Service users

Service users in Fort Beaufort were not passive recipients of the new water arrangements. Indeed many community meetings called by councillors and SANCO (an umbrella organization of civic associations) were well attended (interviews 1998). The community also managed to get members of the South African Communist Party to exert pressure on councillors. Lack of affordability combined with the continued use of buckets as sanitation service by WSSA and massive tariff hikes drove the community into nonpayment. The close-knit Bhofolo community was able to extract concessions from councillors through repeated renegotiation of flat rates, hence averting widespread illegal connections so common in most other townships (see Nelspruit example). The councillors found the contract inflexible and were intolerant of the company putting pressure on councillors as a means of shifting the blame for consumer nonpayment onto them.

Underlying the township's resentment was the enduring racial-class geography of Fort Beaufort. Sanitation in black areas remained far below standards in the white town. The central town residents used 15 times more water than township resident on a per capita basis. About 60 percent of black township residents were not paying water bills, that would have averaged around 30 percent of their income. In the black township, arrears were close to R4,000 per household (seven times the average monthly family income). The WSSA had not been able to change the racial character of water distribution and sanitation that left the black township distinctly worse off, visibly inferior and demeaned. Worse still, as already mentioned, WSSA campaigned for metering of poor people to force a 20 percent reduction in use to help council lower the bill on raw water.

By 31 August 2000 the total outstanding consumer debt balloon to R17 million (two-thirds of the annual council budget) with no prospect in sight of this amount being recovered. The majority of debtors against whom legal action was taken were pensioners or unemployed. Some of these arrears went up to R8,000; an irrecoverable amount (FB

TLC 2000a). Understandably councillors were reluctant to impose more hardship and preferred negotiated solutions to community resistance. Consumers and workers also wanted the contract revoked, and councillors concurred by openly condemning the contract, which was finally cancelled in 2000.

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