South Africa currently has a R900 billion water infrastructure backlog. The Eastern Cape is said to be the worst affected province as it will require over a R120 billion to address water infrastructure and bulk water supply to its total populace.

The problem is worsened by the prolonged five-year drought, which has severely affected three districts out of the six currently declared a disaster areas. This reality has seen a spate of protests across the Eastern Cape more recently in Mnquma Local Municipality in the town of Butterworth.

Tensions are at an all time high in Butterworth. Residents are desperate as they struggle to find water. They have been waiting for a concise plan for more than a year.

One resident in the area, Sibabalwe Dadaboshe, says they have no option but to hold a protest.

“We are here fighting for our constitutional right which is water we have been fighting for this water since August as we all know the promises that were made by the Minister and the Premier we only see progress on paper we are not educated so the progress on paper is only for the educated people,” says Dadaboshe.

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The Amathole District Municipality requires R11.6 billion to solve its water infrastructure and provisioning problems.

Municipal Manager, Thandekile Mnyimba, says the motive behind unrest in Butterworth is politically motivated.

“It is about local government elections next year. People are positioning themselves for the local government elections so that is the political thuggery I am talking about; where certain individuals within who are leading actually the concerned groups who want to undermine government work and government interventions,” says Mnyiba.

Provincial Head of the Department of Water and Sanitation, Portia Makhanya, says the water crisis in Mnquma is receiving special attention.

“Engineers are on site doing all the necessary planning and investigations so that the complete designs to raise that wall is done. The intention is to increase the storage capacity there and then with the Xhilinxa dam will be augmented by getting water from Tsomo river which is in Chris Hani district through a regional bulk scheme that will service both municipalities. And that water will be moved from Ngqamakhwe scheme then to Butterworth,” says Makhanya.

An estimated 2 000 villages in the Eastern Cape still don’t have access to running water.

Water shortage looms in the Eastern Cape: