Frustrated residents of the Amathole District Municipality in the Eastern Cape took their service delivery issues straight to the highest office in the land when they told President Cyril Ramaphosa about their water challenges this week.
Ramaphosa was in Gqudesi village outside Fort Beaufort on Wednesday to celebrate the 150th birthday of struggle icon and academic Charlotte Mannya Maxeke in her home town.
But instead of being a celebratory event where the president later unveiled a plaque commemorating Maxeke, Ramaphosa was inundated with complaints from residents about non-existent service delivery, not only in the village of Maxeke but the entire Fort Beaufort town.
Residents picketed outside the venue where Ramaphosa was having a stakeholder and community engagement shouting “sicela amanzi” (please give us water).
Inside the hall, residents told the president that water only started running from their taps a day before his visit.
“We have communal water taps but there is no water coming out. We get water from the river. The water only came out of the communal taps on Tuesday, the day before your arrival here Mr President. I think we were only supplied with water because you were coming.
“We have not had water here for the longest time. Our old mothers who don’t have strength to draw water from the river have to pay young people R5 to get them 20l of water,” Siyanda Bosman, a farmer in Gqudesi told the president.
Gqudesi village is under the Raymond Mhlaba Local Municipality, and Amathole supplies it with water.
The Amathole District Municipality is one of the drought-stricken areas of the Eastern Cape but also has serious financial challenges which hinder service delivery.
Lindisizwe Nikelo, secretary of the Gqudesi Community Forum, said unemployment was also rife in their village, resulting in crime in the area.
However, their biggest challenge in Gqugesi, also known as Lower Blinkwater village, was water supply.
“We don’t have water here Mr President. We drink water from the river with cattle. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when we are encouraged to wash our hands regularly, we still don’t have water.
“How are we going to wash our hands when we don’t have water? We are pleading with your Mr President to seriously look into the issue of water in our village. We are poor and we try to grow vegetables so that we have food. How are we going to water our vegetable gardens when we don’t have water?” said Nikelo.
The villagers also complained about the lack of houses and healthcare services. Residents shared how they have to pay R40 to access healthcare services in Fort Beaufort.
Ramaphosa said water was a big challenge in many parts of the country and needed to be distributed equally.
“We are a water-scarce country. So, we have got to make sure that we preserve our water but when we do so, there must be equity. There must be no water that passes through villages only to go to farms of white people, leaving our black people and black farmers without water,” said Ramaphosa.
He said despite all the challenges faced by Amathole, he would like to see the water issue resolved.
“Our people have a right to have water and therefore we must solve all the problems so that those taps must run with water not air. So, on the water issue, yes, it’s a national competency and we will do everything we have to solve it. It’s an important resource. It’s an important area of our people that we must attend to,” said Ramaphosa.
Premier Oscar Mabuyane, who accompanied the president, conceded that water supply was a major problem in the area. But he attributed the Amathole water challenges to the “chaos” at the district municipality.
He said there were dams with water in the province, but the problem was the reticulation to the people.
“This is the only province that has eight big rivers that flow from the mountains, down to the ocean but leave many people on the way without water. I think there is a lot to be done. But again, this is a national competence,” said Mabuyane.
Nceba Ndikinda, speaker of the Amathole District Municipality, said illegal water connections were a major problem.
“When the municipality picked this problem, it started upgrading the water treatment works in Fort Beaufort so that there can be more water supply in the area. But we had to terminate the contract of a contractor who was already on site because he could not do the work. So, at the moment the municipality is working on getting another contractor in three weeks’ time, in order to upgrade the water supply of Fort Beaufort,” said Ndikinda.