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Water workers in the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) celebrated a Johannesburg High Court ruling on April 30 that makes it illegal to forcibly install pre-paid water metres.

The decision comes after five Soweto Township residents claimed that pre-paid meters violate the bylaws intended to protect access to water for the poor. The meters automatically disconnect water supply after a free basic amount of six kiloliters have been consumed. That’s not nearly enough water, said Soweto residents.

To remedy the situation, the township residents took Johannesburg’s water authority to court for forcing them to buy water. Lawyers for the residents said the metres infringed their constitutional rights to water.

The High Court also increased the free basic water supply from 25 litres per person per day to 50 litres. “Twenty-five litres per person a day is insufficient,” Judge MP Toska said. “They are poor, uneducated, elderly, sick, ravaged by HIV/AIDS and reliant on state pensions and grants.”

The authority, Johannesburg Water, was also ordered to give the residents the option of ordinary metres. Prepaid water metres were introduced to Soweto in 2004 and the system was then installed in other townships across South Africa.