Editorials

Editorial: Muddying the waters

Editorial

The tragedy of Brits's lack of access to clean water is that people had to die before anyone took any notice.

Mothotlung and neighbouring areas served by the Madibeng municipality have been subjected to regular shortages of water for the past few years. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The tragedy of the events in Mothotlung in Brits is not only that people had to go for so long without proper access to water, but that it had to take the tragic death of community members for South Africa to take notice and for the media and government ministers to visit the area.

The picture that has since emerged shows that not only Mothotlung but also the neighbouring areas served by the Madibeng municipality have all been subjected to regular shortages of water for the past few years.

Rural South Africans appear to be trapped in a maze of incompetence and corruption that bedevils water provision. Residents either do not have water, or only have periodic access. But because they have taps and a water infrastructure in place, the official statistics say they have "access" to water. Often the systems have been poorly built because of corrupt tenders (pipes buried too shallow so they crack and leak) or taps and diesel pumps are stolen.

So the official statistics that show large numbers of South Africans have access to water may well be misleading when it comes to the reality on the ground. Muyexe village in Limpopo, which was opened with great fanfare by President Jacob Zuma a few years ago, is a perfect case of this – the money was allocated and a bulk water pipe was built, but shortcuts were taken and the pipe broke soon after the president and his entourage had left.

As the ruling party launches its manifesto, making even more fresh promises, it should spare a thought for the people of Mothotlung and other small towns, who still dream of a better life for all. Because, as Justice Kate O'Regan wrote in the Constitutional Court judgment of Mazibuko and Others v City of Johannesburg and Others, "Water is life."

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