Maverick Citizen Photo Essay

Waterless during the Covid-19 pandemic

By Lucas Ledwaba for Mukurukuru Media 21 May 2020
Caption
Children wait for the municipal truck to fill their containers with water near a water tank delivered by government after the outbreak of Covid-19. The tank has been empty for weeks due to a shortage of water in the area.( Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)

Communities without a reliable water supply continue to struggle for the precious resource despite government’s announcement of a R20bn Covid-19 stimulus package for municipalities.

Rose Maluleka’s loud voice sends a ripple of laughter among the women and children around the dozen blue drums and white buckets lined up along a dusty street in Hlanganani – an RDP settlement in the Collins Chabane local municipality in Limpopo.

They have been waiting here since sunrise – waiting for a municipal truck to deliver water. The truck, which they say last delivered water over a month ago, fills up one 125-litre drum for each household to keep up with the demand for water.

Women carrying babies on their backs are forced to endure the long wait for the municipal truck which has no set timetable. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)

“This corona might just as well kill us. We don’t have water here. With this one drum, what can you do?” Maluleka laments in Tsonga to loud giggles and cheers of approval.

Street corners in the settlement are lined up with the blue drums that have become a must-have for every household in water-stricken communities. 

The Middle Letaba Dam which supplied water to areas such as Hlanganani has almost dried up, contributing to dire water shortages in the villages around the Collins Chabane municipality. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)

Two days earlier, word went out that the truck would definitely be coming that Sunday morning. Some say the last they saw the truck was two months ago.

Maluleka, like other residents, has a tap and a flushing toilet in the yard next to her bland RDP house. The houses look almost similar in this settlement, bereft of any trappings of wealth or comfort.

Toilets in Hlanganani have stopped working after the sewerage system became clogged as a result of a shortage of water. Some residents have dug pit latrines and others relieve themselves in the bushes. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)

Residents say the taps stopped producing water over three years ago when the supply to the area suddenly stopped without explanation. Some residents continued using the toilets even when the water had dried up – leading to the sewage system being blocked. Now some relieve themselves in the bushes and others have dug pit toilets.

Ward 6 councillor Dominic Mahlangu followed the truck on its rounds, politely asking residents to stick to one drum per household to ensure everyone got some water. Some blatantly swore at him, refusing to accept this. Others grudgingly complied. 

But Mahlangu explained he was powerless in all this and was trying to ensure the water is shared among as many people as possible. The truck fills up at a water supply plant at Nandoni dam, about 40km away from Hlanganani – so if the water runs out during its rounds, residents have to endure another long wait for the driver to fill up.

Mahlangu said part of the reason the taps dried up was the low levels in the Middle Letaba Dam, which was the main supplier to the area. He also blamed the water shortages on illegal connections to the main pipeline. Local traditional leader Chief Livhuwani Matsila has laid the blame for the chronic water shortages on corruption and incompetence that has seen water projects abandoned before completion. Matsila is now working with potential sponsors to revive old boreholes and drill new ones.

Residents of Hlanganani scramble for water delivered by a municipal truck. They are not wearing masks and don’t practise social distancing despite the risk of contracting Covid-19. Their township has not had running water for the past four years and the truck only comes once in a few weeks or even months to deliver just one 200-litre drum for each household. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)

In the meantime, the suffering continues. Women walk long distances through bushes to wash their clothes in the Ritavi river that passes on the outskirts of the village. Private water salesmen make a killing selling water to the community made up mostly of indigent households that survive on social grants. 

A 2,000-litre water tank was set up in Phase I as part of the government’s R20-billion Covid-19 relief fund. But this too has long dried up and here too, residents wait for the truck to come and quench their thirst. DM/MC

Senior citizens are not spared the indignity and laborious effort required to collect water from the streets. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)
Residents rise early to wait for the municipal truck to deliver water. They say they have not seen the truck in more than two months and have to rely on buying water from vendors. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)
Surprise Baloyi patiently fills up 25-litre containers with water from a 200-litre drum filled by the municipal truck. She will then carry the water home in a wheelbarrow. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)
Vhusiwana Matsindi and Sarah Mukwevho wash their clothes at the Ritavi River. They are both unemployed and can’t afford to buy water — and the one drum delivered to them once in a while is not enough for household chores. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)
Residents of Hlanganani put empty drums in the street hoping a municipal truck will stop to fill them up with water. But the wait may take weeks or even months. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)
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