“People toyi-toyi about water. There’s no water. If the water comes, it is muddy. Muddy, muddy, muddy. You can’t do nothing with that,” Faxi explains.
“I was feeling sorry. Because toilets, you must wash. You must eat. You can't do nothing about [without] water. You must use drinking water. You must wash the toilets with water.”
Faxi says the health consequences of poor water quality for not just her but the broader community are huge. On the occasions she has drunk water from the taps, she experienced health problems.
“Sometimes - our water – you drink this water, you feeling your stomach is not alright,” Faxi says.
She said she's heard other people in the community talk about the poor quality of water, with some of their children not being able to sleep because the water they drank was not clean.
Faxi puts one tablespoon of bleach in 10-litre buckets of water when she drinks from the tap or from her JoJo tank because “the Jik makes the water clean”. The 10-litre bucket of water gives Faxi and her family about two days' worth of drinking water.
Mahkanda is not the only area in South Africa with water challenges. Other provinces have lost hundreds of millions of rands due to poor infrastructure maintenance.
For the 2017/18 financial year, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu found that every province in the country lost money due to failing water infrastructure.
- The Eastern Cape – R591 million;
- Free State – R260 million;
- Northern Cape – R112 million;
- North West – R124 million;
- KwaZulu-Natal – just over R1 million;
- Western Cape – R10 million;
- Limpopo – R154 million
- Gauteng – just under R3 million; and
- Mpumalanga – R407 million.
The Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department (Cogta) is responsible for the smooth operations between national, provincial and local government, and also has to hold poorly performing municipalities and their officials accountable.
The National Cogta Department did not respond to any interview requests to discuss the country’s crisis. Three requests were sent over WhatsApp between 4 June 2019 and 19 June 2019, which were received and read, but not responded to.
According to the national Water and Sanitation Department and the Water Research Council (WRC), a lack of infrastructure development and maintenance have been a major reason for the water crisis. A scathing AG report on municipalities for 2016/17 echoes these sentiments.
WRC CEO Dhesigen Naidoo says that technology and patents are in place, but the lack of implementation from government hinders progress. The WRC works hand-in-hand with the water department to ensure sufficient water in the country. The department’s Sputnik Ratau tells EWN a big reason they can’t build additional infrastructure is due to a lack of skills.
Naidoo says citing old infrastructure as a reason for communities not having access to water is an excuse.
“It’s not because they’re [infrastructure] old, it’s because they’re not well maintained,” Naidoo tells EWN.
“We want to solve a 21st century problem, with 20th century technology and 19th century operating rules. It simply cannot work like that.”
Regarding failing infrastructure, the department says original water infrastructure was built for smaller populations who lived in urban areas, which failed to take into consideration an increase in urbanisation. Simply put, the department says urban water infrastructure was built to cater for a minority population living in the city.
According to Naidoo, South Africa loses 37% of its water supply due to failing infrastructure. This amounts to about R10 billion non-revenue loss the country must absorb.
The AG’s report also found that a disturbing portion of municipalities across the country had insufficient planning and bad policies regarding the improvement of infrastructure.
For the 2016/17 year:
- 57% of municipalities had no policy on infrastructure maintenance;
- 46% had no maintenance plan at all;
- while 22% of municipalities had no budget assigned for the maintenance of infrastructure; and
- 26% of infrastructure maintenance projects exceeded their expected completion dates.
The AG in 2016/17 said that a large part of the poor development and maintenance of infrastructure is due to the lack of financial planning, mismanagement of funds and poor performing municipalities not being held to account. The 2017/18 report repeats this.
Makwetu’s audit report for 2016/17 attributed a lack of accountability for poor performing municipalities in South Africa. Following the AG’s 2013 report citing the same reason, he says there weren’t sufficient improvements when it came to effective leadership and holding poor performing personnel accountable. This trend continued in the 2017/18 report with the AG saying “… various role players have been slow in implementing and, in certain instances, blatantly disregarded our (AG office’s) recommendations”.
“Accountability continues to fail in local governments,” Makwetu says.
The opposition party Democratic Alliance’s Makashule Gana says there can’t be water outages as we’ve had with power outages.
With poor management, a lack of accountability and a difficult environment for auditing - as set out in the AG’s 2016/17 report - maladministration and irregular expenditure continues. This leaves water infrastructure poorly maintained, and no new infrastructure can be built. Ratau says if government continues with a “do-nothing” approach, it increases the chances of reaching a national Day-Zero.
In July 2018, the Makana municipality was made of aware of the potential Day-Zero that could hit the town. 26 November 2018 was the day ear-marked for Day-Zero to arrive if the municipality failed to secure the supply of water, and if residents wasted water.
Makana had already been facing reports of water-quality problems, with reports of E.coli contamination. But questions around infrastructure continued to be posed to the municipality as infrastructure led to water losses and contamination of sewage into the drinking water, as well as into rivers and streams.
At the time, residents of Makhanda had level 5 water restrictions, which allowed 60 litres of water to be used per person per day.
A water plan was announced in January 2019 by local and national government to ensure water-saving measures were imposed. At the same time, the small amount of usable water in dams couldn’t be utilised for Makana due to an insufficient number of pumps and poor infrastructure.
Residents were continuously urged to save water heading into February 2019 as Gift of the Givers intervened in Makhanda. They delivered bottled water to residents and started drilling boreholes. Educational institutions, including creches, were also impacted, with some enforcing policies to have toilets flushed less frequently to save water. Water tanks were also installed at schools for pupils.
Questions were raised about the quality of the limited water that was available. In January and March 2019 the levels of coliform and E.coli bacteria coming out of some taps in Makhanda did not comply with national water standard regulations. Grocotts Mail reported at the time that in some cases, bacterial counts were 20 times over the safe limit. A similar situation existed in 2018 due to faulty chlorination systems – or simply put, poor infrastructure.