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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 11, No. 42, 15 November 2012

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The political economy of water

By B Schreiner, B van Koppen, J Schreiner

1. Introduction

Economic growth in South Africa is a site of intense contestation between progressive forces and the forces of capital. Water, a critical input to economic development, is an equally contested terrain.

South Africa's available water per person is amongst the lowest in the world. Average annual rainfall is around half of the world average, and is extremely variable across the country and between years, resulting in frequent droughts and floods. There is widespread pollution of water resources from, for example, acid mine drainage, industrial and agricultural effluent and poor waste water treatment works.

In 1913, Africans were not only stripped of their land, but also of the water resources that went with it. Inequality in access to water deepened when the colonial state set out its 'hydraulic mission'. Within one century the white capitalist water economy had harnessed all easily accessible water through dams, canals, pumps, pipes, and tunnels. An infrastructure asset base with a current replacement cost of around R150 billion became the life line of large-scale white farmers, mines, water-cooled electricity generation, industries and metropolitan areas. The water needs of black communities for domestic and productive purposes (enterprises, food gardening, livestock for food security and income etc) were largely ignored.

Water is, therefore, a scarce and inequitably distributed resource in South Africa, and the question of how the developmental state should manage water to drive equitable economic transformation is more urgent than ever.

2. Inequitable access to water

The biggest challenges are in rural areas and informal settlements where the poorest of the poor are the last to be served. Two thirds of the poor live in the former homelands, while there are also a number of poor rural communities in former white rural areas.

Even now, in the rural areas, 1.2 % of the population - predominantly white commercial farmers - uses 95% of the water. While the government has made extraordinary strides since 1994 in providing safe drinking water to the previously unserved, the basic domestic water needs for 3.6 million urban and rural working class people are still unmet, let alone the water needs for productive purposes. Even in peri-urban areas water is used for productive purposes, whether food gardening, small-scale enterprises, car-washing, food preparation, and so on.

In the former homelands access has deteriorated with both water services and irrigation systems collapsing as a result of loss of financial, institutional and technical support since 1994. While there have been recent revitalization investments, some of these have pushed poor women out of their livelihoods, replacing them with men and commercial farmers.

Water for basic domestic purposes is subsidised through the equitable share which supports implementation of national policy that at least 6 kilolitres per household per month should be provided free of charge. Often, however, the poor do not receive their free basic water share, either because they have not been provided with services, or because the 6 kl per month is not sufficient for the number of people in one yard or household.

3. Taking action

The risk is the ongoing monopolization of scarce water resources by the middle-class. The middle class, business and industry are able to protect and develop their access to water through the construction of privately funded infrastructure and preferential access to the bureaucracy. There is also still substantial public funding in this arena.

The problem is exacerbated by poor regulation of water use. The regulatory system needs deliberately pro-poor and effectively implemented. Innovative and less administratively burdensome measures should be introduced to regulate large impact water users in parallel with much stronger state support for small water users.

Because of our limited water resources, improving access to water for the have-nots implies that the 'haves' need to share the water that they are using now. The DWA water reallocation strategy states that 60% of water use should be in black hands by 2024, but little has been done to reach this target.

The rural and urban poor and working class need state support to improve their access to and control of their largely 'informal water economy'. The state must ensure improved and appropriate infrastructure, as well as technical support to these communities to support the effective use of water for poverty eradication and improved livelihoods. This requires a strong partnership between the Departments of Water Affairs, Agriculture, Rural Development and local government.

It is also important that the poor are involved in the process of decision making on matters that affect them. Along with this, there is a need to bring indigenous or local knowledge in water management into the decision making process. The challenge is how to ensure that the range of structures enable this process, including not only state structures such as ward committees, but the structures of the left as they operate at the community level through to the national level.

Water and economic planning must be strongly integrated, whether at the national, provincial, catchment or local level. An important concept in this regard relates to multiple use services. Historically, provision of water for domestic and productive purposes has been done by different institutions - municipalities vs the Department of Water Affairs- resulting in separate planning and provisioning arrangements. A better approach is to plan jointly for the multiple water needs of a community, ensuring that their domestic and productive needs are all provided for.

