Treating the poor fairly

JOHANNESBURG executive mayor Amos Masondo has lodged an application in the Johannesburg high court seeking leave to appeal against a decision that the installation of pre-paid meters in poor communities is unconstitutional.

JOHANNESBURG executive mayor Amos Masondo has lodged an application in the Johannesburg high court seeking leave to appeal against a decision that the installation of pre-paid meters in poor communities is unconstitutional.

In April this year Judge Morwa Tsoka ruled that Operation Gcinamanzi - which saw the city installing pre-paid meters in poor communities like Phiri in Soweto - was unconstitutional .

Inevitably, Masondo was incensed by this ruling.

In his ruling Tsoka said it was discriminatory to allow more affluent white residents access to water on credit while expecting their poor counterparts to pay cash for the commodity.

Under Gcinamanzi, all residents get 6kl of free water. After that they are expected to pay on a "pay as you use basis". This does not apply to suburbs, where residents still use their water on credit.

Like all other citizens of this country, Masondo has the right to seek recourse in courts. But like all other freedoms, his rights to appeal does not exist in a vacuum.

They, for example, exist in a context where our government is confronted by the challenges of meeting its socio-economic mandate, which informs its priorities.

But privatising public services can complicate issues. A major pitfall of government programmes that are solely based on the bottom line is that they tend to supersede the people's right to basic services, including water.

The expectation from the public is that whatever policies the government introduces - within the said constraints - must never undermine the rights and dignity of its citizens, especially the poor.

Denying them water is to take away what for many is a very tangible symbol of a new democratic order.

Our government is expected at all times to be on the side of the poor, especially when it comes to socioeconomic rights entrenched in our Constitution.

The question that Masondo must then ask himself is whether in challenging the ruling by Tsoko he can confidently declare that he is still acting in the interest of the people of Phiri and the spirit of our Constitution.

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