Angry Polokwane, Seshego residents up in arms over water shortages as critical elections loom

Angry Polokwane, Seshego residents up in arms over water shortages as critical elections loom
Avhalendi Netshisaulu carries her 18-month-old child along a street of Extension 76 in Seshego after drawing water from a communal borehole. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba / Mukurukuru Media)

Residents are feeling the pinch as taps run dry in Limpopo’s capital and in its biggest township. 

Limpopo resident Avhalendi Netshisaulu did a precarious balancing act carrying a full bucket of water on her head and her 18-month-old child, Mwalusi, on her hip in the streets of Extension 76 in Seshego.

Limpopo’s biggest township, just 8km west of the capital Polokwane, is in the grip of chronic water shortages that resulted in residents staging a shutdown early this month.

Netshisaulu and other residents of this sprawling township spend most of their days collecting water from a borehole located on property in Extension 76.

She makes the 1km trip from her home at least three times daily to fill up containers with water. Her older son carries some of it in 25-litre containers on a wheelbarrow, while she carries a 20-litre bucket on her head. “It’s a hard life. But what can we do?” she says.

The borehole in Extension 76 was erected by the opposition EFF late in 2023 in response to residents’ pleas for help after prolonged water cuts.

A red 5,000-litre tank stands high on the property where it was drilled, overlooking the street where residents who carry different types of containers line up to draw water from two taps.

They bring cash notes to contribute R10 towards the purchase of prepaid electricity in the Maphanga household. The borehole is powered by electricity.

Seshego is the home of EFF leader Julius Malema and, with general elections looming in just more than a month, the intervention may impact how some residents vote in Extension 76.

The township, which falls under the Polokwane Local Municipality, is under ANC rule. But there’s growing sentiment among frustrated residents that their votes need to go elsewhere this time.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections hub

“We need to change this government. We need to vote for the opposition because these ones [ANC councillors] are full of excuses,” says Zone 4 resident Sydney Mautla.

“The water doesn’t come out during the day at all. We are forced to lock our toilets. Then around 3am the taps start running for a while. We are then able to fill up buckets and bins with water. If you miss doing that at that hour then you are in trouble,” he says.

Dipuo Maphanga, in whose yard the borehole was drilled, says it has brought much relief to the area.

“Before this, we really had serious problems. People were forced to spend money buying water from trucks. And in this area most people are unemployed,” says Maphanga, whose unemployed parents are battling to settle a R33,000 municipal bill.

“We have no running water. But the municipality keeps sending us a bill. What are we paying for when they don’t supply us with water?” says Maphanga’s mother, Sarah Maphanga, who was forced out of work because of illness.

Angst and frustration

Community activist Vincent Kunutu says the water problems have caused much frustration in the township and some people have said they will not be voting in the upcoming general elections.

“We have advised people to vote. They need to exercise their right to vote on election day,” says Kunutu, the chairperson of a local forum called the Seshego Community Against Crime and Gangsterism.

“This water issue has affected the community so much. The court can’t function when there is no water. Clinics are also affected. Some schools have managed to buy JoJo tanks, which have helped,” he says.

The Polokwane municipality sends water tankers to supply different parts of the township, but residents say this is not enough.

“You have to fight to fill up just three buckets when the trucks come. It’s just chaos,” says Mautla.

Kunutu says water tankers only operate until 4pm, citing that the municipality doesn’t have enough budget to pay overtime for drivers.

“Some people are at work during the day so they are not able to access the water tankers. What should happen to them?” he asks.

“People are just waiting for election day. They have suffered a lot and they are frustrated. They will decide on election day. Water is the biggest challenge here and it is going to play a big role in the elections.”

The municipality has announced plans to tackle the water challenges. But these are yet to take effect and the residents and small businesses continue to suffer.

The water cuts have, however, given the opposition DA convenient ammunition in the run-up to the elections.

“Tankers are ineffective and not adequately monitored. While the cost of living is rising, a constant water supply is a rare luxury for residents who cannot afford to drill boreholes or pay for water deliveries,” said Jacques Joubert, the party’s caucus leader in the Polokwane council.

“While the ANC executive mayor, John Mpe, proclaims that the water crisis is under control, taps in numerous suburbs have been dry for weeks as a result of breakdowns, leaks and electrical failures from Polokwane’s bulk water supplier, Lepelle Northern Water,” Joubert said. He called for adequate and equal water demand management measures to be implemented in the city.

The municipality has announced plans to drill boreholes as a measure to augment the water shortages. Mpe said it “has made a decisive move to prioritise the drilling of boreholes as a strategic solution to augment water resources”.

“The municipality has wasted no time in initiating this vital project, with boreholes already being installed in strategic locations such as the extensions augmenting water supply to Legae la Batho, Luthuli Park and surrounding areas,” Mpe said.

“The drilling of boreholes represents just one of the proactive steps we are taking to address water scarcity in Polokwane.

“Our goal is to ensure a reliable and sustainable water supply for all residents.” Mukurukuru Media/DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.


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