4. Conclusion

It is the role of the progressive developmental state to ensure that people have access to water to meet their developmental needs. Integrated rural development programmes, priority programmes to address the water needs in informal settlements, a co-ordinated land and water reform programme, targeted regulation controlling illegal water use and pollution, and strong support programmes for small scale water users, must be developed and implemented through inter-governmental co-operation. The must be a reallocation of water to the poor and to historically disadvantaged communities. Even a small amount of water reallocation makes a major difference to the health and well-being of poor communities, particularly in rural areas.

DWA is currently revising the National Water Act and the Water Services Act. In this it is critical that the legislation addresses the practical implementation of reallocation of water to the poor. A strong economic regulator is also needed to ensure differential water use charges are paid by water users, to meet the needs of the poor and ensure that the state does not subsidise the middle class. Strong intervention by the left is needed to make this happen.


Let us defend our democratically elected President of our republic and our movement against the DA sponsored motion of no confidence

By Justice Piitso

In the year 1961 just after the triumph of the victorious revolution led by the rebel army the US through its trained mercenaries invaded the republic of Cuba at Playa Giron (also known as the Bay of Pigs). The attack took place just a day after the commander in chief Cde Fidel Castro proclaimed the socialist character of the Cuban revolution. The strategic objective of the invasion from the point of view of the US was to overthrow the popular revolutionary government led by Fidel and restore the autocratic government of the US backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

On the same historic day of the occasion of the proclamation of the socialist character of the Cuban revolution, the Commander in Chief of the revolution had to say the following" the Cuban people have created a revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble. And for this revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble, we are ready to give our lives".

The heroic battle of Playa Giron and the subsequent declaration of the socialist character of the Cuban revolution was a culmination of a political process that liberated Cuba from the ignominy of the world imperialist domination. The determination of the people to emancipate themselves from the hands of the dictator eventually placed the destiny of the heroic island into their own hands. In the words envisaged by the Cuban national hero Jose Marti "Cuba was a society with all and for all".

The heroism and victory of the people of Cuba at the battle of Playa Giron was indeed a glorious victory against a motion of no confidence sponsored by the US led imperialism against a revolutionary government built on the foundations of the popular will of the people. Playa Giron will forever signify and decorate the memories of the history of the struggles of the working class as a giant leap forward, as a mother of all battles during the era of humanity that represent the first military defeat of the US imperialism in the Latin America.

The same year on the African continent the world witnessed yet another US imperialist sponsored motion of no confidence extirpate the life of one of the extraordinary revolutionary leader of our mother continent Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. The revolutionary leader of the Congolese independence struggles volunteered his life for the advancement of the noble cause for liberation of humanity. The blood of this hero and the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the republic of Congo nourished the tree for the liberation of the people of our continent.

On the occasion of the independence day Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba had to say the following profound words" no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that it was by fighting that it has been won, a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood. We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and a just struggle, and indispensable struggle to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force."

"We have known harassing work, exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us.... We have known ironies, insults, blows that we endured morning, noon and night, because we are Africans ... We have seen our lands seized in the name of allegedly legal laws, which in fact recognized only that might be right.... We will never forget the massacres where so many perished, the cells into which those who refused to submit to a regime of oppression and exploitation were thrown."

After independence the Congo basin became the battleground for the control of its vast rich resources by the forces of imperialism. It became apparent that super powers such as Belgium, France, Britain, and the USA were not ready to forfeit their large investments in the area. The above mentioned circumstances led to brutal assassination of this rare but the most revolutionary leader of our African continent Patrice Lumumba.

The assassination of Patrice Lumumba will always remind us of the words by the Fidel Castro at the United Nations when he said" the achievement of political independence is only a first step of national liberation, because there remains the struggle for economic independence in the face of imperialist economic domination.

History has taught us that the access to independence by the people who have freed themselves from the subjugation of the colonial powers is, at the same time, the last act in a long struggle and the first in a new and difficult battle. This is because the independence, sovereignty and freedom of our peoples who are apparently free are continually threatened by foreign control of their natural resources, by the financial imposition of official international organizations and by the precarious situation of their economies which they are determine to diminish their full sovereignty."

Later in 1975 just after the Portuguese imperialism conceded independence to its former colony of Angola, on the eve of the day on which the leader of the revolutionary MPLA President Agostinho Neto was to declare the independence of the newly liberated democratic republic, the world saw yet again another motion of no confidence sponsored by the US imperialism which escalated an insurrection that embroiled the Republic of Angola in a bloody civil war for many years to come.

