‘We will kill each other for water’


Residents are growing desperate in the drought-stricken Eastern Cape

Nomantombazana Guzu is forced to guard her water tank as she fears waking up to find it empty.

Guzu, who hails from Sabalele village near Butterworth, says the water situation in the Eastern Cape is so dire that some residents have resorted to stealing water.

“I think people just put in a hosepipe and drain the water out of the water tank,” she tells City Press.

“It is so bad that people resort to stealing water. It means sooner or later, we will be killing each other over water here.”

Guzu says the community is facing the worst water crisis in years because of the drought plaguing the province.

The department of water and sanitation has since encouraged Eastern Cape municipalities to impose water restrictions as dam levels continue to plummet in most of the province.

Read: Municipal census reveals severe lack of service delivery

Guzu, who depends on social grants from two of her children and on odd jobs to get by, says she managed to save enough money to buy a 2 500-litre water tank for rain harvesting a few years ago.

But then, she adds, the situation worsened.

It got so bad that if it rained and she managed to hold some of that water in her tank, the water would be stolen overnight.

The 55-year-old mother of four says she and her community are now forced to drink water with animals from rivers.

“We drink the same water where pigs swim and where cows and sheep drink. We are in trouble. There are taps here in the village, but there is no water coming out. Sometimes water will come out from the taps for an hour. If you are not in town when that happens, you will miss out.

“It is very painful. We can survive without electricity, but without water we are dead. The water from the river is contaminated and is not good for human consumption, but we are left with no choice but to drink there because of the water crisis we are facing. Government should intervene before there is an outbreak of diseases,” says Guzu.

Butterworth is a town under the Amathole District Municipality, which is one of the province’s water-scarce areas.

Guzu says the community has resorted to buying water from trucks that retrieve it from the river and sell it to desperate villagers.

Nomantombazana Guzu says residents have resorted to stealing water from people who, like her, have their own tanks. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

“The river is very far and we cannot afford to go there every day. So, there is a truck that goes to the river to fetch water and we buy it from there,” she says.

Nomelikhaya Siphukuza (58) from KwaMlise village, also in Butterworth, says her community has to fetch water from Bawa River, far from home.

Siphukuza says she spends about R600 a month to fill her 500-litre water tank.

“The water is not even clean. We have to boil it before we drink. We also use the same water to cook, do laundry and bath. Hence, it does not even last a month.”

For Mziwabantu Lusithi (59) and his community in Thanga Village, near Butterworth, it has been three years since they last saw water running out of their taps.

Carrying a 10-litre container of water he has just bought in town in Butterworth, Lusithi says: “If you don’t have money to buy at least drinking water, you are forced to go and drink with cattle at the river. This bottle, which I bought for R10, will last us for about a week because we only use it for drinking.”

Earlier in the week, the department of water and sanitation released its weekly drought status report, indicating water storage levels across the country.

The reservoir update showed that dam levels were “struggling a lot” in the Eastern Cape – down to 56.2% last week, compared with 56.4% the week before.

The department reported that the Amathole district, which supplies water to Butterworth, was suffering from severe drought and its dams were at “a critical stage”.

But, as is always the case, some people have turned the drought into a business opportunity.

Sonwabo Mlungu and Ziphozakhe Dyani, who are co-owners of Reverse Osmosis Water Systems, are profiting from the situation by selling purified water in Butterworth and surrounding towns.

Their shop in Butterworth is a hive of activity as residents carrying containers to refill with water frequent it daily.

Current dam levels in the Eastern Cape

Mlungu says he sells more than 15 000 litres of water a day at R1 a litre, thanks to the high demand for water in the area.

He and Dyani started their business in 2017, after realising that there was a lack of water – and that even when there was water, it was unfit for consumption.

“I am pumping 15 000 litres of water as we speak. We started in 2017 and have been assisting Butterworth with conservation, water harvesting and teaching people about water awareness. We have worked very closely with the Mnquma Local Municipality.

“We are also providing people with filters, which we have at the shop, so they can install them in their tanks at home. We do not only sell water but also bring solutions to the water problems people have.

“We heard that from September 1, taps will be dry because there is generally no water. Levels of water at Gcuwa Dam are very low at the moment,” said Mlungu.

Last week, City Press visited Gcuwa Dam, the main water source for Butterworth and surrounding areas. Water levels were clearly down.

The dam was standing at 35.7% last week, compared with 39.6% the previous week.

The situation was also depressing in other areas around the province.

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