The maximum time a human being can go without water is estimated to be a week. Within difficult conditions such as sweltering heat, three to four days may be more typical.
Water is life but not all people in South Africa have access to this basic human right.
For the past three weeks, the community members in Syferbult in the North West province say that they have had little to no access to the precious resource.
Resident in Syferbult *Simon Matshediso says that for most of April their taps have been dry.
“People are suffering. It’s been around a month that we haven’t had water. We need water and the water is not available. We survive by buying water but we don’t have money to buy water. The elderly have to hire young boys to fetch water for them and most are pensioners barely surviving on grants.”
Another concerned community member *Ray Molefe explains that water trades for around R3 per 20 litres, a hefty price for a poverty-stricken community.
“We live in very hard conditions when the water is cut. Most of us are not employed and we are forced to scrape money together for those 20 litres. We have children who attend school, we have to bathe them, wash their clothes, 20 litres is too little.”
Syferbult is just inside the border of the North West Province with 1000-plus people. Roughly a decade ago, the area started as an informal settlement as people sought work from the farmers in the area.
Eskom denies cutting electricity to pump water
There is confusion surrounding the details of the water cut. Firstly, electricity is required for the water pumps to work. Since there is no electricity, diesel is required for a generator to pump the water to the community.
Resident Molefe says they were told by the ward committee that Eskom was to blame for cutting the electricity.
“They (Eskom) cut the electricity because the municipality didn’t pay it. We were pumping water by use of electricity, then the municipality never paid the electricity bill and Eskom stopped the electricity. So now they (municipality) bring in diesel to pump water with it. Sometimes they bring diesel, sometimes they don’t.”
Ward councillor for Ward 36 of the Rustenburg Municipality which services Syferbult, Pogiso Tsienyane, echoes this sentiment of Eskom cutting the power to the water tank.
“Eskom says the municipality hasn’t paid them so they are waiting for the municipality to pay them because there is a bill that is outstanding there.”
Eskom has denied all of these claims and says that they have not interrupted any power in concerns to the all the areas serviced by the Rustenburg Municipality. National Spokesperson for the electricity public utility Khulu Phasiwe says Rustenburg is not on their list of municipalities that they are interrupting.
“The municipalities that we are looking into are far from Rustenburg, like Vryburg and those places. Currently, if the municipalities are having any problems then clearly it is a technical problem which has nothing to do with Eskom. We are not interrupting any power supply to Rustenburg municipality.”
Spokesperson Andrew Seome from the Rustenburg municipality confirms that no electricity has been interrupted from Eskom to the municipality, however, passes the buck back to Eskom.
“That area, Ward 36 is not our jurisdiction as a municipality – but we are responsible as they are our communities. They are apparently supplied by Eskom and not the municipality. I am still awaiting response from Eskom because they need to speak to someone responsible for that area. They have not given me the details yet. We’ve (Rustenburg municipality) got power, Ward 36 is catered directly by Eskom.”
Eskom has yet to respond to the allegation by time of publishing this article.
Who delivered the diesel?
When SABC Digital News visited Syferbult on Friday last week, Syferbult ward committee member *Lebogang Mangope explained that a Good Samaritan who lives in the area filled the machine with 100 litres of diesel on that morning.
“I asked them for diesel and they brought it. 100 litres. It will last until around 6PM today. The machine will stop and thereafter it will only flow for two days. Still there is no solution because adding diesel to the generator is only a temporary resolution, maybe next time they won’t assist me.”
Ward councillor Tsienyane disputes this and says that the municipality delivered diesel on Thursday.
“No, the diesel came from the municipality. The diesel that came from that person was somewhere near when we had a problem with water shortage, this is when they helped the community. But this diesel came from the municipality.”
Ward committee member Mangope further emphasises that the community has been stricken by lack of water and feels they are getting a run around from authorities.
“We do have a problem with water. The municipality says that they have paid for the electricity that pumps the water. In the meantime, they (municipality) were delivering diesel but now they have stopped delivering because they said they have paid for the electricity that is meant to pump the water.”
Tsienyane further says that he wasn’t aware of the water situation and was only made aware of it last week. He says the failure of communication from the community is the reason for the shortage of diesel for the generator.
“They (Syferbult community) said there was no water but I managed to phone someone from the municipality to bring diesel for the machine, it’s just that the machine ran dry without diesel. The diesel was sent last week Thursday and they usually fill the machine with 220 litres of diesel. There is a person looking after the machine and this person was nominated by the community to look after the machine but now the issue here is communication because he doesn’t inform me on time.”
On Tuesday, Syferbult resident Matshediso, confirmed that the water supply from last week’s diesel drop had come to a complete halt yet again from Saturday.
“We survive by buying water but we suffer because we don’t have money to buy water. When desperate, we take wheelbarrows and go to the big shop to fetch water. They allow us to take it for free but it’s a far trek however we are forced to go there when we don’t have money.”
Water is one of the most important substances on earth and with no solution in sight, one of the poorest communities in the North West will continue the struggle to survive with intermittent access to this liquid gold.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of people concerned.