One of the major contributory factors that led to the US imperialism to thwart the independence of the humane people of Angola was the Marxist ideological orientation of the MPLA as a liberation movement. From the point of view of the cold war political dynamics the victory of the MPLA in Angola constituted a serious thread to the colonial interests of the apartheid regime in the southern tip of the continent.

Through a combined military campaign the newly MPLA led government of Angola with the assistance of the revolutionary government of Cuba, defeated the insurgence from UNITA, FNLA and the south African security forces. This was indeed once again a glorious defeat by the heroic people of Angola against a motion of no confidence sponsored by the forces of imperialism against the government built on the foundations of the will of the people.

On yet another episode of a motion of no confidence sponsored by the US led imperialism, on the 11 April 2002, the world witnessed an attempted coup against the democratically elected President of the republic of Venezuela and the leader of the Bolivarian revolution Hugo Chavez. He was forcefully taken prisoner for 47 hours when the imperialist mercenaries could not succeed to dethrone him from his position as the head of state. Through popular demonstrations by the masses of the working class, the popular leader of the Bolivarian revolution was released from the shackles of the prison walls.

The masses of the people of Venezuela as they open the prison walls to rescue their leader from the hands of the Yankee, sung the courageous words of inspiration as they remember the heroism of the father of the Latin America Simon Bolivar when he said as we repeat "we are the children of storm, we are men and women of difficulties, those even when they face adversity, they fight, fight, and fight until it obeys them".

The attempted coup was a response to the progressive policies spearheaded by the revolutionary government led by Chavez. The US imperialism was against the popular radical reforms introduced by the government such as the adoption of a democratic constitution which at its heart protected the rights of the previously marginalized indigenous people of Venezuela, the establishment of democratic committees for the defense of the revolution, decisive interventions that led to the improvement of the education and health sector, nationalization of the key sectors of the economy, introduction of cooperative movement driven by the state sector and reduction of poverty and inequalities in society.

The most outstanding leader the world has ever produced in this century, the leader of the first communist state of the Soviet Union Cde Vladimir Lenin once said' the fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all the three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows, for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited oppressed masses to realize the impossibility of living the old way, and demand changes, for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the lower classes do not want to live in the old way and the upper classes cannot carry on the old way that the revolution can triumph'.

He further said' The immediate objective of the class-conscious vanguard of the international working-class movement, i.e., the Communist parties, groups and trends, is to be able to lead the broad masses to their new position, or, rather, to be able to lead, not only their own party but also these masses in their advance and transition to the new position.

While the first historical objective could not have been reached without a complete ideological and political victory over opportunism and social-chauvinism, the second and immediate objective, which consists in being able to lead the masses to a new position ensuring the victory of the vanguard in the revolution, cannot be reached without the liquidation of Left and Rightwing doctinairism, and without a full elimination of its errors'.

During the occasion of the second anniversary of the Cuban revolution the Commander in Chief Cde Fidel Castro had to say the following" a revolution is the most complex and the most convulsive of all historical events. It is an infallible law of all revolutions, and history teaches that no true revolution can ever fail to be an extraordinarily convulsive process. If it is not, it is not a revolution.

Even the foundations of a society are affected, and only a revolution can affect the foundations, and the pillars upon which a social order rest are shaken, and only a revolution can shake them. If these foundations are not affected, the revolution could not take place, because a revolution is something like the raising of an old building in order to put up a new one. The new building cannot be built on the foundations of the old. Thus, the revolution in its process must destroy in order to build".

Imperialism institutionalized its policy of colonialism as an anchor of its foreign policy during the meeting attended by fourteen member states of the European countries and the USA in 1884 at the private residence of the imperial chancellor and the architect of the German empire, Otto van Bismarck. In was at the meeting that he presided at his private residence in Berlin where the colonial powers superimposed their sphere of influence by deciding to partition the African continent and our present politico-geographical map without consulting the African people.

The colonial powers superimposed their sphere of influence on the African continent. The main focus of the agenda of the meeting was how to exploit the rich natural resources of the continent and her people. Even today over fifty years after most of the African countries gained their independence, we are still faced by the similar thread, of the exploitation of the resources of our continent by the neo-colonial forces.

The establishment of the union of South Africa in 1910 was another motion of no confidence sponsored by the British imperialism in collaboration with the international monopoly capital, that saw the black people in general in our country and the Africans in particular excluded from becoming active participants and architects of their own future. The participants at the peace treaty of Vereeniging outrageously rejected the possibility of the participation and involvement of the black people from the political process towards the formation of the union of South Africa.

