Community standing on its own

There was agility in her movement as she pointed out areas she has walked in search of water in Tshakhuma, near Thohoyandou in Limpopo. Mrs Florence Negondeni has become a pioneer in the fight for access to water. She is not a councillor, nor an elected public representative, but a community-based egalitarian whose contribution has earned her recognition beyond the borders of her home village, Tshakhuma.

Negondeni had kept the audience at the Water Research Commission (WRC) Dialogue in Polokwane captivated by the story of the success of her project. Not only was she telling of a success that has been going on for a year, but she was proud of the little that the community could do on their own without much assistance from government departments or municipalities. They have their own water scheme, which has been supplying the village with water for more than a year, using R113 000 raised from 113 households.

Tshakhuma is known for the biggest fruit and vegetable market in the Venda area along the R524 to Punda Maria. Some of the fruit at the market is directly from the local households. The Tshakhuma avocadoes are known for their special taste and remain in great demand. The Luvuvhu valley farms supply the market with other food such as bananas, sweet potatoes and groundnuts.

Eleven communal water schemes have been established in Tshakhuma, with Negondeni leading the one that serves the Mulangaphuma area.

“Since 2012 there was general water shortage all over Tshakhuma. The municipal water scheme that reticulated water in this area was unreliable, going into weeks without villagers having access to water. This made me think about ancient areas in the mountains where our people used to get water from,” said Negondeni.

“After surveying the mountains we discovered a number of springs, from which Mutshindudi and Luvuvhu rivers originate, that we could use to supply the village with water. That’s where we went back to access what would we need to supply everyone with water. Upon advice we believed that we could draw a budget and fund it in on our own to eventually have water.”

Negondeni’s scheme supplies water to about 4 000 people who previously did not have access to water. The total population of Tshakhuma is estimated to be 16 200. Eleven villages (Lukau, Thondoni, Mulangaphuma 1, Mulangaphuma 2, Muhovhoya 1, Muhovhoya 2, Maswie, Matavha, Mutshindoni, Dzananwa and Tshiswiswini) out of 13 are participating in the multiple use water schemes. Nine of these schemes are working at an optimal rate, while two have problems with the source.

Despite the fact that a dam was constructed in the 1990s, it has not provided much water to locals. This is all the more reason the locals resorted to their own means to get water, much to the discomfort of the Vhembe district municipality, which is the water services authority in the area.

Tshitereke Ramagoma, spokesperson of the Vhembe district municipality, said: “The municipality is quite aware that the Maswie and other communities of Tshakhuma get water from the spring. While the distribution of water to residents is a relief, the municipality is still responsible for supplying quality approved [water] only from dams and drilled boreholes.

“The initiative is a community intervention, which is not the district municipality’s project and cannot be supported, as water quality can be easily compromised. The future plan is to ensure that the municipality’s reticulation and water supply project provide water from the boreholes to augment water supply.”

It is this gap between Negondeni’s expectation and the municipality’s programme that the WRC is mediating through its dialogue initiative, which has been ongoing for two years in Tshakhuma. Negondeni feels that there is too much red tape from public service, which somehow foils the suggestions that communities make. As a result, she had initially focused on the initiatives that are driven by communities rather than those of public service. She feels that the pillar of her support will be traditional authorities such as Vho-Ramadi, who allowed her to use his village as a passage for water pipes in his area of Tshiswiswini.

Vho-Mulangaphuma is one of the headmen who have played a major role in ensuring that water is conserved in tanks, which are stored at his homestead. Water is drawn using 80mm pipes over a distance of 3.9km until it reaches the five storage tanks of 5 000 litres each. The tanks are gravity fed.

Unlike water reticulation done by municipalities, which take a long time and needs engineers and other technical expertise, it took Negondeni and her community just 13 days to have the pipe constructed from the mountain to the storage tanks.

Residents are pleased that they now have water to use for different purposes. Some have fruit and vegetable gardens in their own yards and a few have started breeeding chickens.

“It was never going to be enough to get smaller portions of water to all of these. We know at what time our area is going to receive water. Some of us have storage facilities like JoJo tanks while others use others forms of storage. It is better than having no water at all,” remarked Negondeni.

The next mission for Negondeni and her team is to see the reticulation reach parts of Tshitavhadulu, which, viewed from the storage facility, is just 2km across the R524.

This, she hopes, will be achieved through the assistance of headman Vho-Mukandangalwo of Mulangaphuma 2.

