Butterworth residents shut down town over water woes, Eskom suspends operations

2020-02-19 08:28
Gcuwa Dam is the main supplier of water in Butterworth and surrounding areas. Its water levels are very low.

Gcuwa Dam is the main supplier of water in Butterworth and surrounding areas. Its water levels are very low. (Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana)

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Butterworth residents shut down parts of the Eastern Cape town on Tuesday to highlight their frustration over erratic water supplies during the prolonged drought. 

Eskom announced it had to suspend operations after employees received death threats, and the province's health department said people could not get treatment at clinics and had to be sent to hospitals where staff battled to get to work.

"The situation has affected a number of clinics in the area as people were being threatened and unable to get to work due to road blockades," said department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo. 

"Butterworth Hospital continues to work under difficult circumstances because residents, who were unable to receive service at clinic level, ended up at the hospital which is already operating with a skeleton staff."

Eskom tweeted it had suspended operations in Butterworth and surrounds with immediate effect after employees received threats and were insulted for working while the town was on a "shut down". 

An update from the police was not immediately available, but GroundUp has reported that protests over water have flared since last year.

READ: N2 highway blocked as Butterworth residents protest over water

The shutdown comes after growing anger at the water situation in the town, which falls under the Mnquma Local Municipality. 

The province's premier, Oscar Mabuyane, said on Twitter his special adviser would convene a technical team which would work with technicians and engineers from the water department and local municipalities to ensure water was delivered to people.

"Having them locked out also impedes on their rights," said Mabuyane, ironically under an umbrella as it rained. 

"We're trying to avoid a situation where protest action is the outcome of people's frustrations - we don't want it to get to that when it's clear as day what the demand is - and that is people want water." 

He suggested local government leaders might be dragging their feet because their terms end next year.

Leonardo Manus, an official responsible for infrastructure and national water resources in the department, explained, also in a Twitter clip, although the focus was on water, problems with maintenance and the infrastructure needed to be attended to. 

"We have to accept that the Gcuwa Dam weir's capacity is too small to sustain the demand of this area," he explained. 

GroundUp reported that in December 2015, the Mnquma Local Municipality was declared a drought disaster area by then-Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle. In October, the municipality announced it needed R944m to fight drought in the district.

Manus said the movement of water from the feeder Xilinxa Dam to the Gcuwa Dam was hampered due to siltation. A plan has been proposed to clean the water in the feeder dam in the meantime with barges with the help of Dutch specialists.

A meeting to discuss this is planned for February 20. There has also been a proposal to raise the weir at the Gcuwa Dam.

Read more on:    east london  |  service delivery  |  water  |  protests  |  health  |  drought
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