Eastern Cape water crisis: SCIENCE IN THE HANDS OF THE PEOPLE

by Dec 9, 2022All Articles

EASTERN CAPE HAS FACED DRASTIC droughts since 2005 due to the global crisis of climate change, with dams reaching all-time lows. This of course has impacted the quality and cleanliness of drinking water, which requires our municipalities to make a concentrated effort to treat the water. In addition, there is a great shortage of Dam Safety Approved professionals in South Africa, while 66% of the existing ones are over 60 years of age. And with austerity and the debt crisis in South Africa, this does not look like it will improve anytime soon. This puts the availability of clean drinking water in a precarious condition.

Bad water creates sickness

Joubert primary school installed taps and tanks connected to school roof gutters for drinking water. We want to explore how we claim accountability for working people who have been and are getting sick from the water that is provided by the Makana and Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (Photo: Deon Ferreira).

Residents in Makana and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro (NMBM) have been complaining about the poor quality and deteriorating condition of their water system for several years. People have been getting sick from drinking the tap water, even after having boiled it. The Blue Drop report is a scathing indictment of municipal water infrastructure throughout most of South Africa and is a testament to these conditions in Makana Municipality.

It is a serious concern that a municipality like Makana is right at the bottom when it comes to water quality. Not to mention that the Eastern Cape is ranked at the bottom as a province. This is quite embarrassing, as it shows the low quality of leadership and high level of bungling in our government in delivering basic needs of its people.

Blue Drop vs the people

In a statement on 12th September from the Nelson Mandela Bay Water Crisis Committee and the Unemployed Movement, we registered our shock at the Blue Drop Report on Nelson Mandela Bay. It really contradicts the reality of working-class people on the ground.

The municipality’s submission to the Blue Drop report is an “all is well” story. It suggests the NMBM water system is in good condition. Reality on the ground tells a different story. For example, our comrades in Booysens Park have got sick from drinking the water and some, like Ntomentle Nelana, had to spend all night in hospital because her child had drunk water from the tap.

This NMB story is as a result of the fact that the municipality does not have a legal obligation to provide accurate and timeous information on the NMBM water situation to the auditors of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). So DWS does not have full access to water documents in the municipality. This has resulted in the disconnection between the Blue Drop Report and the realities that are experienced by residents on the ground in NMBM.

Science in the people’s hands

The Nelson Mandela Bay Water Crisis Committee and the Unemployed People’s Movement have decided to test their own water to prove that the information that is presented by the Blue Drop document is false. As Thandokazi Hewu from the NMB Water Crisis Committee put it, “We do understand that quality access to clean and safe drinking water is indeed a human rights issue. And we know that the realities that residents face, particularly in working-class communities, in being serviced with low-quality drinking water that is creating many sicknesses are in violation of our rights. We have embarked on this struggle as a way of ensuring accountability and putting a stop to inept bungling in our municipalities.”

Sipho Maboza from UPM added, “We also want to explore how we can collectively bring our municipalities to court for failing to deliver on simple human rights obligations, and how we claim accountability for working people who have been and are getting sick from the water that is provided by the Makana and Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. It is time to criminally charge the municipal managers.”

The results of the first and second tests that we have done are not looking good. They tell exactly the same story as the Blue Drop document about Makana Municipality. But they totally contradict what this same document says about NMBM. The overdose of E. Coli and bacteria in our water is very scary and shows how our government is reckless with working-class lives. The middle class and private companies can afford to drill boreholes and treat their water.

Siyabulela Mama is a member of the NMB Water Crisis Committee and Ayanda Kota is a member of the Unemployed People’s Movement.

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