Business in Kimberley has been hit hard by water shortages in the past three weeks, with some owners threatening to take legal action against the Sol Plaatje Local Municipality.
Sharon Steyn, the chief executive officer of the Northern Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told City Press last week that a major franchise was among the businesses taking the municipality to court.
“They [Sol Plaatje Local Municipality] must not now turn around and say that this is not a crisis, [because] it is. This is plain incompetence,” Steyn said.
The municipality shut down the water supply earlier this month for an infrastructure upgrade which was supposed to be done over two days.
However, businesses have endured financial losses as the water has not been fully restored for three weeks.
Steyn said the crisis would deter potential investors from starting business ventures in a province already struggling to build a formidable economy.
“No one wants to come to Kimberley, there is no reason for them to stay here. We do not have much happening here and with the water [crisis], no one is going to want to come here,” a frustrated Steyn said.
Kimberley is due to host the ANC’s January 8 statement next year, an event expected to bring thousands of people into the town.
Concerned by the water shortage, insurance companies have also started contacting business owners in Kimberley, warning them about dire consequences.
“The insurance companies are threatening the business owners. They are saying they will not pay if a fire breaks out at any of the businesses and, now, they are saying that business should install fire detectors worth R90 000,” Steyn said.
Anna-Marie Zimmerman, owner of Lemon Tree restaurant, said she lost R28 000 in a day because of the water cuts.
“This is a very bad situation because the water is not even drinkable. They [municipality] must really fix this so that everyone can get clean water because not everyone is able to buy water.”
Kimberley residents have taken to social media to post pictures of the murky water flowing from their taps since last year when the municipality started the maintenance work.
In some instances, the water has a green or yellow colour and many are not willing to consume it.
Steyn said many residents have resorted to buying purified water, a costly exercise for the poor.
Municipality spokesperson Sello Matsie told City Press that it was normal for the water to have a slight discolouration because of the maintenance work.
He insisted that the water was not contaminated.
“Nowhere in South Africa [is there contaminated water which is supplied to people but], even the cleanest water found in Sweden is not purified up to the level of still water. I am saying, I drink the same tap water,” he said.
But Matsie acknowledged that the municipality was at fault for prolonging the water cuts, which he said was due to unforeseen circumstances.
“Honestly, we need to apologise, it is not fair [to the residents]. Schools were hampered and I personally am devastated when schools have to be dismissed [because of water cuts],” Matsie said.
Christopher Phiri, the DA’s caucus leader in the municipality, said the party had lodged a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission about the dirty water.
The party wanted to prevent any possible health hazard.
“We lodged a complaint with the commission and we are waiting for their response because we wanted them to draw a sample so we could see whether this water is safe for our residents to consume,” Phiri said.
The commission had promised to look into the matter. Phiri slammed the municipality’s executive mayor, Patrick Mabilo, for having no contingency plan to ensure that residents are not left in the lurch.
“There was no proper planning from the office of the mayor. For more than a month, the supply of water has been unstable. Sol Plaatje [municipality] says the JoJo tanks it used in previous water shutdowns have been vandalised or stolen, but they don’t say why. It’s because these JoJo tanks were left unattended in certain areas for long periods after water had been restored,” Phiri said.
Matsie said residents would have to wait for another two to three weeks for the water to be fully restored.