Chitchat The days when Riebeek residents fetched their water in buckets in Fontein Street
The article “Valley of Grapes and Olives” in the Autumn issue brought back many memories. I was born in Riebeek in 1927. We lived in Fontein Street before there were any street numbers. It was named as such because there were fountains where residents used buckets to collect water daily, as there wasn’t yet a municipal waterdistribution system.
My earliest memories, however, are of water being piped in from a fountain in the mountains, which was later supplemented by boreholes. Residents could buy water in multiples of 100 gallons a day – it was delivered consistently, whether necessary or not, and there were no water meters.
Oom Willie Kirsten was the water superintendent. His big bike had a canvas bag over the bar in which he kept all his pipe spanners and pliers. On every property there was a wooden box that housed the control tap, which had a lock. Oom Willie would set the controls to deliver the allowed volume of water per day at a constant flow. Many houses were so primitive that they didn’t have running water and those people would carry their water in buckets from the tank or dam. Ducks fed on the waterweeds that grew where there was an overflow, so the water wasn’t all wasted.
There wasn’t enough metal available during the war years to replace metal pipes, so wooden pipes were used. These were made by slanting the edges of long wood pipes, like the sides of a barrel. As the water entered the pipes, it pressed these slanted edges against a sturdy wire holding the pipe together, making it watertight.
In reference to one of the letters in the same issue, I would like to mention that I also grew up with a long-drop, which stood 30m from our house.
They tell the story of Koos van der Merwe (not from Swartdam, but from the Karoo) who had to move their long-drop after long use. There were a few dry oil wells on his farm that were more than 1 000 feet deep and so, to avoid the effort of digging a new long-drop hole, he moved the structure over on top of one of these wells. Shortly afterwards, his cousin from town came to visit and went to use the toilet. He entered, closed the door and didn’t reappear. When they went looking for him later, they found he had died while sitting there. There was much speculation about what could have caused his death, and Koos said, “No, man, it’s obvious. We Van der Merwes always hold our breath until we hear it drop!”