Residents rally as City of Cape Town plans to close water collection point

Cape Town residents are rallying behind a man who helped make a spring in the Newlands suburb more accessible to thousands of citizens. While the city has ordered that the spring be closed to the public, residents continue to collect water there as an act of defiance to claim what they believe belongs to the public and not the government. 

Riyaz Rawoot does not live in Newlands. His home is in the nearby suburb of Claremont, but over the years, his parents would tell him of a spring in Newlands where Capetonians could drink what is said to be the cleanest water that flows straight from Table Mountain.

When the drought raised alarm in Cape Town in 2017, Rawoot, a physiotherapist by profession, saw a dire need to improve the area where the spring flows. A single pipe protruded just above the ground at the end of the small cul de sac in Springs Way road. The earth beneath the pipe was muddy and slippery, making it difficult for the one hundred residents who came to stockpile on water in preparation for the drought.

After seeing that chaos in the area may be imminent as more people came to collect water, Rawoot came up with an idea in early 2017.

“It crystallised over time when I was coming and listening and seeing how awkward it was to get to the water. Eventually I said, ‘OK, if I can just get in two pipes for myself, then it will go a bit quicker’. It was quite selfish,” he laughs, watching as people collect water from the spring on a sunny afternoon.

“After that, I thought I may as well leave it for everyone to have benefit from it.”

Eventually, Rawoot’s idea grew. A few more pipes were added, a structure was put in place to make it rise further above the ground, and 26 holes were drilled into the pipes so that 26 people could collect water at the same time.

Last year, 100 people collected water at the spring in one month. Statistics from traffic officials show that in April 2018 the number of people collecting water at the spring had grown to 7 000.

But, Newlands residents are fed up with the traffic and noise in the small cul de sac.

In February, mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith released a statement saying law enforcement and traffic officials would be posted at the site daily to manage congestion. His statement came after a scuffle broke out between people who came to collect water.


“The congestion and noise from cars and persons visiting the site at all hours of the day and night is causing many complaints from the surrounding community, and often Kildare Road and Springs Way, which are simply not wide enough to handle the volume of vehicles trying to access the springs, are blocked,” he said.

On May 11, Rawoot received an email from City officials ordering him to dismantle his structure or the City would take it apart and “costs incurred for this removal” would be imposed on him.

The city said that the national water department had granted it a water license that would give it authority over 13 springs around the Cape, including the Springs Way spring. The City told Rawoot it was therefore shutting down access to the spring so that residents could instead collect water at a new collection point near the Newlands public swimming pools.

The City of Cape Town did not respond to questions from the Mail & Guardian, but last week it told the Cape Argus the spring is not licensed to operate as a collection point.

“The Kildare spring licensing conditions does not enable it to be a collection point — it will either be utilised as a recharge to Liesbeek River or to enter the potable water supply. There is no proper drainage from the collection points into the system at Kildare, meaning there is water wastage,” said City of Cape Town spokesperson Priya Reddy.

At the swimming pool, concerned residents have said they would have to walk a further distance to reach their cars while carrying 25-litre containers of water. No trolleys to push containers are allowed, making accessibility difficult.

Rawoot was given until May 13 to remove his pipes.

Civil disobedience in a time of drought

On a rainy Monday morning, 8 days after Rawoot was ordered to dismantle his structure, a few people still stream in to the small cul de sac to collect water.

Law enforcement in the road has encouraged residents to go to the spring nearby the swimming pool for water, but many are determinedly fetching water from Rawoot’s piped structure, which is held together by rope, zip-ties and a few nails.

“I’ve been coming to here for ages and I wouldn’t have had a good time during this drought if it wasn’t for this kind man’s intervention by producing a piece of engineering second to none,” says Derek Smith, a retired professor from the University of Cape Town.

For Rawoot, the pipe has come to be more than just a practical solution to access water — it is also a symbol of a community spirit that is rare in Cape Town.

“Everyone comes here. All backgrounds. There you’ve got a suit, there you got a shorts, there you got a painter’s trousers. Teenager. Schoolboy,” Rawoot says, pointing to the people collecting water. “All in this little cul de sac.”

Rawoot has printed the email the city sent him on May 11. He pasted an enlarged and laminated version of it up on the law enforcement container next to the spring. The printed out email has the names and email addresses of those officials who ordered that the pipes be dismantled. Some residents have now vowed to let the city know just how much they disagree with this order.

One man approaches Rawoot and fondly shakes his hand.

“They’ll regret it,” the man says of the city, “because now everyone has got their email address too, so watch what happens. I’ll be spamming somebody.”

Rawoot, with residents’ support, is determined to keep his pipes in operation. The structure, he says, remains incomplete because he had plans to improve on it.

“It’s not finished yet,” he says. 

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.
Advertising

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations

Senwes launches Agri Value Chain Food Umbrella

South African farmers can now help to feed the needy by donating part of their bumper maize crop to delivery number 418668

Ethics and internal financial controls add value to the public sector

National treasury is rolling out accounting technician training programmes to upskill those who work in its finance units in public sector accounting principles

Lessons from South Korea for Africa’s development

'Leaders can push people through, through their vision and inspiration, based on their exemplary actions'

Old Mutual announces digital AGM

An ambitious plan to create Africa’s biggest digital classroom is intended to address one of the continent’s biggest challenges — access to education

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday