VOTER REGISTRATION WEEKEND
‘Mister President, our biggest problem here, is water,’ Hammanskraal residents tell Ramaphosa
Parched community members urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to fix water the ongoing supply issues in the area.
“Mister President, our biggest problem here, is water,” an elderly resident of Mandela Village in Hammanskraal told ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday.
Ramaphosa was on an election registration drive in the area where early this year, more than 24 people died following the outbreak of a waterborne disease.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Hammanskraal cholera outbreak ‘represents the ears of the hippopotamus’ of SA’s wastewater treatment crisis
Hammanskraal is a sprawling settlement which includes urban and peri-urban settlements north of the capital Pretoria.
It’s an area characterised by ageing and dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, crime, high levels of poverty, unemployment and the extensive abuse of the drug nyaope [heroin].
But during their interaction with Ramaphosa residents listed dry taps among their top troubles.
“Waaaaaater is our biggest problem,” the elder speaking in Setswana said, shaking his head in frustration.
The lack of a reliable water supply was a constant lament by residents during Ramaphosa’s door-to-door walkabout in the area.
To an ear unfamiliar with the prevailing conditions here, the lament might have sounded like a rehearsed chorus by an electorate eager to get the ruling party president’s ear.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘No ongoing crisis,’ says City of Tshwane, even though Hammanskraal tap water still unfit for drinking
But residents here face the daily challenge of dry taps which, when they do eventually run, release a murky, foul-smelling liquid which some say they don’t even risk feeding to their domestic pets.
Ramaphosa listened patiently to accounts of tankers that sometimes do not deliver water to residents for weeks on end.
Elder Elias Lekgothoane and his family sat in the shade of a mango tree to chat with Ramaphosa and his entourage to share the challenges they face daily, in between sharing jokes with the relaxed President.
Later when the entourage had left, not before gifting him and other residents with yellow ANC-branded t-shirts, Lekgothoane expressed satisfaction at Ramaphosa’s visit.
“Our biggest problem is water. We told him (Ramaphosa) about the shortage of water. Also, our children don’t work, they need to help them find work.
“We are forced to buy water but we are not working. I think he heard our cries and I know he will help us,” Lekgothoane said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Cholera death toll in Hammanskraal rises to 15 as probe yet to find source of contaminated water
Another resident, Jan Malewa, said he asked Ramaphosa to help resolve the water situation and help his children to find work. He supports four other people with his R2,000 monthly pension and still has to spend a portion of it to pay for water from private sellers.
Like elsewhere in the country where communities face mounting water supply challenges, the provision of water in Hammanskraal has provided an opportunity for booming private business.
But with scores unemployed and others relying on the state’s social grants, purchasing water puts a huge dent on meagre incomes such as Malewa’s.
“The cholera didn’t affect me by the grace of God. No one in my house suffered cholera. The president told me they are still fixing the problem, we must be patient. I believe his words,” he said.
Daily Maverick reported in June about a previous visit to the area by Ramaphosa amid the cholera outbreak, in which he admitted the government had failed the people of Hammanskraal.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We have failed you, the people of Hammanskraal,’ says Ramaphosa
He told residents then that it would take R4-billion and about three years to resolve the ongoing water crisis in Hammanskraal.
In a brief chat with journalists on Sunday, Ramaphosa acknowledged the challenges with regard to water supply.
“Water is a big issue here,” Ramaphosa said. “When I came here [Hammanskraal] a few weeks ago we identified what the problem was and immediately went to the root course and national has intervened and we are now going to deliver clean water to the people in this area.”
During one stop over at a local nursery school, Ramaphosa asked that one of the suppliers contracted to supply water to the area be summoned to explain himself. The man explained that the delays in delivering water were caused by the Tshwane Metro’s failure to pay suppliers on time.
“Sometimes they pay us after three months,” said the nervous man as Ramaphosa, his entourage and scores of residents listened.
Ramaphosa, like a business executive demanding accountability from his subordinates, didn’t leave the matter at that, insisting that those responsible should be confronted and held to account.
Following the cholera outbreak in May, the Water Research Commission said in a report that the water samples collected from selected sources used for domestic purposes did not show any presence of the toxigenic cholera strain.
The commission further said analysis of water samples collected from various points in natural bodies within the designated area, revealed a very high degree of faecal contamination.
The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) laid out the water challenges in Hammanskraal, saying that it was possible that the cholera outbreak in the area was related to the pollution of water sources in the area from the City’s Rooiwal Waste Water (sewage) Treatment Works.
The department acknowledged that the plant “has not been well-maintained for many years…”
The DWS further noted that the Temba Water Treatment Works which is downstream from Rooiwal, “is supposed to clean the raw water abstracted from the dam and treat it so that it is fit for human consumption. However, the water in the dam is so polluted that the Temba Water Treatment Works is not able to treat the water such that it meets the required standards for drinking water”.
While residents peppered Ramaphosa with a myriad complaints and questions about a wide range of issues, they omitted to ask when exactly, they would be getting water. The question was asked by journalists, however. But Ramaphosa was non-committal in his response.
“This matter of water is being addressed. We have now escalated it to the national level. It used to be left for attention to local government because that is their area of responsibility. As we speak now work is being done,” he said. Mukurukuru Media/DM