Maverick Citizen

DROUGHT IN TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

One month into lockdown: In many communities nationwide the water situation is still dire

Children carry water home in Missionvale, Nelson Mandela Bay. (Photo: Mike Holmes)

One month into lockdown, several communities in South Africa are still without a reliable water supply. In the Eastern Cape leaders who tried to address the situation were arrested and in KwaZulu-Natal women are now harvesting rainwater for communities to wash their hands.

Last week the C-19 Women’s Solidarity Forum sent a letter to government with four demands: The immediate supply of water tanks and an investigation into why the communities’ concerns (raised many times) were not addressed, that the police and the military stop threatening women who are fetching water and address concerns about water licensing, especially in mining communities. 

Meanwhile, several community activists from Centane in the Eastern Cape are due in court in a fortnight after they were arrested for contravening lockdown regulations. They face a fine of R10,000. 

Eight men and two women, all members of the community organisation Coastal Links and Inyanda Land Movement, were arrested and charged with convening an illegal gathering on April 14. 

They represent the villages of Nobanjane, Ngcizele and Nxaxo. The 600 households in their villages are without water. 

“We have been without water since 2017. Our lives and health are now [because of Covid-19] at risk. As community leaders, we had seen that other villages in the area had been provided with water and food parcels, yet our villages were ignored. We are aware of the lockdown and the health risks of meeting and so only a few community leaders were called to a meeting and we kept our distance from each other. 

“Many leaders did not have cellphones and we didn’t know where we would go to get water, yet, the leaders were arrested. We are very upset. Access to water is a critical human right, linked to our rights to dignity, life and equality.

Thabo Lusithi from the Environmental Monitoring Group said residents in the villages are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to basic access to food and water. 

“We cannot allow them to be subjected to insensitive conduct by the SAPS as well. We need urgent intervention because lives will be lost because the lockdown is making things harder for communities whose rights to water and a safe and healthy environment have been ignored for so many years. 

“The 41,000-water tanker intervention has been important, and we acknowledge the critical efforts of Minister [Lindiwe] Sisulu to address banditry which is undermining the delivery of water to stressed communities. 

“Despite these commitments and interventions, the C19 Women’s Solidarity Forum is aware of at least 24 communities currently deprived of water supplies, which realities existed well before the start of the pandemic and the instituting of a national lockdown. 

“These communities of concern have, without exception, all registered their complaints from years prior to the Covid-19 crisis to their local councillors and local municipalities, with some having registered their problems to the ministry without redress. Now, during the Covid-19 crisis when risks are multiplied, they have made further requests which are still not being addressed,” the statement by the forum reads. 

Activists said that the long hours women are required to wait for water exposes them to the risk of coronavirus infections but also puts them in grave danger of being attacked by predatory men. They added that scarce money in desperately poor households is being diverted to pay private water vendors, often the only avenue to obtain clean water supplies. 

Community struggles described by the forum include: 

Somkhele in the Mtubatuba Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal where more than 5,000 residents have to share 2,500 litres of water when a water tanker arrives every Wednesday. 

Activists in Phola/Ogies in Mpumalanga described a shocking situation where women now have to walk 2km at night because they are turned away by the police during the day. 

In Steenbokpan in Limpopo, water tanks have been empty for the past five days and due to long lines at the only water point it takes almost a day to fill up a 20-litre bucket. 

In Shongoane in Lephalale, Limpopo residents must buy water at R500 for 2,500 litres or pay R4 for 20 litres.

Residents from Mabuela village, Mokopane, Limpopo, have been barred by the police from walking to a nearby stream to collect water. They now have to approach water brokers who are selling water at R100 a drum. 

Sekutlong village in Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality, Limpopo, has been waiting for a water tanker since April 6. As a result, the nearby Motsi River, which has been polluted by mining, is still being used by many families as they cannot afford to buy water. 

Ndondo Square in Sakhisizwe Municipality, Eastern Cape, currently has no water and water trucks do not follow a reliable schedule. 

Residents from Rhodana in Emalahleni Municipality, Eastern Cape, have to collect water from a stream that is also the water source for their animals. Some sections of the village have no access to a reservoir that has been constructed recently. 

In neither of these villages has there been any improvement, said Caroline Ntaopane from the WoMin African Alliance

“In some villages, people now have to harvest rainwater to wash their hands. It is only a little but it is all that they have,” she said. 

There is currently no water in Nduli township in the Witzenberg Municipality, where there are confirmed coronavirus infections. 

Naomi Betana of the Witzenberg Justice Centre said there were infections “all over” the area, yet several informal settlements still have no water. 

“We hear they want to come to Nduli tomorrow saying that they are handing over tanks. They pretend like the tanks are a gift. They are not. They are an absolute necessity,” she said. 

Some farm dwellers in Robertson have not received water for three weeks. The canal water is dirty as the water comes from the mountain. And there has been no rain. At least two farms are affected. The farm dwellers receive 200 litres of water every second day, which is not enough to meet even basic needs. 

In a separate letter by the Centre for Environmental Rights, Timothy Lloyd, representing Vukani Environmental Movement, wrote that despite the department’s increased efforts to ensure everyone has water, communities in eMalahleni “are yet to be reached with water tanks or tankers”. 

“We have been informed by our client that the eMalahleni Local Municipality has assured residents that water will be provided and that some water taps have since been restored; however, relief has otherwise been inadequate to date. 

“… communities continue to be reliant on nearby contaminated streams, shared with livestock and their excrement, which also run downstream from coal mines and industrial facilities. 

“Access to even this poor quality water is not guaranteed due to demand from surrounding communities,” the letter reads. 

A letter sent by 33 civil society organisations to Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, to address the water issue also had no results. Ayanda Kota from the Eastern Cape Civil Society Coalition said several areas in the province are still without water. 

“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.” 

Nosisa Sogayise, the spokesperson for the Amatola Water Board, the implementing agent for the Department of Water Affairs in the Eastern Cape, said they were intensifying their delivery to communities. 

To date, a total of 1,089 water tanks have been dispatched to Sarah Baartman District, 978 to OR Tambo District, 803 to Chris Hani District, 629 to Amathole District, 595 to Alfred Nzo District, 271 to Buffalo City Metro, 222 to Joe Gqabi District and 108 to Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.

This brings to 4,695 the number of water tanks that have been delivered in the Eastern Cape. 

“This is done in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus particularly in densely populated areas, drought-stricken areas and rural areas,” Sogayise said. 

She said where tanks are not reaching communities it might be a problem with municipalities. 

Last week during a sitting of the joint Portfolio Committee and Select Committee on Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, spokesperson for the Department of Water Affairs Sputnik Ratau said they are discussing with National Treasury how to find another R831-million to ensure that their water response can continue. 

“This would augment the current funding, but more critically will ensure the response continues and is sustainable. As at Monday April 20, 7,698 water tanks had been installed across the country, whilst 1,239 water tankers had been delivered as well. These figures are moving targets which change on a daily basis as more delivery occurs.” 

Ratau previously said communities must understand that the delivery of water tanks was not linked to the lockdown period and that the department was working as fast as it could. DM/MC

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"