|2009 03 26 'From 25 litres of water per person per day to 42 litres per person per day'|
The Legal Resources Centre (LRC), a non-governmental organisation that litigates in the public interest, welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in City of Johannesburg v Lindiwe Mabuza & others handed down on 25 March 2009.
The Court confirmed the earlier groundbreaking decision of the Johannesburg High Court that the City of Johannesburg should review its water service delivery to the residents of Phiri in Soweto. The policy imposed prepayment meters and confined free basic water to 25 litres per person per day or 6000 litres per household per month to the residents of Phiri.
The majority judgment by Judge Stretcher, to which all the presiding judges concurred, found that the right to ‘sufficient water' in section 27 (1) (b) of the Constitution must be interpreted to mean ‘the quantity of water required for dignified human existence', which is ‘42 litres per person per day.'
The Court found that the Water Services Act 108 of 1997 does not deprive anyone of the right of access to sufficient water in terms of section 27 (1) of the Constitution and people who cannot afford to pay for water cannot be charged for it. The Court also found that the City of Johannesburg is obliged to supply free water (42 litres per day) to residents who cannot afford to pay for the water within its available resources, and that the prepayment meters used by the City are not authorised by by-laws and are unlawful.
The two decisions illustrate that the courts are promoting a vision of transformation in which government policy cannot neglect the basic socio-economic needs of the poor.
This matter was initiated by five residents of Phiri, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. They were represented by the Centre of Applied Legal Studies (CALS). The Constitutional Litigation Unit of the LRC acted for the Centre of Housing and Evictions (COHRE), who intervened in the matter as amicus curiae (friend of the court).