When he was growing up in Tswera village in Vhembe in Limpopo, Edzisani Silima used to swim in the same Tshiswavhathu River from which all the villagers got their drinking water.
Many years later, he returned to the village where many of his relatives still reside, only to find that not much had changed.
Silima said he was dispirited to see that the locals were still drinking water from the river. Women and children were spending most of their days making the long trek up the hills to fetch water from the river.
The river, which tumbles down from natural springs up in the mountains, is also a source of water for the abundant wild and domestic animals such as baboons, monkeys, small antelope, cattle and goats.
READ: Twenty-year wait for potable water in Hammanskraal continues as residents seek alternatives
Tswera, located about 25km north-east of Thohoyandou in the Thulamela Local Municipality, has a dependency ratio of 85.5% and 271 households, according to data from Stats SA.
Silima, who runs a water purification company and a college in Thohoyandou, decided to do something, as he was worried about the conditions in the village.
After consulting with community members and the local traditional authority, Silima procured water pipes, purifying filters and detergents.
He then contracted a qualified plumber to install the pipes, which run for about 600m from the mountain down to the Tswera Primary School in the village below.
The water is purified through a network of filters before more pipes branch out into the villagers’ homes, which were supplied with water storage tanks as part of a government project.
Now the villagers no longer have to ascend the mountain to fetch water, and they get the precious resource around the clock in their homes without worrying about whether it will make them ill.
Silima said the dire situation had pushed him to act: “I started this project because I was deeply concerned about the health of the people here. I even asked the health workers about the sickness people could get from drinking contaminated water.
Added to the challenge of the quality of the water downstream was the risk residents, especially women and children, faced when venturing into the mountains to fetch water.
The area is home to a variety of venomous snakes and some residents have reported spotting leopards in the mountains.
Silima said the cost of procuring the pipes and filters did not worry him. The filters, which are installed along the pipeline and under the taps, are unaffordable for most of the residents.
READ: Greater Tzaneen Local Municipality under fire for contaminated water
“My only worry was for people to have clean water, that’s all. That is why I even went out to find somebody to install the pipes and filters in a professional manner and paid him, because my only concern was that people should have clean water,” Silima said.
Although he left the village decades ago, Silima visits every month to check on the project.
“We check on the pipes and filters [regularly] and, if there’s a need to replace or repair some of them, I get the plumber to help us with that,” he said.
READ: ‘Dodgy’ water in our pipes
Local resident Mulalo Nekhavhamba, who is a member of the Tswera Primary School’s governing body, also helps with the changing and cleaning up of filters and pipes.
The permanent flow of water has transformed his life and homestead. He is now able to grow his own vegetables and fruit, and has created a beautiful garden around his home.
“Before this, we really struggled. We had to carry water from up there in the hills. We couldn’t plant anything. Now I plant everything – from spinach to tomatoes, everything,” Nekhavhamba said.
Muvhoni Mukwevho, who also helped with the installation of the filters, said the project had brought relief to the village.
“With these filters, I think it is very helpful for our community. We are installing them mostly at the schools where children spend most of their time, which means they get clean water most of the day.
“They will also get clean water when they get home because the water is purified by the filters,” she added.
Silima believes that, with a little contribution from everyone, South Africa can become a better place.
“My advice is that we need to think about the people first. How can you help the people by whatever means? If they are suffering, then you ought to think about how you can meet them halfway,” he said. – Mukurukuru Media