Bethal water crisis: Rand Water curbs supplies over outstanding municipal debt

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A woman collects water from the 'pipe of hope' connected from a  borehole at a guesthouse in Bethal. (Supplied)
A woman collects water from the 'pipe of hope' connected from a borehole at a guesthouse in Bethal. (Supplied)

Fed-up Bethal residents, who have had little or no water over the last 25 days, have launched a silent protest to draw attention to their plight.

But it didn't quite go according to plan.

"The original plan was to get as many residents as possible to gather at the Bethal Dam and then have one massive bathing session. Around 200 residents pitched up for the gathering," said Michelle Rademeyer, who spearheaded the protest action."

However, the "dam bath party", as they nicknamed the gathering, hit an unexpected speed bump when they were told that they could not swim there due to serious water contamination. A broken sewage line in Davel Street caused raw sewage to flow into the dam.

It still didn't stop the protest. Instead, an alternative option was quickly found in the form of a fire hydrant. Several residents made use of the improvised shower, washing their hair and bodies.

READ: No water for 25 days and counting: Bethal's pipe of hope brings relief

Bethal and the nearby Emzinoni township fall under the control of the Govan Mbeki Municipality (GMM), which is based in Secunda. The town is plagued by poor service delivery, especially the supply of water.

Rand Water supplies water for the towns under the control of the GMM, and includes Secunda, Kinross, Evander, Trichardt and Bethal.

Justice Mohale, spokesperson for Rand Water, confirmed that they reduced the municipality's water flow by 40% and only allowed 60% of the agreed amount of water to reach the municipality due to its debt.

"This was done because the municipality didn't heed to an agreement to pay some of the outstanding debt of R87m," said Mohale.

Mariaan Chamberlain, a DA councillor in the area, said figures she received from the municipality showed that the outstanding debt was sitting at about R90m.

"The municipality is in serious trouble because they owe Eskom R900m as well," she said.

READ MORE: SA has over 40 'critical' sewerage plants under close watch

Resident Hennie Rademan went as far as laying criminal charges against the municipal manager for violations of the residents' human rights.

"The law says it is our right to have decent water but here, every day is another frustration and uphill [struggle] being stuck with no water. The situation is creating a serious health risk as there is not water to use in toilets.

"We have, for months, been pleading with the council to address the water issues to no avail," says Rademeyer. Some residents in the town have now been without water for 13 days.

Over the weekend, the council contracted two water tankers to bring water to residents.

He said residents were told there were numerous pipe breaks which caused the problems which appeared to not be true, as the lack of water from Rand Water seemed to be the actual crisis.

Benzi Soko, spokesperson for GMM, said in his response to a series of questions sent to him by News24 that the council would negotiate with Rand Water.

"Water is a constitutional right and must not be trampled on. We already paid Rand Water R16m," he said.

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