Premier Mabuyane asked to intervene as Eastern Cape villages remain without water
As the third week of lockdown kicked in, with none of the promised water tanks arriving, communities from several Eastern Cape villages wrote to the premier of the province, begging for his intervention. Pictures of trucks apparently bringing thousands of tanks into the province were widely shared on social media, but they are not reaching the villages.
Several Eastern Cape community leaders have asked Premier Oscar Mabuyane to intervene after promised water tanks failed to arrive. They were meant to be part of the government’s interventions to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
In March 2020 President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the outbreak of coronavirus infections in the country a national disaster. He ordered a lockdown on 27 March that was due to end on 16 April, but last week he extended the period to 30 April.
Now, more than two weeks into lockdown, desperate communities are still struggling to access water. Over 30 organisations have written to the premier asking for his help.
“We write this letter as Eastern Cape Civil Society Coalition (consisting of over 30 provincial social movements of mostly the poor). The aim of this letter is to register our presence and to make you aware of the plight of those we work with.
“We are aware that you get reports from departmental and municipal officials, but we urge you to look beyond those reports. Reliance on them only will make you miss critical challenges faced by the poor in various parts of the province. The now well-known challenges of municipalities in the province is a good example of the point we are making. A lot of people are suffering and the pandemic worsens the situation,” the letter read.
“A number of communities in the province are struggling to access water. The lack of water makes it impossible for people to even observe basic hygienic requirements required to stop the spread of the deadly virus. Water is not only crucial for the hygienic requirements, but is also extremely important for food production. The following areas are either without water or have limited access to water: Bira, Jekezi, Makana municipality including Grahamstown/ Makana, Nomanjana and other villages in the Mnquma Municipality are without water, Ndlambe Municipality including Alexandria, Bathurst and Port Alfred, Ngqushwa Municipality (some villages entirely without water)
Nosabakho, Ntshentshe, Rura, Sqithini and Thyefu. The Raymond Mhlaba Municipality has some areas without water); Cala and the surrounding settlements in Sakhisizwe either have no water or the water is muddy and a health hazard.
“At the same time, we are aware of the undertaking His Excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa [made to provide] water tanks and food parcels. The promised JoJo tanks have not been delivered to the villages mentioned above. The same JoJo tanks that were promised for Makana, in particular for Nkanini, ten days back have not arrived yet in Nkanini. The failure to provide water amounts to the denial of a basic right in terms of Section 27 of South African Constitution.
“The situation in the province is very dire. For instance, in the OR Tambo district barely six per cent of homes have piped water while less than one tenth of households have flush toilets. The district is home to almost one and a half million people – two-thirds of whom are under the age of 25. Yet most young people are unemployed. Only 18% of residents have finished school. Close to 60% of households are headed by women, many of whom are pensioners,” the letter reads.
“Also worsening the situation is the marginalisation of the broader body of civil society in the province that is not afforded the opportunity of partaking in decision-making processes,” the letter continued. “This happens despite the President’s calls for everybody to put their shoulder to the wheel. The President has also called for solidarity. We would like to work with the government for our communities. Now is the time for solidarity and humanity. We have the opportunity now to renew our country.”
“Please communicate directly with the people in civil society,” the letter continued. “Act with immediate effect to remove the blockages to the delivery of food and water. This has to be done by starting with rapid delivery of the promised JoJo tanks and food parcels, and establishing an emergency communication centre where abuses by officials are reported; and take decisive action against municipalities that have failed the people.”
Ayanda Kota, from the Unemployed People’s Movement in Makhanda, said after their successful court application to have the Makana municipal council resolved, their water situation has improved. “The water is only off at night now. With other communities it is terrible. It is really bad. Some places in the Transkei are absolutely shocking,” he said.
Dr Fani Ncapayi from the Cala University Student’s Association, said the situation in Sakhisizwe Municipality, based in Cala, was absolutely desperate. Most of the houses here share communal taps. There is no water in the taps. Several villages have no water.
“At Lady Frere in the Chris Hani Municipality there had been rain but because of poor service and the long drought there is no water in the taps. People are desperate. They are getting water from the rivers. This is not good water.
