Day zero looms for Makhanda

Day Zero is looming for the town of Makhanda, formerly known as Grahamstown, which has pleaded with the national and provincial governments to step in to help prevent the taps running dry.

Mzukisi Mpahlwa, mayor of the town’s Makana local municipality, met Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti and his team this week to ask for his intervention.

Mpahlwa, who started as mayor only this week, has had to begin finding water immediately for the town’s 80 000 residents, to allay their fears.

Mpahlwa told City Press this week that they were contemplating asking the government to declare the town a disaster. He said they needed to access drought funding because the dams were fast drying up.

“We have two feeder systems for the western side which includes Rhodes University, the central business district and suburbs. This side is supplied by Settlers Dam which was sitting at 13% on Monday and the Howieson’s Poort Dam which is 23% full,” he said.

“This means that if there is no rain in the next 30 days, the western side will have to be decommissioned and will have to close because there will be no water coming out.”

Mpahlwa said the city’s eastern side, which mainly consists of townships, where most residents live, depends on the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works which can deliver only 8 megalitres (ML) a day.

The entire municipality needs 20ML of water a day, so the western side cannot receive its water from the east. He said they were now working on re-configuring the supply of water.

Mpahlwa said they were developing a water outage schedule and plan to limit water usage to 25 litres a person a day.

He was adamant that if they stuck to the plans, which include upgrading the water treatment works to produce at least 25 milli liters  a day for all of Makhanda, they would avoid Day Zero.

However, the refurbishment would be completed only in two years and would be undertaken in four phases. The town needs R170 million for the project and the provincial government has committed R140 million.

“Once this is completed, water problems will be a thing of the past,” said Mpahlwa.

Now the town has applied for a R45 million water services infrastructure grant from the water and sanitation department to repair the dilapidated water infrastructure.

Richard Gaybba, chairperson of the Grahamstown Business Forum, described the situation as serious.

“We are working on contingency plans and we have been for a long time. Many businesses have tanks, reservoirs and boreholes and some have water-saving devices. Some have grey water systems and special shower heads. So we have made provision for it,” he said.

Tony Lankester, chief executive of the National Arts Festival, said they were already working on a plan to ensure festivalgoers were unaffected.

“Our message to our visitors is that the show will go on. Yes, there might be water rationing, but we are working really hard to make sure that they are as comfortable as possible. It is not as bad as what happened in Cape Town,” he said.

Water and sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the entire Eastern Cape was affected by drought. “Obviously we can’t resolve this on our own. We have to work with the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs and look at the position of the local government association and other role players. Obviously Treasury has got to be able to be drawn in as well to look at the availability of funding ... if plans can be put in place.”

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