'QwaQwa shutdown will take us backward,' says government

FILE IMAGE: (20 January 2020) The community of Phuthaditjhaba barricaded the road with rocks and burning tyres and vandalized a water truck in anger over the death of Mosa Mbele and not having water.
FILE IMAGE: (20 January 2020) The community of Phuthaditjhaba barricaded the road with rocks and burning tyres and vandalized a water truck in anger over the death of Mosa Mbele and not having water.
Image: Thulani Mbele

The department of water and sanitation has warned that any resumption of a total shutdown in QwaQwa, Free State, will frustrate government's efforts to get water back to the area.

Yesterday, organisers of the QwaQwa shutdown threatened to resume protest today, arguing that minister of water and sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu's intervention had failed to get water restored to their homes.

Last week, Sisulu announced that 5,000 water tanks will be distributed to households within seven days. Water tankers will then deliver water to communities. An amount of R220m has also been ring-fenced to address the immediate problem in addition to the R280m allocated to Sedibeng Water, which will now take over the responsibility of the delivery of water to residents .

The department's spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said it was disappointing that there were plans to resume the protest.

"The minister was in the area and there was general acceptance of what she was presenting. She made it clear that there is no way people would get water from a tap immediately.

"That is why the minister set up a roadmap on how water would come back to the taps. With the current state of infrastructure, there is no way the people can get water on taps," Ratau said.

He added: "If the people are going to go back to the shutdown, it takes us back to minus one. It means that the implementation of the first step to get water will not happen. Instead of moving forward, we are going to move back 10 steps. This is unfortunate. All of these intervention are going to stall."

Maluti-A-Phofung local municipality has been struggling to provide clean water for years in QwaQwa.

The area was on lockdown last week after taps ran dry in December. Angry residents went on the rampage blocking streets and looting shops, demanding that government provides clean water immediately.

So troubled was the municipality, which includes Phuthaditjhaba and Harrismith, that national government put it under administration in 2018 as it was failing to pay Eskom and its water supplier about R4bn. Things got worse last year when a drought hit Free State.

The Fika Patso dam, which provides more than 80% of the area's water, dropped to 10% - rendering tap water undrinkable. Water tanks sent by the municipality could not reach all the areas and residents organised the shutdown.

The situation got worse when seven-year-old Mosa Mbele drowned while trying to fetch water from a river.

Provincial police spokesperson Brig Sam Makhele said crime intelligence already had information about the planned shutdown and police are ready for it.

"We will do our part as police to protect any property or any person from being harmed," he said.

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