“The Xonxa dam has water but the water is sent to Komani and the villages that are right next to the dam, they have nothing. In 2018 there was some work being done to create a reservoir for these communities but the system didn’t work.”
In Sakhisizwe people don’t have water. The water system doesn’t work. We have reported it several times but it didn’t help. The water system only delivers water to some areas. In Cala there are two informal settlements. They have no access to water. Where there is water, it is very muddy and dirty,” said Ncapayi.
“People are relying on water being trucked to the villages but this service is not reliable. Sometimes the truck will come. Sometimes it won’t. Sometimes they are delivering all the water they have to the homes of people with influence. They fill up their JoJo tanks for them. People in the villages have to walk very far to collect water. With the lockdown people are really struggling to access water.
“Farmers in nearby villages have no water for their crops or their livestock. People are really struggling to wash their hands. A lot of people are at risk here. Government tells us to do this, and they just assume that we have access to water. Nobody is helping us,” Ncapayi said.
Nosintu Kwepile from Xilinxa village near Butterworth said despite all their requests and pleas for assistance they have received no help from anybody.
“The police were here the other day. They found every single person in their homes. We are really trying but now the food is running out. We have no water. There was a man here who sold water at R70 for a 5l can. The taps are closed. Some days they are open for a day or two but then the water dries up again.
“People are only going out to collect their spinach from the garden but today we don’t have water to boil the spinach. We are really struggling. I am sad today. I don’t know where to turn anymore. Everything we had is finished. We want to wash our hands but if you pay that much for water you have to divide between the cooking and drinking and then there is not a lot of water left to wash your hands. I am feeling very despondent today. I feel like crying. It is very hard for us,” she said.
The organisations have requested a meeting with Mabuyane. Fani said the premier had agreed to meet with them on Sunday 12 April but this meeting was cancelled as he had to attend a meeting at the Westbank prison in East London where there was an outbreak of the coronavirus.
“We haven’t heard anything since,” he said.
Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusi Sicwetsha referred all queries about water to the Amatola Water Board, the implementing agent for the government’s water programme during lockdown. The MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Xolile Nqatha’s office also referred all questions to the Amatola Water Board. Nosisa Sogayise from the Amatola Water Board acknowledged receipt of questions but has not responded.
Last week a spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, Sputnik Ratau, said the department, through the Amatola Water Board, had to date delivered 3,355 water tanks and 168 tankers (trucks) in all districts and metros around the Eastern Cape.
He said tanks had been delivered to Buffalo City Metro (209), Nelson Mandela metro (108), Alfred Nzo District Municipality (415), Amathole District Municipality (492), Chris District Municipality (575), Joe Gqabi (76), OR Tambo District Municipality (670) and Sarah Baartman (810).
“While some tanks have been installed and already are in use, a huge number of them are in the process of installation. While they are awaiting installation, the department has instructed that all tankers be used to either service tanks that have already been stationed around municipalities or to provide water directly from the tankers at strategic points.
“The Eastern Cape had been declared a drought disaster province and these Covid-19 interventions come on the heels of previous drought interventions that have been spearheaded by the department. Thus, these tanks and tankers will also act as remedial efforts to tackle the ongoing drought in the province,” he said.
The Amatola Water Board has established a “war room” in East London, where daily meetings are scheduled to update the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) led by Deputy Minister Pam Tshwete, the department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and Mabuyane’s office.
This, Ratau, said, was to “ensure that the directive from Minister Sisulu is implemented with precision”.
He said Tshwete had, however, emphasised that these tanks will be delivered, installed and filled with water by the department, but that municipalities were expected to maintain these tanks and ensure that they are placed in accessible areas where people in rural areas and informal settlements can have access to water.
On Monday Ratau said they wanted to make it clear to communities that the intervention by the department was not linked to the lockdown period.
“The delivery of the tanks is still in progress. We are working with the manufacturers directly. Not all the provinces have the capacity to manufacture these tanks. This is a process more than an event. It is happening and it is ongoing. We check every day to see if we are making progress. We are coming with the tanks. We are rolling them out countrywide. The demand is very high.
“The rural areas are a priority to us. We understand their plight. They mustn’t lose hope. We are nowhere near finished with the roll-out,” he said. DM/MC
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