He does not consider himself a hero, but, to the villagers of Mamburu, Phineas Mapfumo Madaela is simply the best.
After getting tired of seeing members of his community get up at the crack of dawn every day to queue for hours to draw water from natural springs, 58-year-old builder Phineas Mapfumo Madaela decided to do something to change the dreary situation.
For 15 days, using a pick, shovel, chisel and hammer, he engaged in the back-breaking work of digging a borehole.
Madaela, who once worked for a water drilling company, used his experience to prospect for water on his large property in Mamburu, a remote village in the Vhembe district of Limpopo.
“I did it for my children and my community. I just couldn’t stand by and watch my children suffer like that. I can’t afford to drill water because I don’t have money, but I knew I had to do something – that’s when I started digging,” said Madaela.
Curious residents wondered what on earth he was up to. But whenever people from the community asked what he was doing, he would tell them that he was digging a pit toilet.
“I didn’t want to get their hopes high and end up disappointing them,” he said.
Mamburu is a dry village where accessible, clean running water has been nothing but a dream.
The village, located about 60km northeast of Louis Trichardt, falls under the Vhembe District Municipality, which lost more than R300 million of public funds in the VBS Mutual Bank scandal.
Madaela said it took him 15 days to complete the borehole, which is 10m deep and 1.2m wide.
“As you can see, we have no taps around the village. Before this borehole, we had to drink water from the river and springs that sometimes dried up. I forced myself to dig even though it took my time because I still had to do my piece jobs on the side so that I could put food on the table for my family.
“I hired people to help me, but they ran away because it was not an easy job,” said Madaela.
Initially, the borehole was operated manually with a bucket tied to a rope balanced on two poles that allowed it to sink into the water.
Madaela has since bought a petrol-operated generator, which he uses to pump the water from underground and fill up tanks in his yard.
He now also tends to an impressive vegetable garden.
The days of waking up long before sunrise to wait for water at the springs is a thing of the past for the village – everyone now gets their water from Madaela’s borehole for free at any time.
Maria Munzhelele (47), a community member who collects water from Madaela’s borehole, said it had changed their lives for the better.
“I no longer spend many hours queuing at the spring,” Munzhelele said.
“Those days of waking up in the early hours of the morning and queuing for water are gone, and it’s all thanks to Vho-Madaela.
“We are grateful because he does not charge us anything and we come here at any time to get water, and it’s always available,” she said.
Titus Mamburu, the traditional leader of the village, also sang Madaela’s praises.
“I am very happy that, after all the hard work he did, he didn’t become selfish and say the water was only for him and his family. Instead, he shares the water with the community.
“Now everyone wants to be like him and it’s a good thing,” said Mamburu.
He said that, in the past, the community had engaged several times with the Vhembe municipality and begged them for a water supply.
“Even if it was just drilling one borehole for us, but still, there is no change. We are grateful that we have a Good Samaritan like Madaela who has found a temporary solution to eradicate our biggest problem as a community,” he said.
Vhembe district municipality spokesperson Matodzi Ralushai said they had projects to address the water shortages.
“ … all villages will get water. We just have a lot of areas that we still need to cover,” Ralushai said.
Madaela’s wife Rhaina Nyathi, who supported her husband’s efforts, said the shortage of water had affected their family life.
“Our children didn’t have enough time to do their school work because, when they came back from school, they had to go and join the long queues for water,” Nyathi said.
That is now a thing of the past.
But Madaela, a quiet man with a ready smile, does not think of himself as a hero.
“Water is from God. And when people are poor like they are here, why should I sell them water that comes from God?”
– Mukurukuru Media