No water, no electricity ... but lots of garbage in 'cursed Makhanda'

The city of 70,000 residents has faced prolonged water outages and dirty tap water due to poor management of its ageing infrastructure. Now the water supply to the western half of the city, including Rhodes University, is drying up. File photo.
The city of 70,000 residents has faced prolonged water outages and dirty tap water due to poor management of its ageing infrastructure. Now the water supply to the western half of the city, including Rhodes University, is drying up. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander

Water outages, power blackouts, litter-strewn streets and sewage trickling into people’s homes has become a norm for residents of Makhanda (Grahamstown), prompting some to ask if they are cursed. 

But their dry sense of humour is intact. On Monday, Nomawethu Budaza commented on social media, "There's no chill in Makhanda - water gone, electricity gone," to which Leonie Yendall responded, "Just the garbage is left...".

A municipal town hall meeting with residents has been called for Monday evening as the city stares at a water "Day Zero", precipitated by a drought compounded by years of shoddy local government management.

The city of 70,000 residents has faced prolonged water outages and dirty water coming out of the taps due to poor management of its ageing infrastructure, but now the water supply to the western half of the city, including Rhodes University, is drying up due to the drought.

According to the local Grocotts Mail newspaper, large parts of the city have had dry taps for a week. Residents queued for hours on Sunday as trucks organised by a municipality-led crisis committee struggled to service thousands of households. Civic group Makana Revive, which spent the past week picking up refuse across the city during a strike, have turned their attention to boosting water deliveries to desperate families, said the newspaper. 

Phakama Molefe said on Facebook at the weekend that residents in her area were cursed because of the inhumane living conditions they were subjected to. 

"My heart sank ... when I saw loads of people queuing for water and fighting about it too; on top of that there is filth everywhere you go in our town. Saw pictures where  sewage is trickling into people's houses. To top it all there is power outages. I really just don’t know what to do anymore. We are cursed or doomed here. What else could go wrong?" she said. 

While the rubbish problem is related to a municipal worker strike, and so is temporary, the sewage problem is infrastructure-related.

Ron Weissenberg, an activist and resident in the area, said the sewage problem was escalating, with newborn babies and females most at risk.

"It is really concerning. The sewage issue is probably the most concerning and inhumane. I’ve had a mother of a 13-year-old approach and tell me how she constantly has to take her child to the clinic for checkups, because of an illness she got in the sewage issue," he told TimesLIVE. 

Sewer blockage repairs in Extension 6 are underway.

Posted by Grahamstown Residents’ Association on Wednesday, February 6, 2019

"Makhanda is in serious trouble, water speaking," disaster-response NGO Gift of the Givers said in a weekend statement. The NGO plans to deliver emergency supplies of water by Tuesday.  

The organisation’s founder, Imtiaz Sooliman, explained that the problem emanated from the sources of water supply for the area. The Settlers Dam was 13% full and water cannot be extracted from the last 10% due to high silt levels. This effectively means it has 3% reserves. Meanwhile, the Waainek water treatment works, which received water from the much smaller Howiesons Poort Dam, cannot pump to capacity because of an electrical failure that put it out of service for a few days, according to Sooliman.

Three trucks are currently providing water in the area, while the organisation is also supplying bottled water. "Dr Gideon Groenewald, Gift of the Givers' specialist hydrologist, geologist and palaeontologist, will meet the municipality to see what can be done in the meantime," said Sooliman.

In January, new mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa pledged that the supply of clean water to all residents was top priority, closely followed by the dilapidated road and sanitation infrastructure, littering and illegal dumping.

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