Finer details of community support

The Water Research Commission (WRC) believes that the best approach to water management rests in the type of interaction government makes with communities and the type of dialogues that make finer assessment of community needs. This is at the face of government making huge investment in water provision and the backlog of water provision in South Africa.

Virginia Malose, research manager for multiple use water services at the WRC, said that when water needs are raised, it is never mentioned what the water is for; knowing this would help improve plans to supply water across the country.

In the Vhembe and Sekhukhune district municipalities in Limpopo, the WRC has partnered with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which has helped assess community needs and develop project plans for intervention in six areas in the two district municipalities.

Dr Barbara van Koppen, of the IWMI, presented the findings of their research at the Multiple Water Use Dialogue held recently in Polokwane. She said: “The findings of this diagnosis underline untapped opportunities for the most cost-effective and sustainable approaches to participatory planning of water services.

“Reliable and year-round access to water for both domestic and productive uses is vital in low and middle income rural areas, where the livelihoods in vulnerable agrarian societies depend in many ways on water. Storage and conveyance infrastructure provides such reliable access and enhances resilience to climate variability and extreme events.”

In the research Van Koppen observed that both communities and the public sector invest heavily in water infrastructure. She found that there is excitement over new infrastructure but the maintenance and upkeep of it is dismal, especially where the public sector has made a great investment. But where projects are community-driven, greater care is taken over what the infrastructure would be used for. The public water sector can build on this to enable the next incremental steps to achieve more with the less money over the short and long term.

She further pointed out that: “A closer look at rural communities’ investment in self-supply, reveals further ‘water wisdom’, which makes an even stronger case for community-driven planning and design of water infrastructure. For communities, water is water, which meets multiple needs. Water for domestic uses, livestock, cropping, horticulture, fisheries, building, small-scale enterprise, and ceremonial uses are all equally important in fragile livelihoods.”

In Tshakhuma and Khalavha the research has found that the infrastructure used by the community is designed for multi-purpose use. They also use and re-use multiple inter-related water sources: rainfall, surface water, wetlands, soil moisture and groundwater.

In Tshakhuma one of the project leaders, Mrs Florence Negondeni, said that between 2013 and 2014 she walked the top of the nearby mountain looking for fountains that supplied the village many moons ago. It was these springs that she tapped into to supply water, using simple methods, to the village, benefitting close to 4 000 people in a short time period.

Involving community members in the research was facilitated by a local partner, the nongovernmental organisation Tsogang Water and Sanitation, which interacted daily with residents to find out how they could effectively bring their projects to a sustainable level. They examined all sources of water, the methods of getting water into the storage facilities as well as simple reticulation into various households.

Tsogang’s community support methods were based on acknowledging existing community interventions, perfecting such interventions and ensuring the durability of such initiatives.

The research intervention assisted 11 villages in Tshakhuma — about 16 000 residents — in in dealing with how to protect the source of water, water storage and reticulation pipelines.

After two years of research, it was estimated that the overall cost of the intervention in Tshakhuma, for example, is close to R1-million, which will focus on all areas identified. Khalavha would require R375 433. This assessment will help with project implementation and finding sources of funding beyond what residents themselves have contributed.

The WRC has identified the African Water Facility as a resource to use for funding these projects beyond their current funding, which is viewed as problematic. The weakness of local initiatives that depend on the ability to invest in infrastructure can be that they widen existing inequalities. Head-end water use by those who can afford new household connections can deprive tail-end street taps.

This was one of the problems identified in Tshakhuma, where some villagers who did not pay the R1 000 per household were not connected to the communal reconnection system, leading to problems of vandalism by those who feel excluded.

In her conclusion Van Knoppen said: “In sum, community participation from planning phase onwards can build on more than each of the WASH and irrigation sectors has realised in the past: communities’ age-old holistic local knowledge about the water situation and their major labour, technical skills and financial investments to cost-effectively improve their health and wealth.”

This call for a holistic approach is slowly gaining momentum in the public sector, with representatives from both district municipalities cautiously throwing their support behind the project.

Tshitereke Ramagoma, spokesperson for the Vhembe district municipality, believes that a worked out relationship with stakeholders is best in service provision. “The district municipality is committed to a good relationship with all stakeholders. As the water services authority we consider the relationship with the Water Service Commission as important to our service delivery mandate. The commission will get the necessary support when performing its duties guided by different mandates.”

If the enthusiasm of the WRC in this project is matched by the desired results, there is no doubt that the next phase of water service provision will be revolutionalised and better outcomes are achieved, particularly for those communities who live near sources of water.

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