Desperate for a drop
Light drops of drizzle do not hide the desperation and misery on the wet faces of the young and old who queued for water yesterday in Mazista township. In the queue, they wish it could rain harder to enable them to collect more water in their green rainwater tanks. The township, near Swartruggens, North West, is one of many that have been hit by acute water shortages during the country’s worst drought in more than two decades.
The Swartruggens Dam has dried up completely and underground water levels are dismally low, leaving boreholes ineffective and the community parched and hopeless.
Some short-term hope arrives in the form of 100 000 litres of water delivered by Operation Hydrate Initiative SA – an organisation formed two weeks ago amid the recent heat waves and worsening drought. In the rain, Mazista residents flock towards the sports ground soon after a truck pulls in.
Standing in the 50m-long queue is Maria Modise, who waits her turn to receive four five-litre bottles of drinking water. They are not enough to last her family for a day, but they make a difference. The mother of four describes the water situation in her neighbourhood as “beyond hopeless”.
“I have been living here since 2011 and water has always been a rare commodity. This purified water is an utmost luxury. The whole township relies on inconsistent water supply brought in by the municipality in water tankers,” she says.
Each house in the area has a water tank linked to its roof and gutters for harvesting rainwater.
“There has been no rainfall and these tanks have been empty. There is some drizzle today and we’re praying for it to rain harder so our tanks can fill, but it is not looking promising at all.”
Modise says she and her neighbours depend on a borehole on a nearby farm, but even that water has begun to run out.
“Our children don’t play any more, because most of the time they are queuing for water or pushing wheelbarrows in search of it. We are now forced to boil the water we get before consumption because most children have been getting sick from it,” she says.
Further down the queue, another resident, Dina Taukobong, says their government houses were built with flushing toilets, but they are unable to use them.
“We can’t afford to flush toilets with clean water. That is why you don’t find anyone disposing of dirty water from bathing or laundry ... we use it to flush toilets, and this is leading to flies and a foul smell in our houses,” she says.
Kgetleng Local Municipality mayor Kim Medupe says some boreholes in the area have dried up completely.
“We were depending on the Swartruggens Dam, which has also dried up, so now we’re relying on water tankers,” she says.
Operation Hydrate Initiative SA co-founder Yusuf Abramjee says the response has been overwhelming from corporate sponsors and communities. By the end of this weekend, they will have delivered about 2 million litres of water in North West and the Free State.
“The situation is dire out there. Hospitals, schools and clinics are also affected in many areas,” says Abramjee.
Also delivering water to the needy is Gift of the Givers, which has been working in the Free State and the Eastern Cape. Water distribution coordinator Ali Sayed says that because of increasing demand, the organisation is drilling boreholes in areas south of Bloemfontein.
“One borehole has already been drilled and another will be done next week. This is a long-term intervention that will enable us to get water from this source and deliver it to the needy throughout the affected areas,” he says.
“Wherever you go, there is no moisture in these areas. You can see from the complexion of the people there that they are thirsty. The knock-on effect in this situation is health problems, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid – situations where people will turn to consuming dirty water,” he adds.
PRAYING FOR RAIN Young members of the community – young and old – leave a sports ground yesterday after collecting water from a delivery truck in Swartruggens, North West. Yusuf Abramjee and his team have been distributing millions of litres of water to affected communities during #OperationHydrate
DEJECTED Maria Modise SLIGHT RELIEF Mazista residents flock to the sports ground soon after a truck loaded with bottles of water pulls in