PREPAID WATER METER
The Efteq Intelligent Water Meter is an example of a ‘water management device’ or ‘prepaid meter’ from South Africa. Prepaid meters have been installed by municipalities and other water providers in many parts of South Africa since the 1990s. These meters can be programmed to release set amounts of water to control daily consumption. Prepaid meters are so-called because they require prepayment by the user, who can access water up to their credit limit using an electronic tag. Efteq notes that their meter has ‘an optional Lifeline feature’. This feature is a reflection of the South African government’s commitment to provide a minimum amount of water free to poor communities. The amount of water that should be provided free to poor users, as well as the use of prepaid meters in general, has been the subject of contention in South Africa. Civil society groups such as the Anti Privatisation Forum (APF) have mobilized communities to resist the installation of prepaid water and electricity meters, sometimes destroying or bypassing the meters. In 2008 the High Courts in South Africa, in a case brought by the APF and affiliated groups, declared the use of prepaid water meters illegal, and raised the amount of water that the state needed to supply free to users. On appeal by the state to the Constitutional Court, this judgment was subsequently overturned, and prepaid meters continue to be used in South Africa. The prepaid water meter is an object that speaks both to the apparent need to ration and manage water carefully in the face of scarcity, and to water’s increasing status as a commodity. Access to water may be restricted by a person’s ability to pay for it – in tension with the notion of access to water as a human right, or of ‘common ownership’ of water.