Empty tanks, empty promises: the harsh, dry truth of rural life ...

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Empty tanks, empty promises: the harsh, dry truth of rural life in lockdown

In rural KZN, taps are dry, water trucks inconsistent and people share the water they do have with animals

Zimasa Matiwane

Washing their hands with urine or murky rain water they share with goats and other animals is the closest some rural residents in KwaZulu-Natal can come to enforcing the department of health’s directives to avoid contracting Covid-19.

This is the reality of life in lockdown for communities in Nongoma, who haven’t had a steady water supply for years.

For these residents, who have been pleading with the government to fast-track the provision of water, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s R500bn economic relief package, which includes the provision of water to thirsty communities, sounds golden.

While the residents say that, 26 years into democracy, the right to water should be a freedom they can count on, they are pleased they now have the leeway to pressure ward councillors to organise water trucks at least once in two weeks.

In KwaNjokwe, villagers have dug a hole in the ground to collect rain water. They use it to drink, bath and cook, and share it with goats.  

“If it takes too long to rain then we have to go to a river about 3km from this village. The water there is worse than this because the river is next to grazing pastures for cows. The water there has cow dung,” resident MaNtshangase Mncwango said.

The 53-year-old said the inconsistency of the water truck means she has to get up early to scavenge for water for her five children.

“I don’t know how we are supposed to wash hands constantly when we have no water. The little I get needs to be put in a slab of cement that draws down dirt. Then I boil it to purify it before use. Every drop counts,” she said.

This as water pipes lie on the road next to an Afriscan Construction site, a company previously linked to Sibusiso Ncube, husband of former KwaZulu-Natal co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube.

The company’s offices, which are not far from the village, were locked on Monday.

Mncwango said she is not hopeful the village will get taps soon as the pipes have been lying on the road for years.

When Times Select contacted Afriscan, a man who identified himself as Moses Sangweni refused to comment on the duration of the project or how far it is from completion.

“You must speak to the client about that, the Zululand district municipality,” he said.

Zululand district mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi said the R36m project entails the municipality installing a pipeline that will result in yard connections for 3,400 households in Nongoma.

"[The total] project value is R67m. It started in May 2019 and will be completed in August 2020,” Buthelezi said.

“Water is a luxury here. We do put pressure on the ward councillor to bring a water truck, but even that is not enough, so something as basic as water remains a luxury and we are pleading with government to help us,” Mncwango said.

In the village of Engwedleni taps have been dry for the past 13 years.

Resident Thabani Dlamini says he tries to help the community by fetching water with his bakkie at a reservoir 15km away. However, this is not a sustainable solution.

“There are 63 homes in this village. Nobody has money to buy water and I don’t always have diesel to fetch water. We need at least three JoJo tanks that can be filled maybe once a week for steady supply. We are in trouble with coronavirus. Government must help us,” he said.

Sesiwe Myeni, 67, has a small JoJo tank. When she can, she pays R450 of her R1,780 pension payout to fill it. Myeni lives with three grandchildren and two daughters, both of whom are unemployed, and says she often does not have money to buy water. 

“We hear on radio that older people can die from this virus but here I am, a grandmother with no water to wash hands. So am I supposed to die?

“At my age I have to go stand in the blazing sun waiting for water, and carry 20 litres on my head. If the virus does not kill me, I will drop dead in the water queue because I have high blood pressure” she said.

Cogta in KwaZulu-Natal allocated 30 JoJo tanks to the Nongoma community more than two weeks ago in an effort to alleviate water challenges there. However, the tanks have yet to reach their beneficiaries.

Spokesperson for Cogta Senzo Mzila said the tanks have been sent to the Nongoma municipality.

The Zululand district municipality has made available 20 JoJo tanks for the area, which Nongoma mayor Albert Mncwango says are being distributed.

“A service provider is already in the field putting up stands at particular spots in each ward identified by community leadership.”

Mncwango said the tanks will be mounted next week, with water tankers are standby to fill them.

“Cogta delivered 29 tanks on Friday. We will also be distributing them as soon as possible,” he said.