to debrief colleagues in the Public Enterprise Reform Monitoring Group –PERMG (the civil society water group in Sierra Leone that I am representing in the AWN) on the key issues discussed and outcomes. Part of my plan is to ensure that PERMG utilize the opportunities that the AWN would provide to support our water struggle.

I really appreciate the support of the World Development Movement (WDM) UK for making it possible for me to attend the AWN AGM.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

From Suresh - notes on the AWN conference

Saturday 17 November -

Is it possible to evolve a pan-continental strategy to realize the right to water for all people as a basic human right amongst the different countries of Africa, given the complexities that abound in Africa?

What are the challenges of ensuring adequate, affordable and safe water and sanitation to all the poor in Africa, given the extent to which IFI’s and donors have a hold over governments and their water policies which are not necessarily pro-poor?

In what way could I, from limited experience in India, be able to contribute to the debate, discussion and dialogue on the politics of water and water sector reform in Africa?

These and other questions were dominant in my mind when I set out on 13th November, 2007 from my home in Chennai, South India to Johannesburg, South Africa to participate in the First Annual Conference of the Africa Water Network. At the end of three days of discussion, including a 3 km protest march across Soweto against pre-paid meters, the major emotion in my heart was the sense of relief that there were groups in at least 20 countries in Africa who were actively engaged and involved with the water movement and who were raising important issues of the course of water sector reforms to be taken in Africa.

What was particularly energizing was the stories of successful water management and performance in countries which do not figure in international media like Mali and Kenya. The Savelugu (Ghana) experiment of `Community Water Management’ and the way the community had come forward to negotiate a water scheme with the public authorities underscored the potential for partnering efficient water management between civil society and civil services.

A very touching story highlighting the havoc that can be caused by the imposition of pre-paid water meters came during discussions with a few inhabitants of Phiri township of Soweto whom we met during the procession on 17th November, 2007. Family after family repeated the trauma caused when their charge on water meter ran out, most often at times when they could not even recharge their water cards. Crying children, elderly people, family members with disability – all suffered. One experience was of a stove which burst causing a fire in the house. The family could not put the fire out as there was little water and they had no money to buy fresh water. Neighbours did not also come to put down the fire as they were in similar condition and there was no water. The house reportedly burnt down. We had heard critical accounts about pre-paid meters. Hearing the stories from households in Soweto made real the problems and made us more determined to oppose them.

The issue was made more real when we heard the news that 6 water rights activists were arrested in Mumbai, India for opposing introduction of pre-paid water meters in Mumbai. It made clear one common reality – concerned citizens from around the world need to renew their determination to safeguard water all over the world and fight to ensure that water was reclaimed as a common, public resource!

V. Suresh, Chennai, India.

Saturday 17 November

From Vicky -

Today was the day of our solidarity march through Soweto, to demonstrate our support for the local campaign against pre-paid water meters.

Phiri is a township within Soweto. Soweto is a black township of 4.5 million people on the outskirts of Jo’burg. Since the ending of apartheid, it has been at the forefront of resistance to the privatisation policies of the South African government.

The march brought together us international visitors from the AWN, plus local residents and campaigners and we marched through part of Phiri to the offices of Johannesburg Water, demanding an end to pre-paid water meters – meters which have only been implemented in black township areas. We might have lacked huge numbers, but this was more than made up for with the wonderful singing and dancing especially by the South African marchers, and choruses of “this is what democracy looks like”, “down with pre-paid water meters - down” and “viva the African Water Network”. The atmosphere was fantastic – a more staid march through London might never feel quite the same again!?

As we marched, V. Suresh from Chennai, in South India who is visiting the AWN to report back on experiences of Indian struggles against private water and for strong public water (and who is an old friend of WDM), and I stopped off to talk to local residents about the impacts of pre-paid water meters.

One household we talked to said that their free ration of water only lasted for half the month, and with 15 or 16 people all using the water off this one meter, it had to be topped up everyday. In fact while we were demonstrating outside the office of Jo’burg water, a young woman turned up to top up here meter but she was turned away – they were closed to customers. As Virginia Setshedi, a South African activist said, what will she do now?

