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MUNICIPAL DYSFUNCTION

Promises, Promises, Promises – Hammanskraal residents despair of political solutions in killer water crisis

Promises, Promises, Promises – Hammanskraal residents despair of political solutions in killer water crisis
A man jumps over sewage running over a street near the Temba purification plant that supplies water to Hammanskraal. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Unrestricted access to clean drinking water remains but a dream for Hammanskraal residents in the City of Tshwane nearly a year after the deaths of dozens of people in Gauteng from cholera, an illness linked to poor water quality.

For the past decade, Hammanskraal residents have had only limited access to clean, drinkable water. Daily Maverick visited the area this week to find out how residents are coping with the situation.

Elizabeth Ramoki (66) and her five dependants survive on her R2,090 social grant for the elderly. Of this amount, she has to spend a minimum of R300 to purchase drinking and cooking water. She spends more during warmer weather. 

hammanskraal water tankers

The city has provided water tankers to the residents of Hammanskraal. However, the residents do not believe that the provided water tankers will be sufficient. ‘They have placed five water tankers all around Hammanskraal, look how many of us there are here. It’s not enough,’ a resident said. (Photo: Chane Retief)

On average, a 5-litre water bottle costs R30, which means she buys about 50 litres of water a month. 

This is despite the fact that the municipality sporadically trucks in water. Residents believe that trucked water was the cause of last year’s deadly cholera outbreak, despite no conclusive evidence this was the case.

“We will never trust that water until they [city officials] come here and drink it themselves. We have seen it kill and make people sick right in front of our eyes,” said a resident.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Hammanskraal cholera outbreak ‘represents the ears of the hippopotamus’ of SA’s wastewater treatment crisis

In addition to the trucked water, residents have access to taps, which often run dry, as was the case during Daily Maverick’s visit. On days when the water runs, residents said the taps released a murky, foul-smelling liquid which some didn’t even risk giving to their pets.

The township made headlines in May 2023 after a cholera outbreak that claimed the lives of 35 people in Gauteng, many of them in Hammanskraal.

Unlike Ramoki, Kamogelo Mataboge (49) cannot afford to buy water as he is unemployed and survives on a R350 Social Relief of Distress monthly grant. 

“It has been difficult to survive here. Officials come to make promises but never deliver. Even [President Cyril] Ramaphosa himself failed.” 

hammanskraal water

A tank delivers water to residents of Hammanskraal. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Mataboge relies on the tanked water, which he purifies at R1 per litre at one of the local businesses seemingly thriving as a result of the ongoing crisis.

On days when he has no money and when his grant is delayed, he “would rather not drink water at all”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Financially distressed Tshwane battles with ongoing strike, water shortages and service delivery failures

For the past two years, some residents obtained water from a borehole, but it has since been shut down by the City of Tshwane because a school is being built in the area. (The municipality did not respond to Daily Maverick’s questions regarding the borehole.)

Jerry Modise (70), who built and maintained the borehole, said, “We were devastated after being informed that it would be shut down, but there is nothing we could do.

“We preferred that water because it was coming directly from underground, and even those who do have money could get water for free, but it is gone now.”

Like many others, Modise said purchasing bottled water hit his pocket hard. He saved R450 from his grant every month for four months to buy a JoJo tank for R1,800. It costs R200 to refill it and this can last his family for up to two weeks. 

“When you have a big family like me you have no choice but to make a plan. Otherwise, we are at risk, especially children,” he said.

‘A danger to lives’

Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, includes urban and peri-urban settlements. The water in the area has routinely been contaminated with sewage.

In October 2023, Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka found the City of Tshwane had failed to provide Hammanskraal residents with “clean water that is suitable for human consumption”. 

Gcaleka said poor intergovernmental relations were partially to blame for Hammanskraal’s water woes.

She gave the city 60 days to come up with a plan to address the water challenges.

hammanskraal water

Residents of Hammanskraal are anxious to hear when the issue will be resolved. (Photo: Chane Retief)

“The lack of access to clean and potable water poses a danger to the lives of affected community members, constitutes a continuous gross inconvenience and improper prejudice to the residents of Hammanskraal,” Gcaleka stated in the report.

Six months after her report, little to nothing has changed, say Hammanskraal residents.

The City of Tshwane continues to use tankers to provide water for Hammanskraal residents, with each tanker costing the city just over R200,000 a month, according to a report by eNCA.

One resident said, “Sometimes it comes twice a week, sometimes it does not come at all.”

When they arrive, the water tankers are stationed at certain collection points, which some residents find difficult to reach. 

‘Progress in restoring water’

Last week, the city’s executive mayor, Cilliers Brink, said significant strides had been made towards the provision of clean drinking water and that by the end of the year, residents would be singing a different tune. 

