Nowezile Maphosa once fainted from the effort of collecting water.
“One day I was so exhausted that I fainted on the road back home from the river. I didn’t have the strength to carry the bucket of water,” she says.
Maphosa lives with her husband, Zilindile, in the village of Mbewuleni– which means “a place of seeds” – situated 18km outside the market town of Dutywa, between Mthatha and East London in Eastern Cape.
“Water is the biggest problem for us because I have to walk a long distance every day to collect it from the river. At my age it is difficult,” says Maphosa.
Stories of rural hardship are well documented, but in the case of Mbewuleni the story is different because it is the birthplace and traditional home of former president Thabo Mbeki and was, until recently, still home to his mother, Epainette.
The people of Mbewuleni feel neglected by the government despite their close ties to the Mbekis.
Besides the daily trek for water, jobs are nonexistent and healthcare facilities are so far away that falling sick could mean death.
“If you fall sick here there is no guarantee that you will survive because there is no clinic and most of the time when you go to Dutywa they tell you there is no medicine,” says Nomilile Majola, a mother of five.
“So you have to use your money to catch another taxi to Butterworth (30km away).”
The only real change in Mbewuleni has been its electrification, which Eskom completed last year.
Spokesperson for the ANC-led Mbashe municipality Given Ntshikilana says the municipality, which serves about 260 000 people, is crippled by budget constraints and understaffing.
“We are trying our best to address this issue of getting services to the people despite the challenges facing this municipality. We have identified Mbewuleni as one of the key areas among other villages that will benefit from our intervention plans, which are under way,” says Ntshikilana.
Stats SA’s 2007 Community Survey shows how much still has to be done.
More than 38 000 households in the municipal area rely on rivers for drinking water compared to about 7 400 households that have water piped into their homes.
About 46 000 households still live in traditional huts compared to only 8 000 housed in brick homes.
» The Thabo Mbeki Foundation provided a response from Mbeki but said it was not for publication