Now, we are back at the hotel for our last round of meetings. Over the last few days we’ve been developing the strategy of the AWN in future months and as we come to a close, members will be finalising this strategy and developing a follow-up workplan. We’ve come up with some ambitious yet important plans – working in solidarity with campaigners facing acute challenges, a database which can capture the state of water on the continent, and the need to gather and disseminate positive examples of progressive public and community water management.

Viva African Water Network, Viva!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Friday 16 November

By Vicky Cann, WDM

As Mussa has reported, the first meeting of the AWN network is now well underway and we’ve heard some strong presentations from around Africa looking at the different struggles to resist privatisation and to reclaim public water.

One of the most inspiring presentations so far was from local activist Jennifer Makoatsane. Jennifer is one of five Soweto residents who are challenging Johannesburg Water’s use of pre paid water meters in the South African high court. Johannesburg Water used to be run by French multinational Suez and the case will be heard in early December and Jennifer is preparing the evidence for it right now. The case is tied up with the implementation of South Africa’s policy to allocate 6000 litres of free water per month, per household.

That may sound like a generous policy but in fact, that only equates to 25 litres per day per person – or 2 flushes of the loo. For residents in Soweto, especially those who are unemployed or who may be caring for sick relatives or young children, the use of pre-paid water meters have put an intolerable burden on communities. This free allocation can run out quite quickly each month and then if you don’t have any money right then, you can’t purchase more water – so you have no access. As was said, with this policy, “Johannesburg Water is giving a little with the right hand, and taking a lot with the left.”

She spoke to us about the resistance within Soweto to these pre-paid water meters and showed us some of the materials that Jo’burg Water has distributed to inform people on how they are supposed to live on their allocation.

Jennifer has also written a poem to mark the creation of the AWN:

“A baby was born, fathered by Papa Africa, mothered by Mama Network, named Water
A good gifted gold
She is my loving friend for when I thirst she quenches me
When I dirty, she showers me with her unconditional love – water
Oh how I love her indeed!
She crystally flows from the Indian Ocean, into the Mediterranean Sea
Through the Pacific Ocean and in dams and rivers of Papa Africa nurtured by Mama network
The evil forces are abusing her, trying to turn into a private commodity and profit-greedy monster – privatisation
They rape and violate her human dignity – the spirit of ‘ubantu’
Her international brothers and sisters are by her side in solidarity
She is standing firm to unite Papa Africa and Mama Network…”

Thursday 15 November

Post by Mussa Billgeya, Tanzanian Association of NGOs

The Annual General Meeting of the Africa Water Network (AWN) started on 15th November. On the First Day, the participants focused the presentations and discussions on three main Issues: Water Audits and the Work Done by Civil Society Members in the represented countries; the Donor Strategies on pushing for Water Privatization; and the future AWN strategies.

During the discussions on the first issues (Water Audits), some of the key issues came out strongly included the following:

1) The need to consider informal ownership of water and the non-formal water systems. These include the traditional ways used by people in different areas, especially in Africa, and avoiding the need to impose foreign management systems that at the end of the day prove not to be working and not serving the communities as they should.
2) The need to campaign for public water services providers to be provided with enough funds to support the provision of water services and avoid the need for privatization.
3) The need to make water a global political issues and win the political will of different donors.
4) Also the need to rethink the role of Foreign Investment – is it always good?

On the Second issue (Donor strategies) the main discussion was drawn from the presentations made from three countries: Tanzania, South Africa and Cameroon on their experience on Water Management Contracts. The general conclusion from all the participants was that this is a new form of privatization and hence the AWN also must oppose its imposition in any of the countries.

Lastly, the meeting proposed and discussed some strategies and tactics for the AWN. These strategies were developed from the different scenarios in the water audits and donor strategies discussions. These included conducting detailed studies to understand different countries water policies and other legal frameworks. This will have to go hand in hand with learning about the World Bank’s position and policies on water. More strategies include forming a strong information sharing network, making a good use of the media to further our arguments and for public support, and influence the legislators and public officials on the need to improve the performance of the public entities and stop privatization of water services.