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Ngqushwa gets water

By Johnnie Isaac and Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik.
This article is published under a creative commons licence, and was first published in Groundup.

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4 min read

Failure of municipalities to supply and/or maintain essential infrastructure leaves some communities in dire straits. Fortunately, there are organisations that are willing – and able – to cut through the red tape to supply much-needed services.

A decade of water scarcity

Villagers in Ngqushwa in the Eastern Cape have been asking for clean water for years.

  • The Amathole District Municipality did a survey of borehole sites in the area but found none were suitable for drinking water.
  • Last week Gift of the Givers drilled four new boreholes in three days.
  • The water quality has not yet been tested but Gift of the Givers is confident of its quality.

Villagers in Ngqushwa in the Eastern Cape have been begging the municipality for clean water for years. It took Gift of the Givers just a few days to drill four boreholes. Villagers danced with delight when water gushed from the boreholes drilled by Gift of the Givers.

Water gushes from a new borehole in Feni Village in Ngqushwa. Photo: Johnnie Isaac

Ngqushwa (also known as Peddie) has about 138 villages that have been struggling with water scarcity in the past 10 years. In Feni village, households had to rely on dirty water from the river or to buy water from local trucks. Taps were built in this village but have been dry for nine years.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, young people from this village staged a number of protests, blocking the busy N2 and a road to the local clinic with burning tyres, demanding clean water. They threatened not to vote in future if their demand for clean water was not met.

After the protest, a water tank was installed for Feni and two other villages, but the Amathole District Municipality only filled the tank twice a month, and three hours later it was empty, residents said. Spokesperson for the municipality, Nonceba Madikizela-Vuso, said the district was vast and the roads were bad, and tankers constantly needed repair.

Gift of the Givers steps in

Ngqushwa Local Municipality turned to Gift of the Givers for help, and from Tuesday 24 November to Thursday 27 November, the organisation successfully drilled boreholes in four villages, including Feni.

‘Within three days of arriving in Ngqushwa, we successfully drilled four boreholes,’ said founder Imtiaz Sooliman. He said they had also offered to clean up four other boreholes which are no longer producing water.

Feni grandmother Nosolomzi Bhudaza said she was very happy. ‘I’m unemployed and dependent on the child support grant of my grandchildren. I cannot afford to buy water, so this borehole will help people like me to fetch water closer than we used to,’ said Bhudaza.

Nosolomzi Bhudaza said she was glad to have water. Photo: Johnnie Isaac

Sipho Majiya, who is disabled and uses crutches, said: ‘At least now I can go fetch my own water … The river is about seven kilometres away and the road is bad. I had to rely on people for water. The trucks charge R20 for a 25-litre bucket.’

Deputy minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Pam Tshwete, was present at the drilling. ‘Gift of the Givers has drilled boreholes close to where people live. There were taps here that have gone dry. We would like to use these boreholes to supply those taps,’ she said.

Quality, quantity, red tape and service delivery

Asked why Gift of the Givers had been able to drill boreholes when the municipality apparently had not, Madikizela-Vuso said a geohydrologist had visited 30 existing borehole sites, but only seven had been found suitable to be tested. ‘The ones which were tested yielded water which was not fit for human consumption,’ she said. ‘Owing to issues of water quality, we did not equip any of the boreholes, even those which did have sufficient water. In this regard it should be noted that we have not received water quality results from Gift of the Givers as yet.’

Feni resident Velile Ngwekazi fetching water from the river. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

But Sooliman said that although the results of tests still had to be received, the indications were that the water was safe for drinking. He said that Gift of the Givers geologist Gideon Groenewald had identified a source of groundwater using the lines of ant hills. These had been used ‘for ages by our ancestors to find sources of fresh groundwater’. Groenewald had used two drill rigs and had found ‘a major water-bearing fault zone with a blow yield of at least 120,000 litres per day’ at a depth of 21 metres, and, within an hour, a secondary source yielding about 40,000 litres a day, at a depth of 23 metres.

This proved, said Sooliman, that the aquifers were ‘high-yielding groundwater resources with the potential to alleviate the water woes of several communities in the Ngqushwa Local Municipality’.

He said it costs between R350,000 and R600,000 to drill one borehole, depending on the depth.

What about the future?

Athini Ngxumza of Fixing iNgqushwa Yethu said that people were happy with the intervention of Gift of Givers, but much still needed to be done.

‘We do not know how many villages are going to benefit from this. Secondly, we do not know how these specific villages were selected. And what is sad about this is that Amathole District Municipality is quiet. This is the first step; now Amathole District Municipality should start fixing the pipes, and we can only hope that the water is clean to be used by people,’ he said.

This article is published under a creative commons licence, and was first published in Groundup.

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