Zululand – Promises just don’t work here any more

2011-07-23 18:58

Every morning at around 8am Zama Mbatha (27) climbs down the hill from KwaDayeni village to the mudflats on the edge of the Black Umfolozi River.

KwaDayeni is a tiny hamlet halfway between Ulundi and Nongoma in the Zululand district municipality.

She carries a 20-litre bucket and a large jug. The unemployed matriculant digs a hole in the sand and scoops out the discoloured water that rises.
She painstakingly fills the bucket and hauls it back up the hillside to the house she shares with Lasanda Mhlongo (13) and his little brother, Lindo (9), whom she looks after.

When Mbatha cooks for the two kids and herself she has to use a fire made from brushwood. Her village has never had running water, flushing toilets or electricity and she’s pretty cynical about that ever happening.

“At election time the politicians come here and promise us all the things we don’t have and that we need: roads, electricity, water, toilets, jobs. I’ve voted twice before but I don’t think I’ll vote ever again,” she says.

“They come and promise us things and then forget us. That’s what life is like here.”

Her neighbour, John Mbatha (63), a retired Anglo American employee who worked his entire adult life in Johannesburg, shares her view.

“Under the old government, after 1994, and under this new government we are talking and talking about water but there’s still none. There’s never been taps here and I don’t know if there ever will be.

“There’s a meeting about water today but I’m sick of this. We’re always promised it but never get anything. It’s only promises.’’

Mbatha says when the river is in flood residents can’t use the dirt track that links the road with KwaDayeni.

“In January, when the river is flooding, you can stand for a whole day and wait for it to go down if you want to get home. All that is needed here is a small bridge from the road for people to cross but there’s none,’’ Mbatha says.

Heavy rain brings other dangers. Mbatha and other residents say the rainy season brings outbreaks of diarrhoea, particularly among children, and other diseases they catch from drinking contaminated water.

Mazibuko Mbatha (59) says the men in the community who work in Johannesburg, Durban and other centres refuse to drink the river water, bath in it or eat food cooked in it.

“They are used to proper water there. When they take this they get sick every time they come home.

“I’m just so tired of drinking with cattle,’’ she says.

As Mbatha and other women dig for water a herd of cattle walks across the mudflats to drink from the Umfolozi.

They leave a trail of dung behind on the sand they churn up. Higher up the bank is an impromptu dump full of rusty diesel and chemical drums, the sludge from which seeps into the soil. There is only one way it can travel: downwards into the river.

Nkululeko Ngidi is a 19-year-old A science student who’s in Grade 12 at the Phumanyova High School at Canaan, on the road between Nongoma and Hlabisa, near the border of the Zululand district municipality and neighbouring Umkhanyakude.

He’s always wanted to be a pilot but his family’s economic circumstances mean that he’s had to settle for being a maths teacher next year.

Whenever Ngidi drinks water at his home it tastes like the bleach that his family has to add to the water they draw from a fetid well dug into the hillside.
“When we take water from the ground we have to add Jik to kill the viruses and bacteria that live in it. Then we can drink it,’’ says Ngidi.

When City Press visits the area he and his schoolmates are playing five-a-side football on a patch of stony, thorny ground on the side of the main road.

The touchlines are the main road and the dirt track that leads from it to Ngidi’s village. Shoes and stones double up as goalposts.

The game is hard: all flying tackles, elbows and ferocious chargedowns, the barefooted players seemingly oblivious of the danger that comes with their pitch.

“This is where we play every day. There’s no proper field. We play at school twice a year. This is where we also play cricket.

“There’s nothing else,’’ says Ngidi, who has the opportunity to enrol at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus because a teacher is willing to help him out with his fees.

His mate, Njabulo Mtshali (18), is the swimmer in their circle of friends. Sorry for him.

He and other local boys hone their swimming skills in a stinking pool of water in which they also cool off after a game of ball.

The nearest swimming pool is at Empangeni, several hundred kilometres away. There’s no municipal pool in the district and the one at Melmoth in the adjacent Mlalazi district municipality closed down a couple of years ago.

“If we want to use a pool we have to travel to Empangeni and then pay to get in,’’ says Mtshali.

“Tell me,’’ Mtshali asks, “how do I study to be a swimmer? I love it. I’m the best swimmer here and I know that I can be very good if I practise a lot. I know I can do it.’’

For Ngidi water, unemployment, recreational facilities and the condition of the local roads are the key issues that need to be addressed urgently to improve his quality of life.

“We finish school here and then we are unemployed. There are some of us who get jobs as teachers and in the police force but most don’t get a job.

“Many go to Joburg to look for work and only find out it is worse for them there,” he says.

Further back along the road is Mfemfeni, another village with no water, no electricity, no toilets and a sorry excuse for a road.

Here residents have it even worse: there’s no borehole because the distance above the water table and the Umfolozi is more than 5kms. A large group of women has gathered to fill water barrels when the water truck, funded by the municipality, arrives with the weekly delivery of drinking water.

“We can only use this for drinking and cooking,’’ says a visibly angry Jay Ntshaba.
“There’s not enough for bathing and washing clothes. For that we have to walk all the way to the river.

“The truck comes once a week but some weeks it doesn’t come at all.
“Before the elections they told us we’d get water if we voted. We voted and we got nothing. I’m not voting again.

“Write that down and tell them that.’’

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