While the Western Cape has been under the spotlight since the drought of 2015,
impoverished towns in the Eastern Cape are under increased pressure for water provision as
a result of soaring temperatures, vandalism, and the water systems being poisoned.
Nqweba Dam, which is supposed to be the main supply damn for the town of Graaff-Reinet,
was still completely empty at the beginning of February. Vandalism of the pipelines in the
town has left parts of the town without any water whatsoever.
Another town in the Eastern Cape, Elliot, which is supplied by the Thomson damn, has
looming water restrictions as the dam’s level nears 16%. And more than 300km from Elliot,
many rural villages face the same fate.
In rural Africa, the job of collecting water often falls to women and children. Women can
spend up to 26% of their days solely on water collection. The situation is dire.
Residents have resorted to retrieving water from local dams; however these dams are used
by livestock. Some animals have broken their legs getting stuck in the mud around the dam,
died in the water, and this is the desperate situation that villagers have resorted to needing
to drink from.
Due to the drought, communities in Alfred Nzo have now become reliant on water delivery
from trucks provided by the government. While this would seem to temporarily remedy the
dilemma, there are a lack of drivers for the trucks as well as diesel shortages, which means
even these water deliveries aren’t guaranteed.
Some taps are only open for a few hours each day, like those in the town of Mount Frere.
People queue for water here, however disabled members of the community often have to
pay other people to fetch water for them, and without money, this means that they do not
always get water. Clinics in the area often ask patients to bring their own water to
appointments, too, which is not always possible. This means that people are often unable to
receive the medical attention they deserve.
Residents of the town are angry, because government have been threatening to install
prepaid water meters into the towns, while they are still unable to provide them with a
basic human right such as clean, running water. The anger stems from government wanting
to teach people to manage water better, despite the fact that dams have run dry and most
communities have no access to water to manage in any case.
Poor governance in most Eastern Cape municipalities has meant that there has been no
equitable water provision. Rampant corruption and severe drought as a result of some areas
not receiving rainfall since 2014, has meant the majority of communities have been left
The only choice that many villagers have been left with has been to resort to buying water
from commercial truck drivers passing through the area. This isn’t a permanent solution
though, and community leaders have called on the government to try and come up with
innovative ways to combat the water crisis and urged them to not misuse funds that were
intended for resolving the crisis.