“I am confident that we are making good progress in restoring clean water to the taps of the people of Hammanskraal,” he said during his State of the Capital Address.

hammanskraal rooiwal

A crane at the Rooiwal Wastewater Treatment Works. The plant releases water to the Leeuwkraal Dam, which supplies the Temba water treatment plant that supplies water to Hammanskraal. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

On 11 April, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu conducted an oversight project inspection of the area’s Rooiwal Wastewater Treatment Works — which is being upgraded after a previous tender was marred by alleged corruption and maladministration — and the Klipdrift Package Plant, which is being expanded to provide more water to Hammanskraal while Rooival is upgraded.

Read more in Daily Maverick: City of Tshwane seeks dismissal of officials charged in R295m Rooiwal tender scandal

After the visit, Mchunu addressed community members and assured them the government was committed to providing clean water. 

hammanskraal

From left: Minister of Health Joe Phaahla, Tshwane Executive Mayor Cilliers Brink, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi and Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu at Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Works on 8 June 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“As a ministry, we made a commitment to ensure the provision of equitable and excellent quality water supply, as well as dignified sanitation for all. Therefore, our visit to Hammanskraal is by no means just for show, nor is it politicking…

“By September this year, most households will be able to get consistent and reliable water in their homes. This will significantly improve the quality of life for more than 47,000 households and a population of 180,679,” Mchunu said.

Ramaphosa visited the area last year and apologised for the government’s failure to provide clean water.

Hammanskraal ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa (centre) and officials at the Rooiwal Wastewater Treatment Works on 8 June 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“We are sorry that it has taken the deaths of a number of people, even though we have not yet confirmed that the cholera deaths are as a result of the water supplied to residents. Your basic human right of having clean water — we have not lived up to your expectations as the people of Hammanskraal,” Ramaphosa said.

“We have failed you, the people of Hammanskraal.”

In March, Public Protector Gcaleka conducted an oversight visit to the Rooiwal treatment plant and noted that progress had been made and that the provision of clean water would not happen overnight. 

“I must say that I do acknowledge the progress that has been made since October last year by the City of Tshwane which they reported to us and we must acknowledge that it is quite a process… It is not an overnight process, that all of a sudden there is going to be water coming out of the taps and they have made provisions whilst construction is taking pace.”

‘Nothing to show for voting’

Access to water may be the most pressing issue Hammanskraal residents face, but it is certainly not the only one. The area is characterised by ageing and dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, crime, high levels of poverty, unemployment and the extensive abuse of nyaope (low-grade heroin mixed with other drugs).

hammanskraal sewage rubbish

In addition to the water crisis, the sewage problem and heaps of uncollected rubbish are apparent in Kanana, Hammanskraal. (Photo: Nonkululeko Njilo)

During our visit, there was a strong stench from sewage flowing outside people’s homes. Heaps of uncollected rubbish were a common sight.

One resident said, “I cannot recall the last time I saw a waste collection truck around here, and we are used to it.” 

With the general election just around the corner, Ramoki said that for the first time since 1994, she would not vote.

“Voting is personal, it is like saying thank you for doing this and please do this for me… I feel that my life and [the lives of] my grandchildren are still the same, so why should I vote? Look around and tell me.

“I have been voting all these years and there’s nothing to show for it. They [officials] just make promises and leave,” she said.

Boitumelo Malewa (28) lamented political instability in the area. DA-led coalitions have governed Tshwane since 2016, when the ANC lost its majority, but the coalitions have been marred by instability and the Gauteng government briefly took over the running of the municipality, which was later declared unlawful.

“The ANC and DA have both been in charge and failed. We are no longer interested in politics but [are interested in] anyone who will resolve this problem,” Malewa said.

Municipal challenges

For years, the Tshwane metro has been on a downward trajectory, heightened by political instability and tight fiscal pressures. It has been accused of mismanaging its budget of R46-billion. For the greater part of 2023, it could not pay its debtors, including Eskom and Rand Water. 

In February, all three Gauteng metros — Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane — were in deep trouble after the National Treasury announced its intention to cut a combined R1.83-billion in their development allocation grants because of underperformance. 

Tshwane received an adverse audit opinion from the Auditor-General for the 2021/22 financial year when it racked up R1.2-billion in wasteful expenditure. This, however, slightly improved in the 2022/23 financial year when it received a qualified audit opinion.

Last year, the metro was hit by a four-month illegal strike for wage increases that led to the collapse of services including waste collection, attending to electricity and water outages and fixing leaks, potholes and streetlights.

The strike turned violent and 255 vehicles belonging to the city were torched. City spokesperson Selby Bokaba said the city had not quantified the total cost of the damage. DM

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