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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 00:59 GMT
SA girl's electrocution ignites service debate
By Mahlatse Gallens
BBC News, Soweto

Oprah Rapuleng was due to start school on Wednesday, like other six-year-old South Africans, however she was electrocuted after drinking water from a standpipe near her Soweto home, in a case which has caused outrage among her friends and neighbours.

Oprah's mother crying
Oprah's mother was expecting her to start school on Wednesday
They claim that shoddy work by the company which installed pre-paid water meters affected the electrical system, resulting in her death.

Over the weekend, local children dressed in their school uniforms lined the streets of White City in Soweto to pay their last respects to their peer, while her mother wept uncontrollably.

Family spokesperson Tselane Maila says they are launching a civil suit against Joburg Water and the municipality.

"What happened there is that there was no earthing in the houses in that area. So when the girl went to open the tap water she was electrocuted."

The community alleges that electric shocks have been widespread - including in the local primary school - since Joburg Water embarked on Operation Gcina Manzi, a campaign aimed at saving 7bn litres of water lost in Soweto every month.

It is also aimed at ensuring that residents pay for services.

'High quality work'

The Anti-Privatisation Forum - a pressure group opposed to pre-paid electricity and water meters - has vowed to take the matter up to court.

They have compiled a list of residents affected, including one who lost the use of his arm in a similar incident.

Thabo Modisane
The problem is that when they cut that copper they didn't replace it. That is why it is shocking
Thabo Modisane
Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee
Constance Dlomo, who runs a creche from her home, says they are living in constant fear.

"Every time it's raining, the tap will click, then the lightning will strike. We are afraid of using the tap [so] we will close it with a cloth."

But Joburg Water insists that its work is above par.

To date the company has installed pre-paid meters in over 35,000 households and they say they have had no similar tragedies reported.

"We are quite confident that the actual work that we are doing on the property and other properties is of high quality, bearing in mind that this kind of thing has not happened before," says company spokesman Jameel Chand.

Independent electrical engineers have been hired to investigate Oprah's death.

There have also been suggestions that an illegal electricity connection at Oprah's home could have contributed to her death.

The family has admitted that the home has been running on an illegal connection for power for over two years.

'Right to power'

But Thabo Modisane, from the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, an affiliate of Anti-Privatisation Forum, dismisses this suggestion, showing me cut copper between the taps and the pipes.

The case has shocked neighbours and friends

"The problem is that when they cut that copper they didn't replace it. That is why it is shocking. It is not the problem of illegal reconnection."

APF has for the past several years been involved in illegally re-connecting electricity for hundreds of homes who were cut off for failing to pay for the services.

Mr Modisane says their campaign is intensifying.

"Every day we remove the pre-paid meters... because we don't want it - electricity or water.

"The people cannot afford to buy water or electricity everyday, every week or every month. The people are unemployed. And the people have the right."

But government has defended the installation of pre-paid meters.

It says residents are provided with free six kilolitres of water and limited free electricity.

The issue of pre-paid meters for utility services is likely to re-ignite debate on service delivery ahead of local government elections due on 1 March.

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