The exclusion and segregation of the black people from becoming active participants within the political mainstream of the country resulted in the formation of the South African Native National Congress in 1912. The movement became a platform to advance the wishes and aspirations of the black people of our country. For over a period of 90 years the ANC led protracted struggles as an outlawed political formation for the creation of conducive conditions for a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

The racist apartheid regime as a way of a motion of no confidence confined millions of the overwhelming majority of the black people of our country to the most barren areas of the black reserves. They had to endure the pain of hard socio economic conditions and atrocities of the most cruel system of apartheid colonialism. They lived an unbearable life without access to the provision of essential services to improve their living conditions.

It is therefore important that we proceed from the events on the calendar of our history as we invoke our tools of analysis to locate the balance of forces and the direction and posture of our national democratic revolution. The attempts by the opposition parties to table a motion of no confidence sponsored by the Democratic Alliance and international monopoly capital against the President of the ANC and our state Cde Jacob Zuma need to be understood from this historical perspective.

We need to understand the motion of no confidence against the President of the ANC and our republic from the point of view that despite the tremendous achievements we have made to improve the living conditions of our people, the remnants of the apartheid racist regime in collaboration with monopoly capital will never have confidence in our movement and its leadership. Historical facts prove that they never had confidence that the South African working class is capable of determining its own future. Their utmost fear is the determination of the ANC led government to change the colonial economic development patterns of our country.

For every revolution to succeed it must have the capacity to expose the highest form of opportunism of those who want to defeat its end, of those who have declared themselves to be its perpetual enemy and those who vacillate between the revolution and its opponents. The masses of our people are not ready to live in the old way and are determine to shake the foundations of the old order to build the new into our future.

It is ridiculous and an insult to our people that the Democratic Alliance together with its puppets in parliament will want to compare the socio economic living conditions of our people in the current period of our democratic conjuncture to be worse than those during the apartheid era. Our departure point is to resolve the contradictions of underdevelopment, disease and poverty perpetuated by centuries of apartheid policies imposed on the majority of the people of our country.

The posture of imperialism to its former colonies is appearing in a new form of a system of its extension of neo colonialism. Therefore the motion of no confidence against our President and our movement seek to sustain the resolutions taken in 1884 by the world superpowers at the private residence of Otto van Bismarck in Berlin. The motion is in protest against the tremendous achievements of our national democratic revolution has gained to reverse the legacy of apartheid colonialism.

Imperialism has sponsored this motion in pretext that under the leadership of our President the justice system has been politicized and weakened as if during apartheid our country had any reputable judicial system. The DA is abusing the arena of our judicial system to fight its own political battles. It is abusing our courts of law to temper with our efforts of the reconstruction and development of our country.

The ANC led government unlike the apartheid racist regime has financial systems in place to account on the expenditures of the taxpayers money. It is a shame that apartheid regime is the only form of government in the world that couldn't account in how it has been using the coffers of the state. During apartheid there was no a single agency known to the citizens of the country assigned with the task of combating crime and corruption.

We call all South Africans to swell the ranks and defend our democratically elected President against the imperialist sponsored motion of no confidence. We call them to defend our democracy and its institutions in the same zeal the heroic people of Cuba defended their motherland against the US sponsored invasion during the battle of Playa Giron. We call them to defend their government at the oomph as the way the heroic people of Venezuela defended their own President in 2002.

We have to defend our democracy and our future in memory of our outstanding revolutionary and the assassinated leader of the Congolese people Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. We have to defend our democracy in memory of the millions of the people of Angola and the continent who lost their lives during the most difficult times of the US sponsored invasion of their republic, we have to defend our democracy in solidarity with the people of Venezuela and their Bolivarian revolution, and we have to defend our democracy in celebration of the centenary anniversary of our national liberation movement.

It is only through the unity of our movement that the unity of our people and the whole nation can be achieved, and it is only through the unity of our people and whole nation that the enemy of our national democratic revolution can be defeated. We have a revolutionary task to prove that we are men and women who have dedicated not only their free afternoons to their revolution but their entire lives. We have to defend our democracy for the future of our generations to come.

Phatse Justice Piitso is a former ambassador to Cuba and the provincial secretary of the SACP in Limpopo writing this article on his personal capacity.