No change on the horizon

2011-07-30 15:02

The search for water starts as early as 5am every day. As dawn breaks, women and young girls take to the streets of Meqheleng township carrying an assortment of containers.

They head for the bulk water tanks set up by the Setsoto local municipality in the months following the service delivery protests that rocked the area in April.

The township, which lies on the edges of the great Maluti mountains and the Caledon River that serves as the international border with Lesotho, is usually freezing cold at this time of year.

In the early morning, the streets and pavements are covered with frost, and ice crystals glitter in the puddles of murky water forming in potholes along the streets.

Residents, like Lieketseng Mphahane (39), have no choice but to walk these streets.

Getting to the water tanks early means avoiding standing in long queues formed by desperate residents rushing to work or school.

Also, arriving late at the water tank may mean a long day of waiting or walking up and down the streets of the township in search of water.

Residents say when the tanks run out of water they sometimes have to wait for long periods before municipal trucks fill up the 5?000-litre tanks.

At 8am on a chilly Wednesday morning, Mphahane stands in a queue with five other women.

It is her fourth trip carrying a 25-litre bucket to the water tank that morning, having made the first at the usual time of 5am.

Her children heat the water on an electric stove for washing and tea before they head for school.

Then she goes out again to collect more water for laundry, drinking, cooking and bathing.

In most parts of the township, like in Zone 8 where Mphahane lives, houses have had taps ­installed but the water supply is ­erratic.

Mphahane says her tap has been dry for almost three days.

“Sometimes the taps remain dry for weeks,” she says.

In other parts of Meqheleng, residents say their taps have been dry for close to four years.

The struggle for water was central to a series of service delivery protests that rocked the township earlier this year.

One of the protest marches on the municipal offices ended in the brutal assault and killing of protester Andries Tatane.

The eight police officers arrested in connection with the incident are out on bail and are set to go on trial in November.

In a memorandum to the municipality, the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens, an organisation set up by residents to air their grievances, complained about the poor state of roads, eradication of bucket toilets, streets flooded with raw sewage as a result of burst sewerage pipes and irregular waste removal.

Mike Hlao (42), who lives in Zone 8, says service delivery in the township is virtually non-existent.

He says he’s been forced to live with the nauseating stench of a blocked toilet since early this year.

A trickle of greyish, stinking water from the blocked toilet dribbles past his vegetable patch and on to the street.

It’s not far from a bulk water tank that residents use.

“I’ve been reporting this problem forever, but these people don’t listen. It’s like talking to a stone,” says Hlao.

As a result, Hlao has been forced to revert to the bucket toilet on his property. But this does not solve his ­problems.

“No one collects these buckets. No one collects rubbish. It’s a hopeless situation,” he says.

Every morning he digs a hole in the veld opposite his home to empty the bucket. Then, like other residents, he throws his rubbish near a street corner.

“Children play on the dump and soon we are going to have to deal with rats,” he says.

Last year, workmen arrived to erect a foundation for an RDP house on his property, but his hopes of moving into a brick house soon have been dashed.

“This foundation is beginning to crack and I don’t know if they are ever going to build here,” he says.

Pensioner Attelina Lebesa (63) says she has lost hope of ever seeing change in her lifetime.

Earlier this year, she and her eight neighbours started digging a trench to redirect the raw sewage that has transformed their street into a stinking river after a pipe burst.

The street remains unusable for vehicles though, and residents have to negotiate a careful path laid out with bricks and stones to get to their homes.

“We are still living in shit!” says Lebesa. “Nothing changes here. I don’t know if anything here will ­ever change.”

Lebesa’s bedroom in the ­L-shaped zinc shack she calls home is cold and damp.

The area in which she lives is situated in an area of natural springs and marsh.

She bought a bag of cement that she used in an attempt to stop the water that often transforms ?her bedroom into a mini lake.

“It’s better now, but it’s still very cold in here,” she says, trying to warm up with a cup of tea in the early morning sunlight.

A commission set up by Mamiki Qabathe, the provincial MEC for cooperative governance, traditional affairs and human settlements, to investigate residents’ grievances in April has found that the water shortage was brought about by insufficient water pressure resulting from a project to eradicate the bucket toilet system.

In a report released recently, the commission also found that the bucket eradication projects to provide water-borne sanitation in Meqheleng and three other areas were still incomplete.

It also found that consultants working on the implementation of the Municipal Infrastructure Grant projects were appointed without following proper procurement processes.

“The appointments of contractors are not in all cases done through open tendering, with the result that nominated contractors are appointed without the legally required Construction Industry Development Board rating.”

The commission has recommended that the municipality ­appoint a director of technical services as a matter of urgency and that two clerks in the demand and acquisition department be suspended immediately, pending criminal investigations of fraud and corruption.

It also found that the ­municipality did not adhere to the human resource policy in the ­recruitment and appointment of employees.

But for now, another trip to the water tank beckons for ­Meqheleng’s residents.

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