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Quelle: RDSN / SAMWU

The Cholera Epidemic in South Africa and the Government's attack on the Working Class

Joint Press Statement October 26th, 2000 3pm

Cholera epidemic definitely caused by GEAR policy

The Rural Development Services Network (RDSN) and the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) note with grave concern the growing number of people infected by cholera in Kwa-Zulu Natal. By today, over 3000 people had contracted cholera and 33 had died.

Many people were struck down with cholera after being disconnected from their water because they were too poor to pay R51 per month (about US$6 or 5 British pounds). The Minister is finally admitting that the water cuts, which are a result of our macro-economic policy GEAR, have caused the cholera.

Both SAMWU and the RDSN have been campaigning for a minimum of 50 litres per water per person per day for more than three years now, on the grounds that the poor cannot pay for basic services with money that they do not have. In this regard,

Nehawu said "we are deeply disturbed by media reports that the victims of cholera are the direct results of GEAR driven policies. It is alleged, (by an NGO called Rural Development Network) the community ravaged by Cholera had water under Apartheid until this year in August. The GEAR strategy of cost recovery for social services (notoriously imposed and driven by IMF/WORLD BANK in Africa and other third world countries) was introduced this resulted in people loosing previously free and clean water. The community could not afford the new system of paying for water. Barely a month without clean water then there is cholera outbreak."

SAMWU and the RDSN agree completely with Nehawu that the government's macro economic policy, Gear, must be blamed for the cholera epidemic. GEAR is primarily based on commodification of all services, and paying for anything you get. After four years of GEAR, the poor of South Africa are reeling with shock. 700 thousand of us have lost our jobs, tens of thousands of us are being evicted from our homes for not being able to pay arrears, our electricity is cut, we are dying of AIDS and cholera and 650 of us are dying every day from diarrohea because we don't have water, or it has been cut off. Therefore both SAMWU and the RDSN believe that Zweli Mkhize's statement that Nehawu comments were "immature" is completely out of order.

The awful truth of this particular cholera epidemic has been uncovered by the Rural Development Services Network:

The poorest in the community living in the cholera affected areas of Ngwelezane, close to Empangeni, have got water from just 9 communal standpipe taps since 1982. They have had to share these standpipes with the Madlebe Tribal Authority lands. The community paid a flat rate for all services up until 1997. The GEAR policy kicked in at this point. Meters were installed in those homes with water. The 9 free standpipes were identified as a source of income for the TLC, and this was then converted into a card based system. Community members who could not pay for water had no option but to draw water from the infected Mhlatuze river and other boreholes. The last cholera outbreak in the area happened in 1982 during the drought, but since the cost-recovery principles have been implemented cholera seems to be rampant.

It is now costing the Department of Water Affairs approximately R 450,000 per month to provide water to the affected areas. In contrast, the Operations and Maintenance costs which the Department tried to recover from the community would only have been R370,000 per annum.

The cholera epidemic is just one more tragedy that is highlighting the absolute folly of the GEAR policy, which is even a failure in economic terms. The short-term direct costs of treating diarrhoea patients are over R6 billion a year and total annual costs are estimated at over R17 billion.

Research has shown clearly that it is far cheaper to provide free running water and sanitation than treat the victims of waterborne diseases in hospital. SAMWU and the RDSN hope that if a moral argument cannot persuade government to provide free water without further delay, then an economic argument will.

For information from the Rural Development Services Network or

Please send letters to the Editor on the situation to these newspapers:

The Sowetan;
Mail and Guardian
The Star newspaper
Business Day; copy to
Daily News
Sunday Times
Natal Witness

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