QwaQwa mom blames municipality for child's drowning while collecting river water

A resident collects water from a natural spring in Maluti-a-Phofung in the eastern Free State.
A resident collects water from a natural spring in Maluti-a-Phofung in the eastern Free State.
Image: Alaister Russell

A mother laid bare her anguish and pain after her child drowned while fetching water from a river in QwaQwa, Free State.

Musa Mbele, 8, had gone to the local river with her sister, Moleboheng, 12, to collect water on Saturday.

“If I had the money I would have bought water instead of allowing them to fetch the water. There are usually people by the river, so I didn’t think much about it. Little did I know I would lose my little girl,” said Phindile Mbele.

“It was a normal day for me until some community members came to my house to tell me about the accident. I arrived at the scene and there was a search party under way. After a while, I saw two men coming out of the river carrying my baby.

“My life will never be the same. I’m hurting and I don’t know what to do or say. There was no need for them to die. I blame the municipality. They should have provided us with water.”

She described her child as obedient, kind and loving.

“When they were by the river, the big sister was the one getting the water. But then she had to rinse her shoes as there was some sand stuck inside. The little one copied her and her shoe was swept by the river a bit. When the little one tried to get the shoe, the river swept her too,” Mbele said.

Musa’s death sparked violent protests in the area, with community members expressing frustration at the lack of running water. 

Free State police spokesperson Brig Motantsi Makhele said an inquest into the drowning was opened.

Regarding the unrest, at least 61 suspects from Phuthaditjhaba, Namahadi and Kestell were arrested. About 45 were released on warning and are due to appear in the Phuthaditjhaba court on February 14.

“In Kestell the situation is calm, though on Wednesday night several tuck shops were attacked. Harrismith is business as usual, with no unrest reported since Monday to date,” Makhele said.

Thembeni Nxangisa, Free State co-operative governance MEC, called for calm.

The water crisis in the area and surrounding towns has been a problem for about four years. The Sowetan newspaper reported that the local authority, the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality, was placed under administration in 2018 by the national government. Last year, it was unable to collect refuse. It owed Eskom R4bn for unpaid electricity and the Sedibeng Water Board, which supplies it with water, about R300m.

Locals in QwaQwa, the former Free State "homeland", have suffered from severe drought for the past five years. A lack of infrastructure has contributed to the scarcity of water. Residents often walk long distances in order to make use of trickling natural springs, as they have to wait weeks for water trucks to deliver to their areas.

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