Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa has responded to an Eyewitness News investigation into the state of South Africa’s water crisis.
Speaking to 702 Talk Radio’s John Robbie, Molewa says government has adequate resources and will continue supplying communities with water.
She says maintaining existing infrastructure is key.
“Most of them are things we can fix. The programme we have largely embarked on at the moment is to resolve those small issues.”
The EWN investigation, which spans all nine provinces, has revealed the extent of South Africa’s water emergency and the growing pressure on government to deal with it.
Canvassing communities across the country has exposed claims of corruption, pollution and fortunes being made by those selling water or taking over the duties of municipalities.
Apartheid geography and migration patterns play a role, but at the heart of the water crisis is a breakdown in co-ordination and oversight by government as well as a failure to plan and maintain infrastructure.
From townships outside Cape Town to Nkandla and Soweto, communities tell stories of waiting almost an entire day to fill up water buckets.
According to the latest census figures, nine out of 10 South Africans have access to tap water.
But the reality on the ground paints a very different picture.
A dramatic drop in water quality perception
The last seven years have seen a dramatic drop in how communities perceive the quality of their water.
Millions of people don’t have access at all while others report queuing for up to ten hours to get a single bucket of water.
Two weeks ago, four people protesting for water were killed in Mothutlung near Brits.
We all deserve dignity
Pregs Govender, Deputy Chairperson at the South African Human Rights Commission, says South Africa has the ability and money to fix these problems and must do so urgently.
“It [government] actually has to respond to the needs of the poorest people in the country. Our Constitution is very clear; dignity is inherent for every single person.”
Municipalities have had to bring in private or semi-private contractors to deal with water problems and these deals are worth millions of rands.
The commission is due to release a landmark report on the water and sanitation situation later this year.
Government has been urged to take urgent action and look at co-ordination, planning and maintenance along with the role of industry which uses the vast majority of the country’s water.
Drinking water: a booming industry
EWN’s investigation has cast the spotlight on a booming industry surrounding the sale of clean drinking water.
In Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, selling filtered water is big business.
It costs residents R1 per litre to fill up a 25 litre container with freshly filtered water.
Residents say they won’t risk drinking water from their taps from home.
One man says he has been buying water every day for four years because the water supply is dirty.
“It is good for washing, not drinking.”
Another woman says the water smells dirty.
“It has a funny taste and sometimes has black stuff in it.”
While shop manager Annetjie Spencer wouldn’t say how much water she sells per week, she says business is good.
“I feel sorry for the customers because they have to pay for the water and some people can’t afford it.”
Inability to meet demand leads to days without water
The city is unable to produce enough clean water to meet demand which often means days without water or poor quality.
Section 27’s Sifiso Nkala has written to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to intervene and help Mpumalanga residents.
“The water we are using in Mpumalanga is contaminated. You have to buy water in order to drink.”
The Mpumalanga government appointed Theo van Vuuren to take over the role of Emalahleni City Manager as well as the executive functions of the mayor.
Infrastructure not maintained properly
He reports decades of neglect left the water treatment system unable to cope with demand.
“The infrastructure wasn’t maintained properly and wasn’t expanded. Most of the infrastructure we are working with now dates back to 1994.”
Van Vuuren says there was no oversight or accountability.
“The municipality stopped functioning in a proper manner. It was a free-for-all. There was a lot of corruption which took place.”
He urged communities to be vigilant and demand better services from their leaders.
Moretele suffers unexplained water cut-off
Residents of Mmakaunyana in the Moretele Local Municipality have been buying 200 litres of water for R20 or more.
Residents told Eyewitness News that their village’s water supply was cut-off in April last year without any explanation.
A woman, who relocated to Johannesburg because of a lack of services in the area, says her family is operating a thriving business through selling water to locals.
She says they sell 20 litres of water for R1 and 200 litres for R15 to stay competitive as there are four other places that sell filtered water in the area. The Morotele local municipality has not been available for comment.
Rhodes University hit by water problems
Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape has been particularly hard hit by water problems as have some of the townships in the area.
In one instance, there was no water for over two weeks.
Psychology student Melanie Dott said that her apartment was hit by every water outage.
“Most of us were sick from the beginning of last year right until the end. There was absolutely no hygiene. You couldn’t wash your hands after you have gone to the bathroom, there was no flushing, washing dishes or bathing and we were recooking on old pots so we were getting sick from the food.”
The Limpopo water crisis
The water crisis in Limpopo has been described as a ticking time bomb, a human rights violation and yet another blatant example of empty promises.
The death of a five-year-old boy who died in a pit toilet last week has increased pressure on government to address water shortages in schools.
Locals not convinced
But locals aren’t convinced it’s enough to spur officials into action.
A grade nine pupil says she isn’t holding out for any immediate changes.
“We just keep telling government to do something but they never do anything. They do more talking than acting.”
Thousands of schools in rural Limpopo are on the sanitation waiting list but principals say they will only believe in progress when they actually see it.
Residents of Protea South in Soweto, south of Johannesburg say until each household has at least one tap, their basic human rights will continue being violated.
Service delivery has been an issue in the area with the community being hit by a series of violent strikes.
Up to 10 households share single tap
Water is one of the community’s biggest issues with up to 10 households often sharing a single piped tap that has been illegally connected from elsewhere.
Sibongile Radebe, who has been living in the area since 1998 says she’s disappointed that her community has seen little change over the past 16 years.
“I just want to have my own tap in my yard.”
Another resident Sipho Ndlovu says he’s concerned about how the lack of clean water will impact his health.
Ndlovu says the few piped water taps scattered across the community are evidence of government’s neglect of the people.
Losing faith in politicians
Although he says he is voting for change in the upcoming elections, he has lost faith in politicians delivering on their promises.
In Soshanguve, residents wait on average between eight to 10 hours per day for her one container of water.
But this water is only enough to drink and cook with.
As most residents of the settlement do, Refiloe Kgwele bathes along with her little boy in a rubbish-filled stream nearby.
Her arms are covered in rashes from the stream’s water and she says although she is treating it medically, if living conditions don’t improve, neither will her health.
Illegal connections rife at Enkanini
Illegal water connections are rife in the Enkanini informal settlement.
The close to 4,000 residents share four taps and five toilets.
A woman, who didn’t want to be named, says locals are fed-up.
She explains residents took matters into their own hands as their request for increased services fell on deaf ears.
The woman says illegal connections are increasing.
EWN came across several exposed water pipes indicating more illegal taps will be appearing soon.
‘Risking life and limb’
In the informal settlement of Siqalo, resident Prince Njokola says he is willing to risk life and limb during a march to the Western Cape legislature set to take place on 11 February.
Organisers of the march warn while they will do their best to ensure the march is peaceful, they can’t exclude the possibility things may spiral out of control.
In October last year, a similar service delivery protest in the Cape Town CBD turned violent when some protesters looted stores.
Thousands without water in Nkandla
In Nkandla hundreds of households go without a steady water supply.
While controversy rages around President Jacob Zuma’s “fire pool” and reservoir, people in villages next door say their children often miss school because of the water problems.
An old and often dry reservoir supplies water to three communities in the area.
Women and children carry muddy buckets of water to and from the river.
Mbekeni Sibisi, who has lived in the rural hamlet his entire life, says fetching water is a daily struggle.
He and his wife raise their six grandchildren.
“I am an old man. If there is no source of water there is nothing we can do such as washing the children’s uniform, making it difficult for them to attend school.”
Residents rely almost completely on subsistence farming and watering crops without a steady supply of water is difficult, if not impossible.
Source: Eyewitness News