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Waterless Khayelitsha residents fear Covid-19

“I fetch water from the nearby dam each morning and evening for my household of six people,” says Ndileka Mabusela, who lives in Khayelitsha. “My children are ill and need clean water to take their medication daily.”

We boil the water before we use it for bathing, cooking and drinking,” says the  47-year-old mother of seven. 

Mabusela’s home is the Makaza region of the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town. The area  contains a high number of informal settlements, RDP houses, and informal backyard dwellers.

She is one of dozens of residents who picketed outside the Cape Town Civic Centre over a lack of water. Residents decided to take to the streets this week, before the country entered into a 21-day lockdown period.

Mabusela and around 100 other households in the area had their water cut off due to account debt. 

As the country prepares to go into lockdown, residents fear that they may be at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19. This could impede government’s attempts to flatten the curve to contain the spread of the coronavirus and avoid a health crisis. 

In a statement, the residents said: “There are high rates of poverty, unemployment and crime. We live in cramped homes without space to self-isolate or effectively practise social distancing. We already experience unsanitary conditions with drain blockages where raw sewage spills into the streets and spaces where children play.” 

The Western Cape has so far recorded the second-highest number of cases of Covid-19 in the country, with 229 out of 927 nationwide cases by Thursday. 

For Mabusela and other residents of Khayelitsha, whose water has been cut off, governments’ messages to increase hand-washing in the face of the pandemic are futile without water in their homes. 

“I am unemployed and I live in the township. Where will I get the money to make payments?” she asks. 

Last Friday, the city of Cape Town announced that it would temporarily suspend water restrictions for residents whose municipal accounts were in arrears. Mabusela,
however, says the city’s officials advised her that her water would only be switched back on once she arranges a repayment plan to settle her debt. 

Mayoral committee member for finance Ian Neilson said that it is still unclear whether residents have no water because of lack of water supply or water interruptions, if the water pressure is playing a role, or if the customers have been restricted to a running trickle-flow of water due to municipal debt.

covid-19 in sa

“In general, if water is restricted, it is done to a running trickle-flow of water, which means that one can wash hands with soap and rinse it with the trickle,” he said. 

“There is no need to protest.”

Xanthea Limberg, a mayoral committee member for water and waste, told the group of protestors that the city is looking into providing residents with water tanks as an interim measure. Limberg did not, however, indicate when the tanks would be provided. 

In the meantime the national department of water and sanitation has identified 2 000 informal settlements that require water and sanitation services during the lockdown period.  Water tankers will be distributed across communities in need.

Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G

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Thando Maeko
Thando Maeko is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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