Karoo towns left high and dry after water reticulation system fails due to rolling blackouts
No water and high temperatures have hit thousands of residents in the Karoo towns of Middelburg and Cradock, as well as nearby villages, as the municipality admits that their water reticulation system had become ‘unstable’ due to constant load shedding.
Thousands of residents in Karoo towns were left with very little or no water – and access to a single water truck – as high summer temperatures, failing municipal infrastructure and rolling blackouts caused six days of water outages.
This is the second extended water outage in the area this year. In July, failing infrastructure caused an 11-day water outage in parts of Middelburg.
“We recognise that there is a crisis,” said Pheelo Oliphant, the spokesperson for Cooperative Governance MEC Zolile Williams. He indicated that the MEC had called for a report from the Chris Hani District Municipality on the causes of the water outage and plans to resolve the issue.
Chris Hani District Municipality spokesperson, Bulelwa Ganyaza, said reports received from their technical teams indicate that the water supply system in Cradock “remains unstable, affecting communities mainly in Bergsig and part of Hillside”.
She said load shedding played a major role in causing critically low water levels in reservoirs.
It is understood that, specifically in Middelburg, the generators were not working to keep pumps running, as the town was hit by three blackouts a day.
“Water demand exceeds the current supply and this is made worse by high temperatures,” she added.
She said in Middelburg, the borehole pumps were operational but only produced 56 litres per second – the demand was for 120 litres per second.
“A contractor appointed to connect additional boreholes to the electricity supply remains on site and is expected to complete work on three out of four boreholes,” she said.
Ganyaza said a water truck was delivering water to the affected towns, and by Tuesday afternoon the truck was supplying the Railway Camp, Industrial site and Correctional Services Centre as water was being restored elsewhere.
But Middelburg’s water supply, she added, remained unstable.
“High-lying areas are reportedly not receiving water,” she said.
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Eastern Cape spokesperson for Correctional Services Nobuntu Gantana said they have been made aware of the water outage crisis affecting the Middelburg Correctional Centre.
“The whole town of Middelburg. under Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality, has been without water for the past six days. The department has put contingency plans in place to ensure that inmates are provided with water for ablution and nutritional needs.
“There are four Jojo tanks at the centre. The centre has been using the departmental water truck to fetch additional water from GrootFontein Agricultural College.
“As a department, we are doing our ultimate best to ensure that inmates within our care are incarcerated in a humane environment that respects their human dignity,” she said.
Richard Jacobus from Middleburg said the water situation was a complete nightmare. “It has been days that we have had no water.”
In 2020, after a preliminary investigation, the South African Human Rights Commission indicated they were launching an investigation into the violation of the human rights of residents in the towns of Cradock and Middelburg with regard to water provision and sanitation.
Chris Hani District Municipality is responsible for the provision of water in six municipalities, of which Cradock, Komani (formerly Queenstown) and Middelburg are best known.
On Tuesday, water was also out in Hofmeyer, Cacadu, Machubeni and Mkhaphusi villages due to load shedding, and in Ngcobo due to a pump failure.
Residents of Bergsig and Hillside in Cradock had little or no water for a week, as did the central business district and industrial area in Cradock.
The local animal shelter, which cares for more than 200 animals, is also still without water and is dependent on supplies from good Samaritans, including local companies and the Cradock Community Forum.
Kobus Botha, DA constituency leader for the Cradock Middelburg area and a member of the Eastern Cape legislature, wrote to MEC Williams to ask for his help.
Botha said extended water outages have become too frequent in Cradock and Middelburg, as did extensive sewage spills. He said Williams told him that Bergsig and Hillside didn’t have water because of mechanical issues with a pump and a shortage of diesel.
Botha said the water and sanitation competency must be removed from Chris Hani District Municipality.
Last week, Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu published a notice in the Government Gazette indicating that he would like to make the Amatola Water Board the water service authority for the entire Eastern Cape, as he believed this would strengthen water services authorities (like the Chris Hani District Municipality, in this case).
Mchunu called for comments in the next 60 days.
The Amatola Water Board, meanwhile, is under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit following serious allegations of corruption and maladministration.
“This is the same Amatola Water whose staff went on strike earlier this year, leaving thousands of Buffalo City residents without water for weeks. The same institution failed to pay contractors, delaying critical upgrades to the Nooitgedacht Water Scheme at a time when Nelson Mandela Bay was facing Day Zero,” said the DA’s Vicky Knoetze.
“We cannot give control of such a precious resource, in a water-scarce province, to allegedly corrupt individuals who could exploit their position for personal gain,” she added. DM/MC