Water Wells Bring Sorrow

"I wish I was born in another village. I am tired of buying water with the money which is supposed to buy bread for my kids." So says a despondent and desperate Rose Mathebula (35), a resident of the small village Phendulani, close to Cottondale in the Bushbuckridge district not far from the Kruger National Park's (KNP) western border.

Like her grandparents did, Rose and other Cottondale villagers rely on wells, rain or the river for their daily water. For clean water they pay R1,50 for a 25-liter tin or R2 for 30 litres, bought from the more fortunate who can afford boreholes at their homes. "There are taps on some corners of the village, but they are as dry as a desert."

Rose knows of three women who have drowned in the wells, "but we have no choice if we want water. "I cannot afford to pay for water everyday, or walk two kilometres to the nearest tap where I wait my turn for hours and then cart the heavy drums back home.

"The river in the water may not be clean as people use it to wash and even dump waste like nappies. And even though I am wary of cholera, this is what we have to make do. "I hate this life. I started pushing a wheelbarrow at a very young age and now my children are doing the same."

As the rains come this summer, the wells will fill up and Rose will save rainwater as it runs from the roof of her house. She can use the money she spent on water in the winter, on her home.

At times the municipality trucks filled water tanks in to the villages, but the last time this happened at Phendulani, was in December 2008. "The tanks in other areas are filled once a week, but this is still better than having to buy water every day." Albert Khosa, ward councillor for Cottondale and White City villages, says the water crisis affects him too, and he also pays for water.

"Last year the government installed eight water tanks, which is filled once a week on Thursdays. "More than eight engines have been out of order since 2005 and none have been fixed, despite our pleas to the municipality, " he said.

According to Albert the matter has been reported to the Public Protector, who is apparently tending to it at present. Albert confirmed that three women had drowned in wells in the area in the last two years. "We need more water tanks."

While they wait, Cottondale villagers will fetch water every day as generations before them did, clinging to the hope that they will not be drown victim number four or become yet another cholera statistic.

Courtesy Bushbuckridge News

Rose Mathebula is desperate for clean, affordable water in her house. Everyday she fetches water from wells like these or cart a waterdrum for two kilometers to the tap nearest her house. In the rainy season she saves rainwater run-off from the roof of her house.

"Walking at night, in the pitch black, along the water's edge in the Olifants gorge is truly the most incredible thing I have ever done"

By Constance Rahlane

Kruger National Park - South African Safari