“How are we going to survive without water?” asks protesting Rhodes University student

About 300 students joined Makhanda residents and civic movements in a march to City Hall to demand an end to the water crisis

By Loyiso Dyongman

8 May 2023

Makhanda residents picket outside City Hall with Rhodes University students on Monday to demand a permanent solution to the water crisis. Photos: Loyiso Dyongman

About 300 Rhodes University students joined Makhanda residents and civil society movements on Monday to march to City Hall on Monday. They protested against the ongoing water crisis.

Groups joining the march included, among others, the Makana Civil Community Coalition and Unemployed People’s Movement.

The protest started at Rhodes University’s Drostdy Arch at about 5am. There were many police monitoring the situation. The group then moved to the offices of Makana Municipality officials. The group’s main demand is for the City to find a permanent solution to the crisis.

In April, we reported on Makhanda residents, old and young, queuing with cars and donkey carts to fill their containers at a water tanker provided by Gift of the Givers. The organisation has been trucking water and much-needed disaster relief to communities as the municipality battles a crippling water crisis.

Makana Residents Association secretary Tim Bull recently told GroundUp that he believed that the issue is not that the dams are empty but rather with the municipal administration. He said that it is not clear that the James Kleynhans upgrade would solve much of the troubles until they have a functioning municipality.

On Monday, municipal manager Phumelelo Kate eventually came out and briefly spoke to the crowd, promising that the municipality would respond to their demands within seven working days.

Ayanda Kota, leader of the Unemployed People’s Movement, said residents of Makhanda were tired of addressing the water issue with senior officials without any resolution.

Kota said if the municipality doesn’t respond timeously, then they are going to intensify action.

The protest started at Rhodes University and then ended at the City Hall.

We spoke to several students who said that many of them often had missed lectures because there was no water to wash or do laundry.

Student Anazo Makhathini from Durban said she can’t afford to buy water with her NSFAS stipend. “How are we supposed to buy water with money meant to cover our needs as students? The municipality knows we depend on them. They also benefit from the university because we students boost the economy,” said Makhathini.

Craig Matthews from Cape Town said, “We are trying to voice our concern over this water crisis in Makhanda. It is the responsibility of the municipality to ensure that we have water. How are we going to survive without water?”

University spokesperson, Velisile Bukula, wrote that students also handed over a memo to Vice-Chancellor Sizwe Mabizela.

Bukula wrote that despite the student leaders’ assurances that the protest would not be disruptive, access to the camps was blocked in the morning and critical services like food and cleaning were disrupted as a result. “As the University processes the issues raised by the students, the university leadership urges the SRC to allow unimpeded access to campus so that critical services can be rendered and for the academic programme to resume.”

In a statement on Monday, the municipality noted that there was an issue at the Howiesons Poort dam. “A team of divers came to unblock any potential disruption. Although some debris and rusted metals were discovered, the blockage is still persisting.

“Amatola Water also dispatched a team on 7 May but to no luck. Further investigations are currently underway. It is regrettable that it’s taking so long as it is the first time such a problem occurs. Water will now be opened on Thursday, 11 May,” the statement read.