Fetching water is daily pain for Vhembe women

Hulisani Modjadji, carrying a bucket of water she just bought from fellow villagers, who have a private borehole. Photos by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

For over three decades, residents of rural villages in Vhembe in Limpopo have been suffering without running water and even those who reside a few kilometres from the massive Nandoni dam do not have water.

Fetching water. That is how several women in water-starved rural villages in Vhembe, Limpopo spend most hours of their days, some even walking several kilometres, carrying buckets full of water on their heads.

Every day, 51-year-old Hulisani Modjadji walks more than 3 kilometres from her house to buy water from her fellow villagers who have drilled a borehole on their property. Modjadji uses a 20-litre bucket. A single bucket full of water costs her R3.00 and she buys three buckets every day to have enough. An unemployed mother of three, who survives on a child grant and part-time jobs, Modjadji resides in Mpheni village, outside of Louis Trichardt. Mpheni is just one of more than one hundred villages in Vhembe, which do not have a running water supply.

Modjadji uses the water she buys and collects to perform household chores such as cooking, washing dishes and bathing. She shares the little water with two of her children, aged 13 and 22, the eldest staying currently in Johannesburg. “I have been getting water this way for the past 20 years and it is something which I have grown used to, though it is painful and stressful. There is nothing which we can do as no one is willing to listen to our pleas and sufferings,” says Modjadji. Before her fellow villager drilled their borehole, Modjadji used to collect contaminated water from a local river. The river has since dried up.

According to research done by Water.org, an international NGO which helps people living in poverty get access to water, women and girls spend over 200-million hours every day collecting water.

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Municipal taps have never produced a single drop of water since they were erected more than 30 years ago. Photo by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Modjadji says that she only gets a break from collecting water during school holidays when her children are not going to school as they take turns to collect water. But during school days, it is her task alone to fetch water. “The way we are living is so painful and inhumane. Look, we are forced to use little water on everything we do at home. Sometimes we even recycle water by using the water we bathed with to wash our clothes. The most painful thing is that we have a government tap within our home, but it has never produced any drop of water since it was erected more than three decades ago,” says Modjadji.

Elim hospital has been without water for six years. Photo by Health-e News

In Vhembe, the water shortage not only affects ordinary residents, but extends to the local public healthcare facilities as well, most notably Elim hospital, which is situated less than 15 kilometres from Modjadji’s house. For over six-years, the hospital has battled severe water shortages as boreholes drilled within the facility premises have dried up, while the municipal pipeline meant to supply the hospital with water is not working as it has been allegedly tampered with by residents.

Provincial health spokesperson, Neil Shikwambana, confirmed that the situation in Elim has not changed. “We still rely on the water mainly from boreholes drilled inside the hospital, mostly augmented by municipal trucks because of the perforation of the mainline coming to the hospital at the community level,“ explained Shikwambana.

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Water mismanagement by the district municipality

Some residents in Vhembe fail to understand why they do not have running water in their homes, despite residing a few kilometres away from the multi-million-rand Nandoni dam, which is full. Photo supplied

Rachel Munyai is one of the residents who battles to understand why they continue to experience water woes despite the completion of Nandonid dam in 2005. She resides in Mutoti village, outside of Thohoyandou, the same land on which Nandoni dam is built on. “The dam which is supplying most parts of Vhembe with water is less than 15 kilometres from my house but still I do not have running water within my house and to be honest, I fail to understand it, and no one can even understand this. We are suffering while there is water inside the dam nearby,” explains Munyai.

Munyai says that she spends over R800 a month to hire a van to go and fetch water for her using 20-litre buckets from a nearby village which has a running water supply.

Government response to the crisis

The Vhembe district municipality, which is responsible for the provision of running water in Vhembe, consists of four local municipalities namely, Thulamela, Musina, Collins Chabane and Makhado. The municipal spokeperson, Matodzi Ralushai agrees that water shortages remain a critical challenge in Vhembe, but he says that they have plans underway to ensure that each resident in Vhembe receives running water in the near future. “At the moment, the municipality is currently working on a technical report to connect water from Vuwani, Valdazia pipeline that will supply several Elim villages, Waterval communities and Vleinfontein,” says Ralushai.

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