Out-of-work graduate’s purification startup a tonic for water and jobs crisis in rural Limpopo
As part of an NGO initiative, Mulalo Mudau is now able to supply residents of Tshikonelo with long-awaited clean drinking water in an area plagued by service delivery problems, poverty and unemployment.
A 30-year-old unemployed university graduate has started a purified water project to help fellow villagers access clean water and fight unemployment in her village of Tshikonelo outside Malamulele in Limpopo.
Water struggles in the villages of Limpopo
Tshikonelo and the surrounding villages, which fall under Vhembe District Municipality, there is a serious lack of water. The villages at times go for months without water, leaving them with no choice but to go and draw water from the nearby Luvuvhu River. Others buy water from those who drilled boreholes in their yards.
Villagers struggle to access clean drinking water, despite the fact that the R1-billion Nandoni Dam lies only a few kilometres away. Yet, communal taps in the village are often dry.
Water Champions opportunity
Mulalo Mudau is one of four unemployed people, from a pool of 20 trainees who was awarded a water purifying business by non-government organisation Kusini Water to help her community access clean drinking water.
“We were about 20 young people from around Limpopo who went for training. I’m so happy that I passed. I am now selling purified drinking water to my community. I’m also happy because I’m going to be an employer,” said Mudau.
A borehole was drilled at her home and a kiosk with a water purification system linked to the borehole was given to her to operate. After the water is purified, it’s bottled and ready for sale. Villagers visit the kiosk to buy
bottled water while others bring their own bottles and containers to buy water.
She started operating the business in June, 2023. So far she is running the operation on her own but hopes to employ another person in the near future.
Struggle to find employment
Mudau joined the programme in order to own her own business and support her family of 10, including her child and sister, who is the only breadwinner. After acquiring her Honours degree in Microbiology, she spent almost five years looking for employment.
“I registered at the University of Venda for microbiology in 2011 and in 2015 I graduated. I then registered for an honours degree in 2017 and graduated in 2018. After failing to get employment I then registered with TUT [Tshwane University of Technology] doing a Master’s in Water technology,” Mudau said.
According to the latest survey by Stats SA, the graduate unemployment rate of 10.6% is 22.3 percentage points lower than the national unemployment rate. However, unemployment among graduates has skyrocketed over the last decade. The report also stated even young people with degrees are struggling to find employment in South Africa.
Training as a water champion
Early this year, Mudau saw a post by Kusini Water on social media offering unemployed youth the opportunity to train towards becoming Water Champions.
“I was trained for six days — three days online and another three days was physical training. The training focussed on water quality and the importance of good quality water on health and wellbeing. It was also focused on business strategies, how to market a business, how to increase sales,” said Mudau.
She said she was also trained in team building, financial management, branding and leadership.
“The good thing about this is that you don’t only become a businesswoman but one is also contributing in helping fellow villagers to access clean drinking water,” said Mudau.
Turning the tide for clean water
Residents of Tshikonelo said their taps have been dry for months. Tshikonelo resident Teboho Maluleke said the last time the community received piped drinking water from Vhembe District municipality was in February.
“We are forced to buy water from those individuals who sell water, some go to the nearby Luvuvhu River to draw some water, “ said Maluleke.
Limpopo’s population is about 90% rural. The province is brimming with rivers and dams. However, most areas lack clean drinking water.
Community member David Madadzhe told Daily Maverick that he welcomed the initiative by Mudau to bring purified water to the area.
South Africa’s water crisis
According to Kusini statistics, about six million South Africans lack clean drinking water while one in nine people globally still do not have access to water. One out of three schools in South Africa lacks access to clean water and adequate sanitation, according to a report by Kusini.
Meanwhile, in Hammanskraal outside Pretoria, more than 20 people recently died after contracting cholera. The community has for years been complaining about having to drink dirty water. Tshwane Municipality’s trucks are now said to be delivering clean drinking water.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We have failed you, the people of Hammanskraal,’ says Ramaphosa
Upliftment for brighter futures
The water champion programme by Kusini is only meant to train unemployed young graduates. Champions such as Mudau are not expected to pay back the money for training but are expected to grow the business and employ others in their villages who are searching for employment.
Mudau is able to make an income through the sales of clean bottled water and villagers are also able to fill their water containers at Mudau’s Kiosk. DM