By Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais
February 9, 2017
If you want to test local temperatures in the little river town of Cradock in the Eastern Cape Karoo, it would be instructive to read the latest posts on a Facebook page called Cradock Speakout. It’s a closed group and outsiders cannot view the posts or experience the local outrage.
But stop at a petrol station or a guest house, for instance, and you’ll soon find out that the locals are beyond gatvol – fed up. The water supply to the town was cut off once again this week, and came back on in some areas more than a day later. As usual, there was no warning to residents. At some of the largest schools, pupils were sent home.
There is talk of taking Cradock’s continuing water crisis public and attracting the national media. Maybe the Carte Blanche investigative programme on the M-Net channel.
Some can afford to buy water or install rainwater tanks. But those in Cradock’s townships and less wealthy households are becoming desperate.
Everyone agrees that the problem began two and a half years ago, when Queenstown-based Chris Hani District Municipality took the water and sanitation function from the Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality which includes Cradock and Middelburg.
The local municipality and citizens of both towns protested strongly at the time – not least because it meant a crippling loss of around R40 million a year. A loss you can clearly see as you negotiate the deepening potholes in almost every street in Cradock.
But Chris Hani District Municipality, more than an hour’s drive away, went ahead anyway.
Yet ironically, they have not benefited from the R40 million annual income because of their own administrative problems.
Rika Featherstonehaugh, DA councillor for Ward 5 in Cradock, has had to attend meeting after fruitless meeting to sort out the problem.
“When Inxuba Yethemba Municipality handed over records to Chris Hani District Municipality (CHDM), they did it without carefully testing systems beforehand. The two systems were incompatible and that caused the chaos. We are now in the third financial year since the takeover and they are still nowhere near ready to do the billing. During December 2016 they didn’t even have printer cartridges to print accounts for people who went into the offices with queries.”
As any resident of Cradock can tell you, water troubles have been a critically tedious feature of life ever since. On a number of occasions, water quality was so bad that it turned pea green and people became sick.
In July 2015, Afriforum conducted tests and found Cradock’s water unfit to drink.
There are frequent incidents – with no warning – of water stoppages, sometimes for up to five days in certain parts of the town.
In addition, raw sewage is spilling almost continually into the Great Fish River, a serious concern for communities, emerging farmers, dairies and irrigation schemes downstream.
Here are some of the latest comments from locals:
Lisa Antrobus-Ker of the Tuishuise and Victoria Manor Hotel, which employs 40 people: “Last night (Wednesday February 8) we had 70 guests, 15 of them from France. They were absolutely fuming. We’ve had to buy drinking water for all our guests and carry water to guests from our raintanks to flush toilets.
“We called the local authorities, but no one was answering, and when we did find someone, they couldn’t give any information.
“We cannot go on this way.”
Petrus Plaatjies: “First we were and still are struggling with Eskom and Municipal electricity.
Now the water is under the so-called Chris [Hani District] Municipality based in Queenstown and suddenly all our problems started. This is an utter waste of financial resources, since the vehicles need to run between Queenstown and Cradock on a daily basis for meetings. Who pays for that? Us who are currently sucking on dry taps and we pay from our side.
“We voted these people into the positions that they are to speak on our behalf, not to ignore us…. This game of ignoring the masses is not on at all. As a community we demand to be heard and to be informed of any decisions that will affect us adversely.
This is unacceptable to say the least.”
Mpumezo Brownlee: “I have said that this Municipality is a joke, I said it before and I still maintain that. You have failed the people of this Municipality.”
Andisa Ashly Selani: “Am in Lingelihle and there is no water. These ppl don’t care about us. They forgot that we have children that are in school. At least they must tell us in time.”
Antonette de Lange, owner of 7 Cities Guesthouse in Cradock: “You constantly leave the Cradock community without water. No warning! What will a water truck help for businesses that are dependent on water in taps ? The sick, the elderly and small children? We as a community are getting tired of the excuses and no service delivery.”
Stella le Roux: ‘This is something to get angry about. Chris Hani can’t do the work. Give it back to Inxuba Yethemba – they did a better job. We never had problems like this when Inxuba Yethemba had the water.”
Ryno Ferreira: “Not a week goes by without a problem and quite frankly the apologies are not cutting it anymore.
Patience! You must be joking! CHDM had more patience from us than they ever deserve.
Businesses are losing clients, they are losing income. Some workers have been sent home today meaning they will not be paid for the day.
Residents are tired of being used like puppets in a political game. This is not a game, this is about people’s lives.
To be quite frank – we are gatvol!”