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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech By Sidumo Dlamini To The Water For Growth Development Summit

27th March 2009, Gallagher Estate, Midrand

Let me say right from the onset that we come here to this Summit with a lot of expectations in the framework on Water for Growth and Development. Our past, particularly the period of 1996 which saw the vigorous implementation of GEAR, has given us hard lessons on the matter that will be discussed today.

In Chapter 2 in the Bill of rights the constitution says that ‘Everyone has the right to have access to ­ care services, including reproductive health care; sufficient food and water; and social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants, appropriate social assistance. It says that “the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights.

I hope that this is the reason why we are gathered here today. At the centre of this meeting is a call to ensure that water is used to achieve growth and the development of our people as a whole.

Our starting point as COSATU is that we consider water, as a natural resource, as untradeable. For us water is a basic good, and access to water is critical to full membership of a community. But the reality that we have to accept as a dimension of struggle is that with climate change that happens within the context of globalisation, water is becoming a good that can be exported and traded like any other natural resource.

The other reality that goes with this is that because of skewed economic development and population growth, water demands are significantly increasing, resulting in supply happening in favour of the rich at the expense of the poor. This trend has been observed in the recent past with a heightened call for the involvement of the private sector in the supply of water which reduces everything to the logic and calculus of profit maximisation.

For us these two areas constitute the primary contradictions and the most strategic areas of engagement and struggle on this matter.

In this context I would like to first start by congratulating the community of Phiri for winning the case against the installation of pre-paid water meters in 2008. We agree with the judge when he said in the judgement: "The underlying basis for the introduction of prepayment meters seems to be credit control. If this is true, I am unable to understand why this credit control measure is only suitable in the historically poor black areas and not the historically rich white areas. Bad payers cannot be described in terms of colour or geographical area."

Water is essential for survival, hygiene and for household uses and industrial purposes. Water is also necessary for production of goods and services. In agriculture, water is used for irrigation and the production of food and cash crops. In industry, water is used in mines, for generating energy e.g. hydro electricity, and so forth.

Inadequate access to clean water is a public health disaster, resulting in increased incidences of morbidity and even mortality, and leading to low per capita productivity.

Currently, South Africa experiences massive inequalities in access to water and sanitation in terms of race, class, and geography. As a result millions of people, particularly in the rural areas lack access to water. The provision of water to millions of people in the last 15 years has contributed to improve the conditions for many people. Nonetheless the backlog remains very high necessitating huge investment to address this social deficit.

Consider the table in 4.3 of the framework document that presents the water resource allocations per water user group. It shows that for Agriculture it is 62%, in domestic it is 27%, urban 23%, rural 4% and industrial 3, 5%. My view is that these statistics reveal the two most fundamental points - that even though a lot has been achieved in the past 15 years to give our people access water a lot more still needs to be done.

Secondly it is that for as long as we continue with the current government model in which there is a dichotomy amongst the economic development ministries for as example between the ministries that deal with Land, Agriculture, water, industry, trade, fisheries we will continue to have structural challenges in the economy whose resultant effect is to create a dangerous boundary between growth and development.

However good the intentions may be in the “water for growth and development” there is still a need for integration in the actual planning process. We hope that the process underway about the reconfiguration of ministries will produce results that will speak to these structural deficiencies.

For us as COSATU this summit can only have meaning if it responds to the priorities as set out in the Polokwane 52nd National Conference which are expected to be the programme that will drive what was envisaged to be a developmental state after 22nd April when the ANC win with a decisive majority. Please note that I am not saying if it wins but when it wins!

At the centre of growth and development must be an attempt to answer a burning question for our country and that is “how can we use water to facilitate the programmes for the creation of decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods?” In simple terms, “how can we deliberately ensure that the rural women and subsistence farmers have access to water and can optimally utilise it within the context of the agrarian transformation as envisaged in the Polokwane Resolutions and in the subsequent Alliance Economic Summit?”

For us the concept of “water for growth and development “must mean the growth and development of the most marginalised and the poor. It cannot be correct that after 15 years of democracy the level of access to water by the rural people is still 4%. The work that has started must really continue.

Our reading of the framework is that the devil will be in the detail and that includes the institutional vehicles that will drive the programmes towards these good intentions of growth and development.

In this context we would like to caution as we did some years ago when we tabled our position regarding the water legislation that any exclusive reliance on the private sector will perpetuate current inequalities by excluding a greater proportion of people from water and sanitation services.

The poor will receive inferior though basic services because they cannot afford the expensive services provided by the private sector. For this reason COSATU believes that basic services such as water and sanitation should be retained within the public sector, and all efforts should be directed at strengthening rather than weakening the public sector.

We hope that this summit will seriously consider this view, particularly in the context of our intention to have a developmental state whose content and definition will find expression in all government legislation and programmes including this one.

We are sure that with the lessons learnt in how other countries are dealing with the global financial crisis no one will argue against the government intervention. This time around it will not be to bail out the rich but to redirect the economic activity in favour of the poor.

Reliance on the private sector also means providing services on the basis of cost recovery which is not sustainable in a context where there are such high levels of poverty and unemployment. Millions of people, particularly in the rural areas, will simply not be able to afford to pay for services, at even the most minimum level and quantity of services, on this basis.

It also means people will only get the services they can pay for – never mind that the poor have need for a greater level of service than they can actually financially afford. Our experience has shown many cases where people, no matter how willing, or how desperate for the service, will be unable to pay.

As we did in our previous submissions we also would like to equally caution against an uncritical embracement of public-private partnerships, particularly if they that is motivated by fiscal considerations.

These partnerships are always based on an assumption that where the state pulls out, the private sector can readily compensate for dwindling public sector resources.

Government should engage in public private partnerships only after all known public entities have been considered, in terms of the Water Services Act. In addition, they should be for a limited time period and should be used to bolster the public sector, rather than displace the public sector as the preferred service provider.

This Summit must send a clear message that when it comes to matters of access to water our people will no longer be seen as customers but service users or residents.

If you see them as customers, the implication is that unless they have money, they can’t buy the service. And you can only buy as much as you can afford – never mind how much of the service (such as water) is necessary for human well-being.

Lastly we appreciate the initiative to invite all of us into a discussion about water for growth and development because it prepares all of us not to deal with matters when they reach crisis levels.

In the recent past the country woke up to the reality of an electricity crisis. As COSATU we said, we would have liked it to have been dealt with as an energy crisis because that will allow for appropriate intervention at a scale commensurate with the challenge.

Today we would like to repeat the same logic that in as much as this summit is about water but essentially it is about the sustainable management of our natural resources to benefit our people. More importantly it should be about the state of the South African infrastructure which in our observation is in a dire state and requires urgent attention. Otherwise we will wake up one day to attend to another crisis when all of Johannesburg’s roads, buildings and communities will have been turned upside down by the water and oil pipes that have exploded.

This Summit must be about asking difficult questions about the essence of the problem and to provide honest answers!

Central to what we must acknowledge is the expected change in behaviour. How our people use water cannot be seen on a larger scale unless people are made to see evidence that they have a stake in water services. For as long as they see it as a business commodity and a burden they will splash it according to affordability or use it without regard, as something that is not of their own.

Water belongs to the people and that must be an overriding feature of government policy if “water for growth and development” is to be a success!