Families drink from drains as water trucks break down

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Asiphe Diko getting dirty water from a drain.
Asiphe Diko getting dirty water from a drain.
Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik, GroundUp
  • Eastern Cape residents are resorting to desperate measures, while three out of four water trucks are being repaired.
  • Some are drinking water from a smelly drain, which sometimes contains human waste, as they say they have no choice.
  • Dams in the region are dry.


Families in drought-stricken Dutywa in the Eastern Cape are drinking filthy water from roadside drains because three out of the four water trucks which are supposed to bring them water are being repaired.

And in Butterworth, residents said the town had been out of water for three weeks, GroundUp reported.

Amathole District Municipality spokesperson Nonceba Madikizela-Vuso said the Gcuwa dam which supplied Butterworth and surrounding areas, and the three dams which supplied Dutywa town, were all dry.

Four water tankers were supposed to bring water to Dutywa residents, filling up at Kei Bridge 154km away, and delivering three loads each a day.

But three of the four were currently being repaired. She said there were not enough water tankers in the area, and because of poor roads, they frequently had to be repaired.

Butterworth families said there was another problem: instead of filling up the communal tanks, truck drivers filled private tanks, charging the owners R1 500 to R2 000 and leaving those who did not have tanks struggling to find water.

'We have no choice'

Bottled water in the shops cost R25 for five litres, said Aviwe Mafenuka, and people like him who were unemployed could not afford that.

The Gcuwa dam is empty.
The Gcuwa dam is empty.

When GroundUp visited the town on Monday, the taps were dry. Mafenuka and others were pushing trolleys to a drain in the bushes. The smell of human waste was unbearable.

"Each time when our taps are dry, we come here," he said.

"We have no choice but to drink this water. You just close your nose and start drinking because the smell is very bad," said Mafenuka.

The Butterworth water crisis had been long in the making. In 2015, the town was declared a drought disaster by then Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle.

Residents staged a number of protests, including shutting down the town and blocking the busy N2 between East London and Butterworth with burning tyres, demanding water. They called for the deepening of the Gcuwa dam.

The latest protest was in February this year.

In Dutywa town, 35km from Butterworth, residents also said they were drinking smelly, dirty water and that sometimes the water contained human waste.

The town fell under the Mbashe Local Municipality. There's a borehole, but it's too far for most families. Those who used it, were mostly from Butterworth and had cars.

When GroundUp visited the borehole last week, most people we interviewed said they had been there for more than three hours.

At 11:00, Odwa Sentiwe said he had been there since 06:00.

"I normally wait for three hours. The problem today is that we didn't have electricity since the morning. Electricity only came back 40 minutes ago," he said. When there's no electricity and the borehole did not work, families took water from the drain next to the main road, he said.

Asiphe Diko, a student at the School of Excellence, was filling up on water from the drain.

"Sometimes this water has human waste and we don't even know where the water comes from, but we are desperate. We first boil it, but it's just not healthy," he said.

Madikizela-Vuso said she could not comment on the sale of water by truck drivers as no official complaint had been made to the municipality.

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