Water, water (almost) everywhere

2012-11-24 21:26

Tap water remains a dream for some KZN residents, despite positive signs

On the eve of last year’s local government elections, residents of the villages scattered throughout the Zululand District Municipality were being courted by politicians promising them the most basic of ­commodities – water.

Nearly 18 months after they voted in the current administration headed by mayor Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, residents of Zululand District Municipality are divided over whether or not service delivery is improving.

Water supply has improved in the district’s urban centres of Nongoma, Ulundi, Phongola, eDumbe and Vryheid, with residents reporting far fewer days on which the piped water system fails.

Several thousand ­rural households have been added to the water grid and tanker supply to areas beyond its reach have been increased.

But during a City Press visit to the district two weeks ago, residents were still drawing ­water from muddy rivers and stinking rural boreholes.

But the municipality’s figures are impressive. Its Integrated Development Plan has allocated almost half its R560?million budget for 2011/12 to the core ­functions of water and sewage provision.

It has upped this to nearly R300 million for 2012/13, focusing on new water connections and improving those that already exist.

Water is also trucked into areas where providing piped water is hampered by terrain, distance and low population density.

Since Magwaza-Msibi took office again – she was “redeployed” during her last term by the IFP after wanting to stand against president Mangosuthu Buthelezi for the party’s top job – she has also revived the programme to build school classrooms and crèches.

Although this is not a formal function of the municipality, the council has backed the building of 27 crèches and 12 classrooms, and a training centre for the coming year. Since last May, more than 70 schools have had new classrooms built, with NGOs and the private sector contributing funds to match the municipality’s.

Ulundi’s airport has been ­revived, while a series of community business centres are ­being put together to create jobs in the largely underdeveloped rural parts of the district.

This is all serious progress.

But the sheer size of the ­district, the far-flung nature of the villages and the terrain they occupy, combined with massive backlogs, mean thousands have to continue waiting for the taps to be turned on.

Residents of Canaan, a village outside Nongoma, one of five towns that make up the 14?000km2 district, have seen little benefit from the water roll-out.

They still draw water from the borehole in which children were swimming when City Press visited the area last year.

Many residents have bought rainwater tanks so they only have to use the rank borehole water during a drought.

“The municipality promised to build a pump house so that we could get water from a tap,” says Sibongile Buthelezi (59), a lifelong Canaan resident.

“We’re still waiting. We have gone and bought tanks so we can save rainwater because the water here makes us sick. We had to spend R3?000 on this. There are 15 in this family and only one person is working.”

At Silver, a village on the banks of the Umfolozi River between Ulundi and Nongoma, residents still draw water from the river, which was dark with mud from torrential rains when City Press visited it last week.

Zama Ndlovu, an unemployed 27-year-old, is sceptical about ever being able to open a tap and drink water.

“We have been promised ­water so many times. I’m still getting water from the river. So is everybody in the area. I don’t know if it will happen,” she says.

Gugu Dlamini, a 24-year-old teacher from Nongoma, is more optimistic about development.

“There has been improvement in the roads to the rural ­areas around town. The water supply is better. There are still problems with electricity supply but there are improvements. There’s lots of signs of improvement around the town, so I’m hopeful for progress.”

A woman draws water from the muddy Umfolozi River in Nongoma in northern KwaZulu-Natal

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