Memefest: Love, Conflict, Imagination & Water Privatisation

I’ve recently submitted some personal design work I made to Memefest, which describes itself as an international online festival of radical communication. I think the initiative is brilliant, there are so few online communities oriented towards social or activist communication, and I think it’s a theme that is not often explored especially in the graphic design community. What does it mean to do social work when you are a designer? Should you consider yourself an activist designer only because you did some pro-bono work that was solicited by a charity organisation? Activist designers and communication professionals might think it’s more than that, creating visual content that will interact more with the intended “viewership” than an advertising campaign.

Years ago, when I was finishing my graphic design degree in university and started getting more interested about “social design”, I was looking for books regarding activist communications and found so very few discussing citizenship and design. In a world where design is too often related to selling products, I think this one is a must read: Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility.

My submission to Memefest was inspired by the water anti-privatization struggle that many communities are affected by in South Africa. I was lucky enough to be able to work with some of these communities 8 years ago, when I first visited South Africa on an internship. As the Phiri Water Case reached the Supreme Court in 2009, the Coalition Against Water Privatisation stated:

The SCA’s judgment determined that 42 litres of water per person/per day constitutes ‘sufficient’ water in terms of the Constitution, and made the provision of this amount conditional on the ‘City’s’ own assessment of what constitutes ‘reasonableness’ and ‘through available resources’. The determination further allows the ‘City’ to set the timing, character and extent of changes to its existing ‘free water policy’ and only to provide . the increased free basic amount to those who are registered as indigents with the ‘City’.

Not only does the SCA determination of the amount of ‘free basic water’ fall short of what is universally accepted and recognised as the minimum amount of water needed for basic human needs and dignity, it allows the ‘City’ to unilaterally determine and manage who enjoys their constitutional right to water and when. Crucially, it effectively legalises the treatment of the poor majority as second class citizens.

This inspired the following series of posters on the theme of the festival:

Love: on the day we became free, we thought we could enjoy our liberty, and love as water flows

Conflict: then they took away our freedom as if our lives could be metered, our love dried and turned into conflict

Imagination: we imagined a world without meters, without the privatisation of our liberty. we organized and we marched so that imagination like love can not be metered.

Update: Some informative videos are up on about the water privatisation struggle:

The Amanzi Ngawethu film was released in solidarity on the day this water struggle reached the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the 2nd of September 2009. The Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution guarantees right of access to sufficient water. However, poor communities in Johannesburg’s townships do not have sufficient water and do not receive the same water service as the richer suburbs. This legal battle aimed to secure constitutional rights for all – water is a right not a privilege!


This short film is a collaboration between:
Coalition Against Water Privatisation
Phiri Concerned Residents
Anti-Privatisation Forum of South Africa:
Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Wits University, Johannesburg:
Friction Films:

and the follow up-story here:

Jackie Dugard is the Director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI):
Anti-Privatisation Forum of South Africa:
Interview and Production: FF*

Following the six year Mazibuko Water Rights Case which reached the South African Constitutional Court last year, here is a new series of video interviews with the struggle lawyer Jackie Dugard, starting with this short update. In the following video she goes onto describe some of the challenges and connections moving forward.



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