Drought and strike leave taps dry in Butterworth

Protesting residents block N2 demanding water tankers

Photo of a person scooping water from a dam with algae

Bhungeni informal settlement residents in Butterworth are using any water they can find. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

12 August 2019

Residents of Butterworth closed the busy N2 from East London to Mthatha with burning tyres on Monday morning. They are demanding that Amathole District Municipality (ADM) deliver water to their small town where the taps have run dry.

It was the second day residents protested. On Sunday, residents also closed the N2 for several hours.

Residents say they have been out of water for a week now, since an unprotected strike at the municipality started on 5 August. The workers are demanding an annual pay increment of 6.5%.

Butterworth CBD, Zizamele and Msobomvu, are supplied by Xilinxa dam which is almost empty. These areas usually got water from 5 to 8am, and again from 5 to 8pm. Residents and the municipality allege that the supply has been sabotaged.

When GroundUp visited the town centre last week, there was no water. Public toilets were closed; people we spoke to said they were using the veld instead.

Cuba informal settlement and extensions were getting water delivered by tankers before the strike. Resident Axolile Soto said the area has now been without water for two weeks.

“We are now relying on dirty water from a small river which is a kilometre away … That river is for animals,” said Soto.

“Ngcuwa dam [which is empty] … is full of sand and the municipality is doing nothing about that. Residents once offered to dig the dam but ADM promised to bring its contractors to do the work and that was three years ago,” he said.

Residents with cars are fetching water from a small dam out of town. They said the water was dirty, but they could do laundry with it. They are buying drinking water.

Residents at Bhungeni use a small small river behind their informal settlement to do laundry. Some said they drink the water, but first boil it.

A month ago ADM announced that R156 million would be allocated to Mnquma Local Municipality to implement water and sanitation projects.

On its Facebook page, ADM asked for patience. It said 14 water tankers have been outsourced and the water tankers will operate under private security.

It said private security would be extended to treatment plants where the water supply had been deliberately switched off or damaged.