... and parched Graaff-Reinet residents have to maak ’n plan for themselves
Councillor claims the municipality is sitting on a R30m drought relief budget that is not being used
A water crisis in the tiny tourist town of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape has seen residents start their own water collection initiative, while the municipality has resorted to serving the town with 20 boreholes.
As officials advised people to boil water before consumption, a group of community members took it upon themselves to supply hospitals and schools with clean water. The group, called Giant Flag, secured the support of several businesses and recently managed to collect more than a 1,000 litres of water for the Margery Parkes TB Hospital, churches and a number of households.
A Facebook page, called “Graaff-Reinet Water Crisis”, has also been created, where anyone can donate or sponsor water for families, churches and affected communities.
Dr Beyers Naude Local Municipality councillor Samantha Graham and administrator of the Facebook page said the page was created after a number of businesses and people around the town started getting sick and complained of poor water quality.
“We have collected thousands of litres of water for people in the town. There are areas that still do not get water. The boreholes used by the municipality are just not sufficient,” Graham said.
She claimed the municipality was sitting on a R30m drought relief budget that was not being used, but officials denied that, saying the money was being used to keep the 20 boreholes in the town functional. These boreholes are being used to supply the town with water.
Businesses, hotels and bed and breakfasts – speaking through the town tourism bureau – say they have resorted to buying water in bulk for their clients.
The municipality confirmed it was experiencing a huge water problem and had warned communities to boil water before using it.
Dr Beyers Naude municipal spokesperson Wilca Smith said a broken pump station had been repaired and was functioning. Smith denied there was a sewage spillage despite a number of businesses complaining of a bad smell coming from the water.
“The water is safe for consumption, but communities can take extra precaution by boiling the water. Further to this, due to the town solely relying on borehole water, the pressures of the water to high-lying areas are low,” Smith said.
She said it was important to note that because of the low pressure of the water, it took time for water to be pumped into the reservoirs; hence consumers experienced times when there was no water.
Community member Christa Hahn described the water in the area as disgusting.
“I don’t even feed my dogs this water. Actually, the service in this entire municipality has gone to the dogs,” she lamented.
Hahn said she had resorted to buying water for her cooking and to drink. “I don’t want to take chances with my life,” she said.
Graaff Reinet Tourism Bureau’s Nokuthula Mbaile described the situation as “a hell of a mess”.
“We were warned not to drink, brush our teeth, wash and drink the water. We were told the water dam level is very low. Every day the water is turned off in the morning after 7am and turned on again after 6pm,” Mbaile claimed.
Democratic Alliance MPL Vicky Knoetze claimed the Nqweba dam was nearly empty, with just 1.6% capacity left.
“The water coming out of the taps is yellow-brown, smells of sulphur and has allegedly landed many people in hospital,” Knoetze claimed.
“I have written to Cogta MEC Fikile Xasa and have requested his urgent intervention. Drastic steps must be taken to repair the failing infrastructure and ensure that residents received quality, drinkable water,” she said.
She claimed the situation in Graaff-Reinet was getting worse, the municipality had failed to implement fines related to water restrictions and the failing infrastructure had led to raw sewage flowing down the N6.
“The persisting drought in the area is only one factor to blame for the lack of water. Tthe collapsing infrastructure in the municipality is equally to blame.
“According to the 2017/18 annual report, only 1% of the budget has been spent on the maintenance of infrastructure,” Knoetze said.
She said drought relief funding had been allocated to Dr Beyers Naude Municipality, but it had not yet been used, and there seemed to be no urgency from the municipality to take action.
“It is no surprise then that the community are taking matters into their own hands and have come together to assist those that are the worst affected by the water crisis,” she said.
However, Smith denied the claims by Knoetze, saying the municipality was on track with the expenditure of their infrastructure budget.