Plenty of water, but not enough pumps


Mooimeisies Borehole in Riebeeck East. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Riebeeck East is one of Frontier Country’s many small towns suffocated by drought. What used to be a flowering rustic village is now a dry ghost town, where residents are desperate for water. In December 2018 strict water rationing was put in place by Makana, limiting residents to two hours of water twice a day.

“What’s happening is that they’re putting the water on at short intervals, and because there’s no pressure. Anybody higher up or further out, the water can’t get to,” said PR Councillor Cary Clark. Clark is a resident of Riebeeck East, and has been fighting the water crisis since 2015.

The town’s supply is fed by one borehole. In late 2018, four new boreholes were sunk with the use of drought relief funding secured by Makana Municipality. Of those four, three are productive – but none has been connected.

The new Mooimeisies borehole sits behind the old Piet Retief orphanage just off the main road – a dilapidated building that has become home to squatters, as well as their cattle and chickens. The Grocott’s Mail team was led behind the orphanage through sun-baked paddocks to the borehole. Swarming with flying insects, a small trickle of red-stained water dripped through the cap.

“Now we’re sitting and waiting for the connection. Even though there’s water, we can’t use it,” said Clark. “People say don’t make it political – but it’s time to tell the truth. Tell it like it is – it cannot get any worse than it already is.”

Along with the drought, documents provided to our reporters included correspondence with the Department of Water and Sanitation as well as information concerning the deplorable state of Riebeeck East’s Water Treatment Works (WTW). Previously Grocott’s Mail visited the site and can confirm allegations that the tanks at the WTW are held together by straps.

Fire risk

Riebeeck East has no fire station, with the nearest one 40km away in Makhanda (Grahamstown). “We’ve had two fires here already with no water, and that is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Clark.

On Sunday 13 January a fire broke out in a veld near the centre of town. Before Makana Fire Services arrived, residents were out in their pyjamas and slippers, using buckets to douse the flames. “It was the scariest thing,” said one resident. “The fire was metres away from wiping out all of town.”

With conditions growing worse, Clark approached Makana, asking them to request formal assistance from the military base.

“I [am turning to]the military because [Makana’s] water truck is broken and [the Army]have a water bowser. So I said would they be prepared to lend us their truck. Because we’ve got farmers with boreholes [who]are willing to give the water.”

Clark said any assistance would be a miracle – whether water was brought in from Makhanda, or pumps were installed in the new boreholes.

“The idea was to get water to fill the town’s tank, and if we did that we would have enough pressure.”

That regularly topped up would provide enough pressure to service everyone in the town.

On 7 January, Clark corresponded with Makana requesting assistance. Since then, no further communication had been made, Clark said. A request to the military base must come directly from Makana.

Makana was approached for comment on the matter but had not responded by the time of publication.

“If that supply runs out then we are seriously [screwed]. Why wait until that happens?” said Clark. “The fact is, we are sitting with water, we have water, but they haven’t connected it.”

Residents believed that the Mooimeisies borehole could supply the town on its own for about a year, but without a pump, the resource becomes a waste. For now, residents are using rainwater tanks and stocking up on wet wipes.

Clark and other residents stressed that the installation of Jojo tanks throughout the community would have a positive impact, given the efficiency at which rainwater collects in the tanks. Residents estimated that there were fewer than 20 Jojo tanks in the township area.

The day Grocott’s Mail visited, Riebeeck East School had released children early as a result of no water. Principal Thobile Ncula said that the taps were dry at the school, and learners could no longer use the ablution facilities. 

“We have two JoJo tanks but one has run dry and the level in the other is very low. It will run out by Friday.”, said Ncula. “We need the JoJo water for cooking meals for the learners and for drinking.”

“We would appreciate any help from [Makana] or the army.”

Despite the situation, the community remains in surprisingly high spirits. Their love for the little village is abundant, compared to the water.

A sheep farm in Riebeeck East, dry and eerily empty after prolonged heat and little rainfall. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

“This shouldn’t be political, it’s water. It’s a human rights issue,” said Clark.

Grocott’s Mail will continue to report.






Hope runs dry as promises and plans disappear

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Investigative journalist; health, human rights, politics and environmental stories.

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