14 September 2008 – The City of Johannesburg is able to appeal against a ruling that its installation of prepayment water meters is unconstitutional. Johannesburg High Court Judge Moroa Tsoka ruled Tuesday that there was a reasonable prospect that a different court could make a different finding.
On April 30, the High Court ruled that the mandatory deployment of prepayment meters was unconstitutional and that the City must remove the meters if residents ask it to do so. The court found that the meters infringe on the constitutional rights of people to have access to sufficient water.
Deployment of the meters began in 2001 as the City embarked on a project in a low-income, mainly residential area to reduce unaccounted-for water losses. A spokesman said these losses had been reduced from 40 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2007, thanks to the City’s efforts to improve infrastructure and identify and prevent leakages, and to an increased awareness on the part of consumers of the need to conserve water.
However five unemployed residents then embarked on a legal application to stop the council deploying the prepayment meters.
On Wednesday, shortly after Judge Tsoka’s ruling, both parties to the dispute recognized that the real fight would begin when the matter came before the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
Dale McKinley, a spokesperson for the Coalition Against Water Privatisation, which led the application against the City, said the finding had not been entirely surprising. "The only disappointment would be that that leave to appeal is not going directly to the Constitutional Court. We are prepared to take the case forward. Nothing fundamentally changes – new arguments will have to be made, obviously. On the ground, the struggle continues," he said.
The City of Johannesburg also welcomed the decision. The head of its legal department, Karen Brits, said the council would ask for expedited procedures so that the matter could be dealt with as soon as possible in the Supreme Court of Appeal.
"The city is obviously pleased with the judge granting the leave to appeal," Brits said. "But we’re not certain when the appeal will be heard. We will be asking the registrar of the Supreme Court of Appeal for a date as soon as possible. We don’t know if it will be heard this year or early next year.”
Following the April judgement the prepayment project was suspended and Brits said that now the “city must still look at what must happen on the ground.”