“The City is setting us up to become super spreaders.”
This is the view of infuriated residents from Kensington’s 18th Avenue informal settlement. Close to 1 000 residents were forced to take to the street on Sunday 7 February after the water truck did not pitch up for four days, leaving them with no water to drink.
“Water is a human right,” and “We demand our right to running water,” were marked on some of the posters that residents carried as they walked through the streets during their peaceful protest.
Ilona Crouch, committee member of the informal settlement, says in a desperate attempt to get the City to hear their plea they decided to stage a protest.
“The truck came and delivered water on Sunday 24 January. It only returned on Friday 29 January. We are in the middle of a deadly pandemic that requires us to wash hands often. But here we are having to beg for something that is a human right.”
She adds that residents took pity on them and supplied them with water.
Their struggle with the City to supply them with basic services has been ongoing for more than 20 years (“Locals’ patience run dry”, People’s Post, 2 November 2020).
Crouch says: “When the truck doesn’t arrive, we have to go and beg by our families and by residents in Kensington. Some people charge us R50 to fill our 20 litre cans. Many of us here don’t even work, how can we still afford to pay that R50? One 20 litre is obviously too little so you would end up paying R150 or more.”
Kevin Inglis, a spokesperson for the informal settlement, says: “We are currently sitting with a new variant of Covid-19. These people are expected to keep themselves clean and wash their hands regularly, but the City is not supplying them with water. They are being set up to become super spreaders.”
With schools opening yesterday, Monday 15 February, Inglis says: “Children need to wash before they go to school, how are their parents supposed to do that if there isn’t even water to drink?”
Crouch says there were days when she had to lick her child’s hands clean so that her daughter could look presentable for school.
Johannes They (80) has been living there for over 20 years. He explains that when the water truck does arrive, they as residents must walk long distances as the truck delivers water at two points.
The senior citizen says this is a problem as he is not as young as he used to be and struggles to carry his 20 litre containers.
“We want taps, running water,” says Mimi Thorne. She too has been living in the informal settlement for over 10 years. How is it that other informal settlements easily get things like taps, electricity and other basic services that we have been begging for for years?”
Inglis says: “We had to beg these residents not to become violent during their protest. We don’t believe violence is the way forward, but we completely understand their frustration. They are being deprived of their human right to water.”
Inglis says residents are often confronted with rodents and snakes due to dirt.
Xanthea Limberg, Mayco member for water and waste, insists that the resident are occupying the land illegally and says: “The high demand this emergency service places on our resources (tankers/labour) mean that water delivery cannot occur at the same frequency indefinitely, without prolonging disruption to other day-to-day operations.”
Limberg adds: “Although delivery of water is now taking place at a reduced frequency, the City remains committed to assisting occupants of unlawfully occupied land where normal service provision is constrained by legal and/or technical factors. The Factreton/Kensington settlement should receive water every four days, although this may be adjusted based on operational requirements.”
The group has indicated that they will continue their protests until the City adheres to their demands for running water.