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As the country observed National Water Week in the past few days, the continued scarcity of water in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality seems to be reaching critical levels despite the disaster getting the intervention of the national government. The metro has in recent months run awareness campaigns discouraging residents from wasting water as the dams that feed the city have very little water. The metro has a set target of an average 230 megalitres per day but due to water wastage it surpasses that and ends up using 290 megalitres per day.

The metropolitan area of Nelson Mandela Bay includes Gqeberha, Kariega, Despatch and Colchester and has a total population of 1,296,000. Residents have been urged to reduce water usage and advised to switch to grey water for purposes other than consumption.

The most affected parts are the northern areas, Kariega and the affluent suburbs that depend on water from five dams. The dams are Churchill which supplies water to the southern and western surburbs, Impofu, Kouga, Loerie, and Groendal. All these dams have reached critical levels, caused by the worst drought the region has experienced in decades.

Despite the municipality’s pleas to residents to use 50 litres of water per person per day, some residents are furious that the municipality is failing to plug water leaks that are common in most areas. They say the leaks waste clean water while the municipality takes a long time to respond to reported leaks.

The municipality, with the assistance of private partners, has for the past year been drilling several boreholes to mitigate the problem. It also recently boosted its fleet of water tankers by adding 20 new trucks.

Residents fed up with NMBM handling of water crisis

Nelson Mandela Bay Water Crisis Committee member, Siya Mama told Elitsha, “We had a meeting last September [2022] with officials of the municipality to discuss the issue. The municipality acknowledged that they were trying by all means but there is nothing they can do to curb away the leaks because its something that comes everyday. So there is no capacity to fight this battle. What’s confusing about the municipality though is that they are not changing their strategy in that a truck will pass a water leak and when community members stop that truck and point at the leak, those workers will say it’s not on their job list for that day.

“In these conditions they [the municipality] are supposed to change those strategies. Those are little things the municipality can do because leaks that are currently here can fill in two dams. We have the community of Chris Hani that was not receiving water for about six months but they were billed for water they did not use.”

Some residents of Gunguluza, Kariega scrambling for water delivered by a municipal water tanker. They are among the worse affected communities having spent a long period of time without water. Photo by Joseph Chirume

Residents of Powerline informal settlement in Motherwell say their water taps are always broken because there are many people who use the taps. “At first I used to think that there were criminals that were targeting our taps. I later realised that the taps, which are made of plastic have no value and cannot be stolen. Instead there are more than 300 people using one tap. This exhausts the tap resulting in it quickly breaking. We normally replace the taps on our own because it takes longer periods of time for the municipality to do so,” said a resident who did not want his name published.

Impofu Dam Barge Phase 1 has been decommissioned because the water has reached the river bed. Archive photo from the Department of Water and Sanitation.

Some residents of the metro have taken to venting their anger and frustration on the municipality’s Facebook page. Juliet Britz was angry a few days ago after reporting a leak but no action was taken by officials to fix it. Despite having a reference number from officials, no meaningful action was taken. Said Britz, “Work not done. Why are we sitting with water leaks and incompetent workers yet our water supply is running out? This is  just inexcusable service.”

Lukho Lukhanya Tira recently wrote, “My post was deleted because it states facts I understand. Clearly Nelson Mandela Municipality doesn’t prioritize community needs. For me it’s clear why the Metro is running out of water.”  

A deleted message, posted on March 22, read, “The Nelson Mandela Municipality needs to start acting accordingly. The communities are complaining of water leakages. These water leaks are not being fixed and yet people are being charged for water that is leaking. Who is entitled to fix the pipes?”

According to Facebook user, Pelo Madikela Mbeka, some water leaks in Motherwell reported in January have yet to be fixed. Photo by Joseph Chirume.

Response by NMBM

NMBM spokesperson, Mthubanzi Mniki, however, blames the prevalence of water leaks to vandalism and poor infrastructure maintenance: “Most of the time [water leaks] are caused by vandalism of water pipes and taps, poor installation or maintenance as well as ageing infrastructure.” Mniki said they have a turnaround time of 48 hours to fix a leak and added that the type of leak and the tools needed sometimes stretches that time.

He said the municipality hires private contractors: “We currently have a team of private plumbing companies working with municipal plumbers who go around fixing leaks. They are assisted by 200 EPWP workers who also go around identifying leaks across the city.”