Makhanda water crisis taking heavy toll on residents, businesses
Makhanda’s municipal water crisis is making people sick, undermining businesses and staining school uniforms.
It is also bringing people together.
A dozen citizens were standing in the drizzle in the queue at Fairview Spring on the Port Alfred road outside Makhanda (Grahamstown) on Wednesday.
Builder Adam Mosala, 51, from Vukani township, who was waiting to fill plastic bottles, said he visited the spring once or twice a week.
“Our community has not had water from the taps now for three days.
“But even when there is water it is brown and we cannot use it for drinking or cooking.
“If I don’t have spring water then I must cook it [the water] and that takes electricity that I must buy.”
Despite his precautions, his seven-year-old daughter had drunk some of the municipal water from the tap and had fallen ill, he said.
“She got stomach problems and I had no money for the doctor. In the end I took her to the clinic and they treated her.
“Washing clothes is also a problem. The brown water has already made my daughter’s school clothes dirty.”
Vuyelwa Jezi from Joza said the communication and support from the municipality on the water crisis were poor.
“Sometimes when the water is bad then they will post on Facebook to say people must not drink it.
“Sometimes where there is no water they will send in tankers to supply the residents.
“But mostly the municipality says nothing. The problem has been going on a long time.
“I cannot even bath in the municipal water because it makes my skin itchy.”
This week’s water outage was just one of several prolonged outages the roughly 70,000 residents have suffered over the festive season – including over Christmas – as a result of ageing infrastructure and years of maintenance neglect.
In an attempt to solve the water crisis, the political leadership will turn to Bhisho.
ANC Sarah Baartman chair Scara Njadayi announced that it would lobby the provincial government.
“The issue of water and sewer spillages can’t be ignored as it is an immediate task but as the leadership we can’t take the sole blame, provincial government needs to play its role.
“It has a responsibility to come on board and play its part.”
Njadayi said another immediate task would be to lobby for resources.
“We are stating it here without any fear that at a particular stage there was money budgeted for [sewerage] and water channeled from the treasury to the Eastern Cape Development Corporation and we are told the money was returned.”
Andrew Penney, 47, who owns a bicycle repair and maintenance business in town, said Makhanda’s water situation had started deteriorating a decade ago and the Fairview Spring queue had been a constant for at least three years.
“Each of us will stand here for two to three hours waiting to fill our bottles.”
While bike shops elsewhere ended their services by spraying customers’ bikes down, he had long since stopped doing this because it was a waste of water, he said.
“I just wipe them down with a damp cloth instead.”
An avid off-road cyclist with a good knowledge of the Mountain Drive area south of Makhanda, he said the Fairview Spring flowed down from this high ground.
“I’ve never known the flow to fail and usually it’s so strong you have to use a funnel to channel it into your bottles.”
Incongruously in the rain on Wednesday, however, the flow was down to little more than a trickle and it was not clear why.
In town, at the Caltex service station on the corner of Beaufort and Hill streets, owner Terry Horner said water cuts had forced him to rationalise the service he offered.
“When they hit us we have to lock up our toilets and tell customers they’re not available.
“Of course it can be a real problem for motorists who have been on the road a while and who urgently need the loo.
“During those times we also can’t clean windscreens or replenish radiator water.
“We take it down to just selling petrol and checking oil. But what else can you do?”
Rhodes University Arts department lecturer Rachel Baarsch said residents were becoming increasingly frustrated.
“They see water flowing down the streets after a bit of rain but nothing’s coming out the taps. Clearly poor infrastructure has a lot to do with the situation. People are angry.
“It’s impacting on Rhodes because parents are saying we can’t send our child there because the town has no water.”
Leolita Maroun, the owner of Homeground coffee shop, said they had been forced to install a series of filters to purify the water for their beverages. “When the water supply fails altogether, we have a tank, but it can only go so far.
“Between the water and electricity breakdowns in Makhanda, it’s a constant struggle.”
A partnership approach should be taken to tackling the crisis, she said.
“There are so many capable people here and the municipality needs to invite them to become more involved.”
Pete Delport, owner of Salon Gavroche, said that after three days of no water in 2018, 2019 had not begun well.
“We had no water on Monday and no water early this morning although it has come on again now.”
To rescue the situation on these two days she had shuttled back and forth bringing in bottles of water from her tank at home, she said.
“There were two clients who needed multiple colour and toner rinses whom we had to reschedule, but otherwise we managed.”
The quality of the water in 2018 had reduced Salon Gavroche’s delivery of “crispy blondes” but this year in the High Street area the quality was much improved, she said.
Felly Mashozhera, manager at Candy’s Drop & Go laundromat, said fluctuations in the quality of the municipal water were a huge headache.
“It is unpredictable and sometimes it changes while the clothes are in the machine.
“Thenwe have to redo the clothes with extra strong detergents – an added expense.”
Sometimes the stains could not be removed and the business had to deal with claims from clients, she said.
- Additional reporting by Siyamtanda Capa..