6 October 2020
Despite receiving its first heavy rainfall in months, Makana remains in the grips of a serious water crisis. Makhanda, formerly Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, was without water for most of last week, with some areas reporting that their taps were dry for over a week.
Makhanda has been experiencing a water crisis for the last two years. The water crisis has been caused by the neglect of water supply infrastructure by the Makana Municipality, combined with four years of drought.
In a statement on Thursday, the municipality explained that extended water cuts were due to “a faulty pump at the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works” in need of repair. Water was partially restored to most of the town by Saturday afternoon, but cuts continue intermittently.
Makhanda receives over half of its water from the Orange-Fish River scheme which pumps through the James Kleynhans Treatment Works. This water supply has been affected by dilapidated infrastructure rather than by the drought.
The drought has dried up the two dams, Settlers and Howiesons Poort, which usually supply the western side of town. This means that James Kleynhans Treatment Works, which previously only supplied Makhanda east, now has to supply most of the town. At the moment it only has a pumping capacity of between ten and 12 megalitres per day, below the total consumption of the town. This has resulted in frequent water cuts and throttling.
Upgrades to the plant were initially to be completed by late 2017. In January 2020, the implementing agent, Amatola Water, confirmed that the tender was awarded to Mamlambo Construction. The upgrade was to be done by September 2021 and capacity was to be increased to 20 megalitres.
Gubevu Maduna, Water and Sanitation Manager for Makana Municipality said that the infrastructure at James Kleynhans Treatment Works was taking strain due to the town’s high demand.
Maduna said that before Covid-19, the municipality was using restrictions to ease pressure on the system. However after the start of lockdown, a directorate was sent to all municipalities to have uninterrupted water supply. This placed further strain on the James Kleynhans system, leading to infrastructure defects, said Maduna.
Local residents, schools and businesses are struggling to cope with the erratic water cuts.
Lulama Maseti started a soup kitchen from her home in Extension 8, Joza soon after lockdown. “I started the kitchen because I saw a lot of people struggling with no jobs in the community. I started going to local shops and asked for donations,” said Maseti. Lulama’s Covid-19 support team soup kitchen operates Monday to Saturday, depending on donations, and serves about 100 children and 50 adults per a day, she said.
During water cuts, Maseti is unable to cook and has to turn hungry people away, which Maseti says is very difficult. After she voiced her frustration on a Facebook community page, a resident donated a water tanker to Maseti’s soup kitchen in August.
David Vansensie lives with his wife in a shack in Nkanini, a relatively new informal settlement on the outskirts of Makhanda. He works in a community garden every Saturday. While filling up a bucket at a Gift of the Givers water tanker, Vansensie told GroundUp that water was a “big problem” in Nkanini. He said that there were very few taps and tanks across the township.
Vansensie said that “all the tankers are empty” or taps are often dry, which left many residents without water for up to three weeks. Vansensie said he regularly walked to Makhanda centre, some ten kilometres from Nkanini, to find water.
Businesses that rely on water are also struggling. The owner of Grahamstown Laundry and Dry Cleaners, who asked to be identified as Kallun, said: “We depend on water. If we don’t have water we have to stop.” Kallan said that during the water peak of the water crisis the business relied on borehole water which cost “well over R150,000” and the debt would take more than five years to repay.