Water commons and water enclosures - rough notes 1

Here are some late and rough notes of my trip to Durban and Johannesburg in March this year and on my visit to some communities in struggles around issues of water and electricity. I was there primarily to attend the five days colloquium on Economy, Society and Nature organised by the Center for Civil Society and others in Durban, South Africa (see also previous post: Toxic tour: Durban, South Africa). After the first two days of more theoretical talks on primitive acccumulation, environment and financial crises, South Africa neoliberal policies, and so on, we hear stuff from the ground . . .the mike goes around among the participants coming from many communities in struggle around Durban and other areas in Southern Africahall.jpg . . .water is here a major issue, the anger is spoken up and the private companies insults exposed, the details revealed, the water restriction coins shown. . .the effects of enclosures on the doing of the people revealed: . . .when we talk about water restriction, meters, and the capital measure imposed on the body, not only do we mean imposing water-poverty on communities. . . we also mean a change in rhythms, sociability, a re-disign and re-engineering of what is to be in relation to the other

. . .if the water comes down drop by drop because of the restrictions, women cannot easily do “multitasking”: hold that child, while preparing soup, while washing that other child hence . . .more work . . .if I have to pay for water, and do not have money, and the impact on household budget is high, and you come to visit, and is a hot day (this is Africa after all!!!) and you ask for a glass of water, I have to ask you for few rands . . .I am sorry, but I do have to ask you for it . . .they come in our houses, and put money in between you and I . . .what other society is so barbaric not only to impose restrictions on the water we use for our survival, but to put money between you and I in my house, in your house, in our houses. . .what other society is so sick to put people in condition to demand money for a glass of water!

I learn that what they call “flow restricters” or, in vernacular, “ticklers”tickler.jpg . . . these are little copper coins with a small hole in the middle . . .in the district of Kwa-Zulu Natal, but also in other areas of South Africa, as I discovered in my visit to townships in Johannesburg, water companies insert these little devices into the tap (often the only tap) available to a household so as to “help people to manage their water”. . . a household, must be pointed out, is about 10, 12 people, since it generally comprises more than one family.

In the district of Kwa-Zulu Natal, the privitised water company “Umgeni Water” fit the “ticklers” to the tap of the poorerst families who have a record of non payment or cannot pay water above the free allowance. They do so, in order to “help” the families to “manage” their consumption to stay within the monthly allowances of 6000 liters per head per month. With the ticklers, you put your bucket under the tap, and by the end of the day you have hoarded about . . .one bucket . . .patronising bastards!

Management, measuring techniques, normalised subjects, class divisions and “costumer services”. . . .they are engineering capital’s individualising measure and its calculus inside the minds of people. . . privatisation of basic resources here reveals far more than the project of favouring business interests, of making some company make money . . .it is a project of social engineerings that goes at the heart of the social constitution of capital, of micromanagement of constitution of social relations, to construct subjects normalised to market measure. . . this works through the process of the interiorization of capital’s measure and rationality, budget of singularities . . .and division . . .one family was interviewed and asked how were they coping with water meters, they said “fine”, because of “they know how to manage” . . .divisions are constructed through the social body in terms of adherence and conformity to new “value practices”, that of capital . . . . . .”goods” and “bads” are constructed, classified, and separated . . .the goods turned into exemplary, and the bads silenced and repressed. . .the rhetoric of the company is that it helps you to sort things out, but in order to do this, you have to declare the extent of your poverty, . . for example, in Johannesburg, the water company offered a deal to the poor families threatened by water cut off because of debt arrears . . .they were told that those households earning less than R1200 would see their arrears cancelled in exchange for the installation of water meters . . .(which would make the threat of water cut off real, omnipresent and built in the tap, politically de-linked from an active cut-off but technically built in the tap). In order to get this, households had to prove their poverty, with production of pay sleep, birth certificates for children and a variety of other bureaucratic details exposing their weakness and indigence to the community. . .

Another thing to notice is the introduction of costumer services in lieu of a council office as it was before privatisation . . with costumer services the problem of water erogation (as well as electricity) are always turned into and presented as individual problems, never social and political problems . . .”when you have a problem with payment, just come to talk to us”, says the company, which of course means “come to talk to us as individual costumer”, not as a social individual, an individual inserted within a context and a field of social relations, subjects having conati and operating in conditions of detritus. . . .

“free water allowance”

wateradd.jpg6000 liters per household per month . . .the World Health Organisation, puts the minimum amount of water for survival (without considering sick people and special conditions) at about 100 liters a person per day. (See articke by Prishani Naidoo referred to below). In some townships in Johannesburg (where “Johannesburg Water” operates), the calculation reveals the gap . . .in Orange Farm the average family is 8 members, which would put 800 liters the minimum per day, hence the free allowance is exhausted in 2 days . . . in other townships such as Phiri (Soweto), the average family is 16 members . . .the township household (to which the water restrictions and free allowance apply) is often a courtyard comprising the main house and an attachment that the generally poor family sublet to other often poorer inhabitants . . .

to be continued . . .meanwhile, for a sober analysis along these lines have a look at Prishani Naidoo (2005) The Struggle for Water, the Struggle for Life: the Installation of Prepaid Water Meters in Phiri Soweto Centre for Civil Society, RASSP Research Report, 1, 1-23.

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