ROAD 2021 Local Elections
Hung out to dry: Eastern Cape community without water for almost half a decade asks the court to force municipality to help
Four years after the last tap ran dry, a number of Eastern Cape villages that fall under the Mnquma Local Municipality and get their water from the Amathole District Municipality have turned to the courts for help after their attempts to access water were met with a ‘wall of silence’.
It has been four years since the last tap ran dry in Ward 28 of the Mnquma Local Municipality. At the moment, none of the residents there have access to potable water.
Now, with the help of the Masifundise Development Trust, villagers, including a group of community leaders who were arrested during the hard lockdown in April last year for having an emergency meeting about water, are turning to the courts in desperation.
“There is currently no prospect that we will ever receive water,” community leader Lulamile Daveyton Khetshemiya said.
Lawyers for the villages will argue that the current state of affairs infringes on residents’ right of access to water, dignity and the right to a healthy environment.
With the help of the Masifundise Development Trust, the villagers are now taking on the municipalities, the Department of Water and Sanitation and Rand Water, the designated body for the roll-out of water tanks under disaster management regulations.
Khetshemiya said in court papers that the attempt to obtain a court order for emergency water within 15 days – and judicial supervision over the implementation of a sustainable water solution for the area – comes after years of repeated but failed attempts to get assistance.
“[W]e have made numerous attempts to resolve the matter without litigation. These attempts have met with no success at all,” Khetshemiya said.
He said when water tanks were rolled out to the Eastern Cape in terms of the emergency water supply programme to improve sanitation at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, they received a single tank that was only filled once.
“We are unable to take the preventative measures that could be the difference between life and death in our communities,” he said.
Ward 28 of the Mnquma Local Municipality is home to 8,180 residents and some of the poorest communities in the country.
Khetshemiya said he lived in his village with his wife, three children and two grandchildren. Their only source of income is the five child grants they receive – a total of R2,300 a month. He added that they mostly eat the vegetables that they grow themselves.
He said his house has no running water and only a pit toilet.
The closest source of water is the Kobonqaba River, a 90-minute walk away. The closest borehole is at the clinic, 20km away.
“Every day the children and I walk to the river to collect water. This is a long and arduous walk, especially when it is hot. The children carry water in containers of between five to 10 litres,” Khetshemiya said.
This is the water the family uses to drink, cook and bath with, and grow their vegetables.
“We are usually able to collect 20 to 30 litres a day,” he added.
Khetshemiya said many villagers who are elderly, frail or sick can’t make the journey and their neighbours try to help them.
“The quality of the water is poor. There are often animal carcasses in the river. We must boil the water before it is used otherwise we get sick. We are never sure though and can get sick even after the water has been boiled.”
Desperate villages sometimes pool their money, he explained, to hire a tractor that costs between R750 and R1,000 to bring 2,500 litres of water to the village.
He said that in 2008 the municipality installed 22 taps in the village – they all ran dry and some have since been vandalised.
Khetshemiya added that when President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster in the country, coupled with a hard lockdown, he and a few other community members held a meeting to discuss the water crisis.
They were arrested for breaking lockdown regulations.
Of the much publicised water tankers sent to the Eastern Cape, Khetshemiya said they have only ever seen one. “In May 2020, one tank was brought to Nombanjana Village. It was filled once. The water didn’t last a day. The water tanker never came again,” he said.
He said the villagers and many organisations that have tried to help them have been in “extensive engagements” with both the Mnquma Local Municipality and the Amathole District Municipality since March 2020.
“Many promises were made regarding the delivery of water tanks in terms of Covid-19 regulations and an investigation into the water infrastructure of Ward 28,” he said. “Despite these promises there has been little change.”
No new tanks have arrived. The taps are still dry. Five tanks that were donated by the Al-Imdaad Foundation on condition that the municipality fills them regularly and builds cement bases for them are still in the warehouses where they were delivered and never collected.
Khetshemiya said that during a community meeting, the ward councillors promised residents the tanks will be collected, installed and filled – this has never happened.
“Then we discovered that the Amathole District Municipality had been placed under administration,” Khetshemiya added.
He said the community had also received no help from the Eastern Cape provincial government or the Minister of Water and Sanitation, even though they could have intervened. DM/MC