Nombanjana’s taps have been dry since 2014 but the villagers received no emergency relief during the covid-19 lockdown. When leaders protested to the Amathola District Municipality, they were arrested.
Villagers outside Centane in the Eastern Cape say their taps have been dry for the past six years.
The only time their taps have water is after rainfall and then only for less than 30 minutes. The source of water on which most of the residents of Nombanjana village depend is a river more than 3km away, though the water is not clean and has algae.
Those who cannot walk the 3km are forced to drink from a dirty stream or from a nearby dam which they share with cows and pigs. This dam is close to a dumping site and nappies are often seen in the water. In all, this village has no clean water.
Most of the people living there are elderly and raising their grandchildren, while some live alone. When this Elitsha reporter visited last week, we met a number of them who shared their struggle to get water.
Nomayinethi Mvulo is 84 years old and lives alone in her house. When we met her she had a cast on her left arm. Because of her age she said she can’t walk the 3km to the river and is forced to use dirty water from a stream 1km away from her house.
“As you see I’m only using one hand and I’m old, I can only carry a 5-litre bucket and the river is very far for an old person like me. Just to get 20 litres I have to go to the river four times a day and I use water to bath and to cook,” said Mvulo.
She said the most struggle is when she has to get water for her washing while she still has to get water for the house. Mvulo said she was born in Nombanjana village and has never tasted tap water.
We asked her if she does not get sick from the dirty water, her response was, “maybe my body is now used to the dirty water hence I do not get sick.”
Nita Pusakwe is a 16 year old living with her grandmother who is blind. We accompanied Pusakwe to fetch water carrying a 20-litre bucket. The river is far from her house and it takes her 15 to 20 minutes to get to the river. “I come here daily carrying this bucket and it’s heavy. Sometimes I come here three times a day after school,” she said.
We witnessed Pusakwe fighting with pigs for water.
“This water is dirty and sometimes I get a running stomach and rush using it but we do not have a choice; this is the only water we have.” Pusakwe said that even her blind granny fetches water from the river and she always fears that one day she might fall into the river.
Some of the residents have rainwater tanks but a lack of rain means the tanks are also dry. Reportedly, 250-litre water tanks can be brought by tractor – bit only for those who can afford to pay the R600 to R1,000 fee.
Residents say that they have been asking the Amathole District Municipality (ADM) for years to supply them with clean water but without success.
During level 5 of the national lockdown, five community leaders staged a peaceful protest demanding clean water. They gathered at the community hall in Centane but instead of receiving their petition, the municipality had the five community leaders arrested.
One of the leaders who was arrested is Harvey Ntshoko. Their case, he said, did not go to court but their cry for clean water fell as always on deaf ears. “During this pandemic time of covid-19 we saw water tanks being delivered in other towns but here we never received them. When we staged a protest we wanted to inquire about our water tanks but we find ourselves at the back of a police van,” he said.
“The last time we inquired about water tanks from ADM we were told the water tanks are still in King Williams Town; for what, we do not know because we need them in our village,” he said.
Nontando Ngamlana is the executive director of AFESIS-Corplan, a development NGO based in East London focussing on local governance. While the water crisis is faced by the whole country, she said, the situation is dire in the Eastern Cape, worsened by drought, poor planning and old infrastructure.
“Looking at Nombanjana: that village has no clean water at all. When we visited the dam used by people, there were cows, nappies and there was a dead pig. And people are drinking that water. There’s also another river which residents says it has clean water but the water I saw was not clean; the only difference is that there’s no dumping site close and lack of animals drinking there but I personally did not see any clean water,” she said.