“I had 120 messages and 75 calls yesterday – really, my phone was going non-stop.”
Gift of the Givers’ Pamela Kaptein is used to getting calls from desperate residents at all hours.
“But this was just crazy,” she told GMDirect as she organised a queueing system at a Gift of the Givers water truck that had just arrived on a street corner near the Extension 9 hall. “I can’t blame them though, people were just desperate.”
Kaptein manages the organisation’s regular water deliveries in Makhanda where Gift of the Givers stepped in at the beginning of 2019 after two weeks of no water. Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa and Infrastructure portfolio head Ramie Xonxa this weekend again pleaded with the organization for support as some residents reported being up to five days without water.
While the entire town was dry from Thursday, lower-lying areas served by the gravity-fed Howisons Poort/ Waainek system in the west of the town had water running in their taps by late on Saturday.
But on Sunday afternoon, when the Gift of the Givers water truck arrived in Extension 9, it was a very different story. All along the truck’s route, residents shouted “Bring us water please!” – some even running after it in desperation. In every street residents ran with buckets, bottles and bins, with long queues forming at designated delivery points.
“We’ve really been struggling,” said Sheldeen Faltein. “Our children need to bath, and there’s no clean water to drink.”
Some residents said they’d been as long as 10 days without water.
“We had water last Wednesday, and then nothing,” said Benedict Jodwana, who lives in Ncede Street in Extension 9. He managed by bringing home water daily from his employer, who has tanks.
At a municipal water truck dispensing water a few streets away in Extension 4, Nompikiso Ngilimba, who had walked with her bucketse and bottles from Extension 8, said they’d been without water for eight days. They’d relied on neighbours with tanks up to now.
Also in Extension 4, Avumile Yako said they’d been without water for five days. His dad has been bringing water home from his workplace, but it’s not enough for washing.
“My little brother went back to school this week and it’s difficult for him because there’s no water to wash his uniforms.”
Residents break into school
Police were called on Sunday morning 21 February when angry Scotts Farm residents broke into Kuyasa Special School to take water from the tank on its grounds.
Schools contemplate closing
While most Makhanda schools now have water tanks, these have a limited capacity and can see them through one or two days without water only.
”It’s so difficult,” one school principal told GMDirect. “We’ve just got the kids back into classrooms after such a long break. Things are difficult enough, without having to try and cope with no water.
“It’s a terrible thing, but if[the outage]carries on, we will have no choice but to close.”
Shops run out
Frustrated residents have been unable to get filtered water from supermarkets that provide this service.
Pick n Pay Manager Jon Campbell said while the retailer’s tanks are enough to ensure they can meet hygiene standards and keep the shop running, no tap water means they’ve been unable to supply filtered water.
“It’s terrible seeing frustrated customers leaving with their empty bottles,” Campbell said.
Thoko Ngculu, owner of Aquapure, says they’ve continued supplying their regular client base.
“We’ve had no problem because we have multiple sources,” Ngculu said. “We don’t rely on the municipal supply, so we’ve been able to consistently supply our regular client base throughout this crisis.
“It’s a matter of making plans.”
Pump station problems
Residents were warned early on Thursday morning that a blown gasket in the pump station at James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works around midnight meant it was flooded and so pumping had stopped.
“It will take us a few days to almost a week to fully restore water supply,” the municipality said in its statement.
Around 5pm on Friday, Makana reported that while the water had been drained from the pump station, technicians from Joburg had to come and commission the backup motor – work that would begin on Saturday afternoon.
James Kleynhans is the sole supply for most areas on the east, where Rhini’s townships were built, and where most of Makhanda’s residents live.
While the Waainek system was active and reservoirs serving west Makhanda were being filled, this supplies only around 30% of the residents. Other areas were to be supplied water using water trucks. The James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works was expected to be running at half capacity from Monday morning [i.e. today].
In addition to the municipal water tanker and flatbed truck with water tanks on the back, the Gift of the Givers has a tanker based in Makhanda. At Mpahlwa and Xonxa’s request, they brought an additional tanker from Adelaide that arrived late on Sunday afternoon.
What is the immediate plan?
Mpahlwa and Xonxa met with councillors on Sunday afternoon to plan a delivery schedule for the five water trucks now available.
“People need to know when they can expect the trucks to come,” Mpahlwa said. “They need to know they will get water.”
In addition to the extra water tanker, Gift of the Givers also brought six water tanks to place in central locations for residents to collect from.
One of these would be placed at Scotts Farm, where residents had broken into Kuyasa in desperation, Mpahlwa said.
“Once we have that in place, we need to properly communicate that to residents,” Mpahlwa said. “We will be working with ward councilors, and we will make sure that the truck drivers have their numbers, so there can be proper co-ordination between the deliveries and the community.”
Mpahlwa had been at the fire station, where tankers were filling up and being dispatched, since early Sunday morning.
What is the long-term plan?
It’s not the first time the pump station at James Kleynhans has been flooded. GMDirect asked Makana’s Water and Sanitation Manager Gubevu Maduna what had caused this week’s incident and what could be done to prevent it happening again.
“What’s not happening is proper preventive maintenance,” Gubevu said.
He was speaking after the launch at the city hall on Thursday 18 February of three important infrastructure projects.
Well under way is a fourth infrastructure project, the refurbishment of the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works, which will see it expand its output capacity from 10 megalitres to 20ML a day.
Once this upgrade is complete, most of the town’s water needs will be met, officials say.
However, until then, the plant continues to run at 2ML over its design capacity.
“Even the smallest interruption to supply results in a water shortage for a large number of residents,” Gubevu said.
In addition, the Disaster Act means the municipality must by law ensure water is always available as part of a Covid-19 prevention strategy.
“There are a number of permissions that have to be obtained to shut down the water supply,” Maduna said.
“Under these circumstances it’s difficult to do proper maintenance,” Maduna said.
The James Kleynhans upgrade involves (essentially) the duplication of the existing plant. When it’s complete, it will be possible to turn one unit off completely for proper maintenance and the town will still receive water, albeit at half capacity.
“The sooner the upgrade is concluded, the better.”
The next phase of the upgrade which is key to ensuring a consistent supply was scheduled for completion in September this year.
The bad news is that project managers Amatola Water have indicated this phase is 50 days behind schedule, Gubevu said.
“We have engaged Amatola Water and the Department of Water and Sanitation about these delays and it may be possible to recover some of that time.”
Yes, it’s happened before
A four-day water outage on the eve of the National Arts Festival in 2016 was similarly caused by flooding of the pump station at JKWTW. A disciplinary inquiry was held amnd a staff member was fired. Read that story here.
In November 2017, a prolonged water outage saw Joza residents queueing for water in scenes very similar to thos last weekend. Read about it here.
Almost exactly two years ago, in February 2019, the Gift of the Givers came to Makhanda’s rescue. Some areas had been without water for two weeks. Read about that here.
Makana and Gift of the Givers continue to deliver water to areas that remain without water today. Below is a video of frustrated residents in Albany Road this morning around 10.30am who have been without water for five days. Their fury was triggered when the driver of truck dispensing water left, explaining that they had to get a new, narrower pipe. Even though they said they would return, residents were at the end of their tether.
The video was taken by Gino Nel, Pastor of the Bowker Street Baptist Church.