The weather, poor infrastructure maintenance and vandalism, alongside Eskom’s continued threat to cut off power to Makhanda (Grahamstown) starting 4 December has made the city hell during the past two weeks.
First was a more than usual overflow of raw sewage into people homes and gardens, and down the streets. Sewage poured out of junctions and inspection covers in Extension 5, Extension 6, Extension 9, Scott’s Farm, the Rhodes University campus and Joza, filling the hot, still air with a stench that some said they could smell from the top of Mountain Drive.
Then repeated water outages caused first by burst pipes, an electricity outage when power lines fell down in high winds, topped with sheer vandalism to the town’s water supply, saw tempers flare as temperatures rose. The power outage also meant the supply from James Kleynhans to the east couldn’t be pumped and so Joza, too, was without water.
Adding fuel to social media networks was the fact that the municipal landfill site started smouldering some time during Monday’s 40C-plus heat. Fanned by overnight winds, by Tuesday morning the pattern for the week was set, with thick smoke infecting various parts of the city bowl throughout the week, depending on the prevailing wind.
A major pipe burst in the main line from Botha’s Hill at Vergenoeg on 16 October halted water to parts of Vukani; Xolani; Hlalani and Newtown until it was repaired – only for another pipe burst on Friday leaving those areas again without water for the weekend and beyond.
MBB Consulting have been dealing with water leaks and outages. Edwin Qamana explained to Grocott’s Mail some of the challenges their team has faced. Makana’s electrical engineer Mzomhle Radu spoke about the challenges of restoring electricity in the high winds of Tuesday. And the Mayor and the Speaker spoke about why the town is full of sewage.
A delegation of 10 women from Extension 5 and 6 took Grocott’s Mail on a tour of homes, where yards and even bedrooms were flooded with raw sewage. In one case, an elderly resident was unable to reach her outside toilet without wading knee-deep in sewage. At another home, a disabled woman in a wheelchair couldn’t leave her home because of the river of sewage flowing last in the stormwater drain.
B&B owner Notyolo Bungane was at her wits end. Her beautifully decorated and maintained Esihle B&B opposite the Indoor Sports Centre, popular with out-of-towners for its high standards, was permeated with the stink of the adjacent stormwater drain – filled with a toxic combination of rubbish and raw sewage.
From Scott’s Farm, Letitia Walton, who has a 3-month-old baby, wrote that the drains at their house had been blocked for five months.
“The Makana staff tell us they don’t have the equipment to fix it,” Walton wrote. “It’s difficult to eat or drink. It’s unhealthy.”
In her opening remarks in Monday’s aborted Special Council Meeting, Speaker Yandiswa Vara said the municipality’s water issues were being solved; sewage was now the problem.
“The situation people are living in is very disappointing,” Vara said, referring in particular to the blockages and overflow in Extensions 5, 6 and 9.
“Those blockages are the result of our workers not doing their work,” Vara said. “The problem starts when employees say they are going out to service drains, but they don’t do that.”
Mayor Nomhle Gaga added that Extension 6 had the added problem of houses with toilets that had not yet been connected to the sewers. “The residents flushed those toilets before the project was complete,” Gaga said. “Now we must start afresh.
“But that needs funding. We need a honeysucker to clear those structures.”
Eluxolweni, on the other hand, said the Mayor, had been connected: “They are flushing as we speak,” she said.
Water and electricity
MBB’s Edwin Qamana and Makana’s electrical engineer Mzomhle Radu explained to Grocott’s Mail some of the challenges their teams had faced in the past week.
Pipe burst on old rising main from James Kleynhans after someone opened a stay-closed valve meant to regulate pressure – Fingo without water.
Major pipe burst between James Kleynhans WTW and Bothas hill Reservoir. The level water level at Bothas hill,Tantyi and Mayfield drops, which affects certain areas on the Eastern side like Vukani and Newtown.
On Monday night the power lines feeding James Kleynhans are damaged (ie no power to pump water).
Tuesday 30 October
The winds are so strong that an Eskom crane brought to do the repairs threatens to blow over. Repairs have to be delayed.
When repairs on a line are complete, extensive testing and resetting has to be done to prevent damage when the power is restored.
When the pumps at the water works have been inoperational for 10-12 hours, they have to be primed before starting. This likewise is in order to prevent damage and takes around two hours.
Pumping to reservoirs on the eastern side of town finally resumes at 9.45pm on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, seven poles blown down in Belmont Valley leave Stones Hill and the wastewater treatment works without power. Power lines blow down in other parts of town (George Street, Industrial Area, the Military Base) and are fixed by Tuesday night, except for four houses in Belmont Valley.
Wednesday 31 October
The 300mm main water pipe from Botha’s Hill reservoir is vandalised, leaving Ghost Town, Kings Heights, Kings View and Oatland North without water for hours.
Grocott’s Mail travels the main line from Botha’s Hill and sees first-hand the shocking extent to which infrastructure is wilfully damaged – for the theft of wiring and any other metal in the valve chambers.
“They also deliberately break the pipes so they can collect water there and let their cattle drink there,” another member of the MBB, Siyabonga Masiti explains.
Indeed, as we stop at a broken valve chamber, filled with water leaked from the broken pipe, a resident from nearby Inkanini walks to it with an empty bottle, fills it up in the flooded valve chamber and walks back home.
Grocott’s Mail will report more on this in a coming edition.
Smoke and fire
Staff at the Grahamstown Riding Club were on high alert for a runaway fire and horses were moved away from the thick smoke coming from the adjacent municipal landfill.
In the hell that was this week, there were angels in the form of residents volunteering and dedicated Makana staff who brought relief, working hard under trying conditions.
Volunteers helped move horses and fight back flames below the stables.
Volunteers led by Michael Wynne and Edward Gaybba spent three days carting water gathered from residents and the fire station to residents in areas that had been without water for days.
Water trucks were organised through Rhodes University and Ndlambe Municipality (the Makana fire services needed their water truck for fire fighting), with the GRA and GBF planning distribution points.