Bloemhof’s ‘killer water’ leaves grief in its wake

2014-06-08 15:00

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North West health and local government ­officials are set to face Boitumelong residents today to explain what was in the water that killed three infants and made hundreds of ­residents sick.

There will be no municipal manager among them. Lekwa-Teemane Municipality boss ­Andrew Makwapane quit on Thursday.

Preliminary findings released by the ­National Institute for Communicable Diseases on ­Friday reveal that the tap water in the Bloemhof township was contaminated with E. coli bacteria and viruses that also cause diarrhoea.

The germs are believed to have filtered into the area’s main reservoir during a sewage ­spillage.

The investigation continues. The institute has sent samples from the reservoir, its source – a river – and neighbouring schools for further testing at the University of Pretoria’s enteric virus and environmental research unit.

But while the search for answers continues, the three mothers who lost their babies say it’s too little, too late.

Kehapilwe Sehau (37), whose nine-month-old baby Lehlogonolo was the first casualty on Wednesday, told City Press that her son started vomiting and developed diarrhoea around 11pm on Tuesday.

“It became worse overnight and I took him to the clinic early the next day. He was examined shortly after we arrived and, while the nurse was busy with him, he took his last breath,” said Sehau.

Maserame Mogoregi’s one-year-old son ­Onalenna died in her arms while he was being transported in an ambulance to Klerksdorp Hospital.

The 24-year-old realised something was ­badly wrong when the paramedic examining Onalenna told his colleague to stop the ­ambulance and come to the back.

“[The driver] got into the back and fiddled with my son, who was not moving or showing signs of heavy breathing as he was earlier.

“He then went back to driving, turning the vehicle around back to Bloemhof Hospital without any of them saying anything,” said Mogoregi while fighting back tears.

Keabetswe Wageng (20) cannot forgive ­herself for not being with five-month-old Kabo when the little girl died.

Wageng’s aunt was sitting in the queue at Bloemhof Hospital waiting for help when Kabo died.

The Grade 10 pupil was at school at the time and her aunt volunteered to take Kabo to the hospital.

“Even though there was not much I could have done to save her, I would have preferred to be there when Kabo took her last breath. She was my life, my all, and now I will never hold her and play with her – all because of the municipality that cares less about the community of Boitumelong.”

Sehau and Mogoregi, too, blame the ­municipality.

Sehau, an unemployed mother of two – Lehlogonolo was her youngest – said: “The ­municipality was warned about the dirty ­water it provides for us, that some day it will kill somebody, yet it chose to ignore us.

“For them to say that they are sorry and they will compensate us for the money we spent for the burial is like rubbing salt in an open wound,” said Sehau.

Water has been a flashpoint for Boitumelong residents for some time: Before the May elections, protesters torched the municipal offices and a community hall as they demanded clean water, among other services.

The grieving mothers told City Press their water had been brownish and had a “funny” taste at the time of the protests and this week. But by the end of this week, it was cloudy and smelt of chlorine.

The national department of water and sanitation has advised residents to avoid drinking tap water.

Spokesperson Mava Scott said: “The community is receiving water by means of water tankers.”

Meanwhile, North West Premier Supra ­Mahumapelo’s spokesperson, Sam Mokaila, told Sapa on Friday that an interim city manager would be appointed next week.

“The exco [provincial executive council] has requested for someone to be sent from the department of local government to sit in until someone is properly appointed,” he said.

“No one has been sent yet. The request came through yesterday, so the appointment is ­expected to be made on Monday.”

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