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Nelson Mandela Bay households were told to boil tap water, but poor families ‘can’t afford to’

Nelson Mandela Bay households were told to boil tap water, but poor families ‘can’t afford to’
Donna Whitehead from 7de Laan in Nelson Mandela Bay says her family still drinks water directly from the tap because they are unemployed and cannot afford to buy electricity to boil all the water they use. (Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani)

While residents who rely on social grants say the cost of electricity and paraffin is prohibitive, a drop in the metro’s combined dam level to below 12% spells further misery.

As dam levels continue to decline with the drought in Nelson Mandela Bay, the municipality has urged people to boil tap water before consuming it. But many families who depend on social grants say they can’t afford to do so, as the cost of electricity and paraffin are on the rise.

The municipality confirmed on 7 March that the combined dam level was below 12%. “Water supply system continues to be strained due to the ongoing drought caused by insignificant rainfall. The City encourages residents to reduce their water consumption… We will continue to supply water with tankers to areas with compromised water,” it said.

The City reported that as of 1 March the daily consumption was 272 million litres per day – far above the daily target of 230 million litres.

Last week, mayor Retief Odendaal urged people in the metro to first boil drinking water. He said the quality of the water could not be guaranteed because of borehole water in the reticulation system, coupled with low dam levels.

Odendaal said: “We are not saying there is bacteria in our water and therefore it is unsafe to drink. We are saying the water may not taste as it normally does and so as a precautionary measure our residents must just boil the water before consuming it.”


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Donna Whitehead lives in 7de Laan in Gqeberha and has had sporadic water outages for at least two years. “There are times when we go two or three days without water in our taps. Then we have to go to get water from standpipes at Vastrap informal settlement. On Wednesday, water was only available in the morning,” she said.

Read in Daily Maverick:Residents in drought-hit Nelson Mandela Bay warned — save water now or mayor will come knocking

Whitehead said it is too expensive to boil water for her and her five siblings, who survive on social grants.

“When we buy electricity, we get free units once every month. For example if we buy for R100 we get another R100 worth of units for free because we get assistance from the municipality. But this electricity doesn’t even last a month.”

tap water Felicity Malgas

Felicity Malgas says she is scared to drink the tap water. (Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani)

Whitehead said her family would continue drinking the tap water for as long as it does not make them sick.

Another resident, Ainsley Elias, said they queue for hours, especially over weekends, at communal taps in Vastrap. “The water tankers don’t come often. We struggle to do the washing. Sometimes water is out for a whole day or only runs at night and it doesn’t look clean,” she said.

Elias said she still drinks the tap water. “Boiling water is too expensive. A litre of paraffin is R15 and electricity is also expensive. I only boil water for my cup of tea. I save my electricity for cooking and to heat bath water,” she said.

Felicity Malgas said she uses illegal connections for electricity but buys drinking water. “I’m scared of our tap water.” DM

First published by GroundUp.

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