South Africa 
Unions concerned about poverty and cholera in Johannesburg 

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 (S.A. union), 24 January - The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) has expressed its shock and concern "at the way in which events are unfolding in the City of Johannesburg." While the Johannesburg Council is seen doing little to fight poverty, cholera is taking a grip on the Jukskei River residence area - two developments that are directly linked.

According to SAMWU spokeperson Anna Weekes, "it is quite clear that council executives have been pre-occupying themselves over the festive season with drawing up strict credit control policies that will see the vast majority of Johannesburg's residents being completely cut off from services." 

The Council is claiming to have an indigent database that will ensure that the poor are not disconnected. "Yet this database in no way guarantees a free lifeline level of service as a basic right, as it is merely a bureaucratic way to determine who is in need and leaves many poor people to fall through the cracks."

SAMWU also does not believe Council's Revenue Specialist Dan Painter's claims that major defaulters, who owe the bulk of the R2.7 billion, will be disconnected first. For the past five years, the union has been begging council to attach the properties and cut the services of businesses who refuse to pay and effectively use local government as interest free credit. Yet in 1999, Council wrote off two debts of over R2 million from businesses where the buildings could have been attached and sold off to defray the amounts owed.

The Council has also consistently refused to publish a "list of shame" like the Kimberley City Council does every year, which exposes major defaulters who always business and government departments. 

By contrast, disconnections in Johannesburg's townships have been carried out with an intense vigour for very small amounts owing. SAMWU demands that the "big apples" that Painter is threatening to disconnect be disconnected within the next month and the list of shame published before this time. If this is not done, the union is "going to spare no effort in thoroughly exposing the 'new' credit control system as one that merely re-inforces the current policies as acts of intimidation against the poor."

The union is also concerned about the growing trend towards "jobs for pals" in the Johannesburg Council. The weekend papers carried adverts for yet more executive positions which were extremely vague. SAMWU has inside information that the jobs advertised, such as City Manager and others, have already been earmarked for certain people. For this reason, adverts for executives were kept non-specific. SAMWU demands that Council meet the union to discuss these new appointments. We are currently investigating irregularities with appointments made last year.

According to Anna Weekes, "the focus on credit control and appointments of executives seems to have taken priority over the cholera crisis, that is clearly about to break out on a scale bigger than that in KwaZulu-Natal now that the Jukskei River running through Alexandra has been infected." Juskei River is a poor, black residence area in the outskirts of Johannesburg.

- The crisis, like its roots in KwaZulu-Natal, has been created wholly by council's continual refusal to provide basic services and infrastructure for the people who have been living along the Jukskei River for several years, SAMWU states. "It is an embarassment that in the middle of a huge industrialised city, one of the giants of Africa, the bucket and nightsoil system is being used. It is well known that people forced to suffer the humiliation and inconvenience of not having access to running water and toilets are further degraded by having to empty nightsoil buckets into the river - their only water source; as Council does not collect the nightsoil buckets daily from all households."

Even the communal standpipe taps and council housing water systems that are available in Alexandra are prone to massive leakages. SAMWU offered to send a team of water workers to fix the leaks over three years ago but this was turned down by council. The money saved by conserving water that is lost into the ground could long ago have been used to extend the water and sewage systems in the area.

SAMWU is even more concerned that communities living along the river are now going to be hurriedly removed to Diepsloot and Braam Fischerville now that cholera has broken out. This particular group of residents has been promised decent alternative housing for years now by Council, which has not materialised. "There is no indication that there is enough housing in either Diepsloot or Braamfischerville to accomodate what council describes as tens of thousands of people," says Anna Weekes.

Diepsloot is already overcrowded. Over the past five years, many people have moved there including residents from Alexandra's far east bank. These residents were dumped on tiny plots in Diepsloot, after being told that this was a "reception area" where they should live while waiting for their houses to be built. The infrastructure was almost non-existent with water coming from trucks where residents had to fill up their daily supply in a bucket. 

The area is still underserviced and overcrowded. Furthermore, Diepsloot already has a sizeable shack dwelling community who are unlikely to be pleased if residents from the Jukskei River are placed in housing ahead of them.

SAMWU shopstewards visited the Jukskei river yesterday. Residents interviewed said their names were taken down in December and promised housing. They were visited a number of times but some of the visits appear to have been from private companies. They were promised a one room house with a toilet per family. The community took it that they would not have to pay for these houses although they are prepared to pay a nominal rent if they have to.

The Jukskei River residents told the SAMWU shopstewards that they first want to see where they are being moved so that they can check the distance between their homes and workplaces. They do not want to be moved to empty stands. "Residents will be attending a community meeting this evening where this will be discussed. SAMWU shopstewards and members who live in the area will be present at the meeting," the union informs.

SAMWU is now asking for an assurance from the Johannesburg Council that there is enough housing and serviced sites for the residents in the areas where they are to be moved to. "If Jukskei river dwellers are simply being tricked into moving to an area where there is no cholera but no services either, this is unacceptable. There should be no hurried and unilateral removals as part of the town planning strategies in post-apartheid South Africa," the union concludes.

Source: Based on SAMWU Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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