Some residents in Du Noon say they have had their water cut off through no fault of their own. The problems arise because of water management devices (WMD). These are fitted by contractors for the city of Cape Town to restrict “indigent households” to 350 free litres of water per day (70 litres per person or less in households of five or more people). However, if there are leaks, people find their water allocation has been used up while they “were sleeping”, says Du Noon resident Zinzi Mwigwi.
The result has been people bypassing the devices in order to keep receiving water beyond their daily allocation.
Mwigwi works with Manelisi James in the Du Noon community advice office. They are both part of the Western Cape Water Caucus. They say residents have resorted to illegal connections because when they report their problems to the municipality, officials make it a problem of the contractors, and the contractors are slow and unresponsive. James says there were residents with devices who had gone without a water supply for two months.
James says the devices themselves are sometimes poorly fitted to the water main to the house. They leak at the device. He described the contractors as “poorly trained plumbers”.
He has spoken to eight households in Du Noon that have issues with the devices, but the Caucus suspects the problem is widespread.
James, who has lived in Du Noon since 1997, says his neighbour’s water management device was accidentally installed on his property (see the photo above). He also spoke of other Du Noon residents in a similar situation. A household in section 23 has a device meant for a property in section 29 (WMDs can be identified by an “F number” that corresponds to a householder’s utility bill number).
Residents also say the city did not always get consent from households to install the devices. Some consent forms were signed by children under 18.
According to a presentation by the city, over 161,000 such devices were installed between 2007 and 2016. The devices are meant to save water. In return for fitting the meter, the City agrees to write off all arrears of the household. Leaks are meant to be fixed before installation, free of charge, and the device is also fitted free of charge. The EMG and Caucus believe fixing leaks and educating residents about water should be a municipal service and not conditional on accepting the WMDs.
Councillor Xanthea Limberg, Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste, and Energy, said the city can only proceed with installations once consent forms are signed by households. She said community complaints should be conducted “through the standard channels for the individual cases to be investigated”.
But Thabo Lusithi, of the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG), says that when residents go to the local municipality offices to report problems with the devices, they are told to pay extra fees or are sent to the Civic Centre or are told to go to the contractors.
Research in 2009 by Caucus member organisations, which include EMG, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), and the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU), recorded complaints from residents in Atlantis and Mitchell’s Plain. These residents said that after the devices were installed, they didn’t have water for months, not all water leaks were fixed, and people were not educated about the devices before they were installed.
Lusithi, who is from Khayelitsha, said, “There are many devices that are leaking in Khayelitsha as well.”
Limberg said residents can contact the city by emailing email@example.com; or send an SMS to 31373. Residents can also now report water faults by sending a message via WhatsApp to 063 407 3699, or calling the city’s Call Centre on the number 0860 103 089.
Clarification: The article stated that Limberg said leaks are meant to be fixed. To be exact, her email response when asked about leaks, said: “allegations made are not in line with our standard working procedure” [for the indigent leaks project].
Laura Bratton’s article was written for GroundUp