Home News THE BIG SHUTDOWN..Residents start to panic

THE BIG SHUTDOWN..Residents start to panic

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Long queues formed outside the Fire Department and the Newton Reservoir as people filled up every container they had available

City residents collecting water at the fire station and at a point in Greenpoint. Picture: Danie van der Lith

DESPERATE Kimberley residents faced another day without water yesterday, and while the Sol Plaatje Municipality attempted to provide water in storage tanks, many locals became increasingly despondent and panicky as they waited in vain for the water to come back on.

From early morning, reports were received from across the city of storage (JoJo) tanks that had been empty since Sunday.

“Please send water to Beaconsfield,” one resident pleaded. “The people have resorted to relieving themselves in the veld because they don’t know what else to do anymore.”

Elderly people, who did not have transport and were not able to carry water, were left helpless and appeals went out to the municipality for assistance.

A Galeshewe resident said she was not able to fetch water as she had no transport and it was too far to carry containers. “Those containers are heavy and I am old and cannot walk so far. What are we supposed to do?”

Soup kitchens also reported that they were not able to provide food because of the lack of water.

Long queues formed outside the Fire Department and the Newton Reservoir as people filled up every container they had available – from 2l cooldrink bottles to black dirt boxes – and by yesterday afternoon the queues got longer and the people more desperate as the taps remained dry.

“The people are starting to panic. Who knows how long the situation is going to last? We were patient and prepared for the three-day shutdown but this is now the fourth day and there is still no indication when we will have water,” residents pointed out.

Traffic officials were on hand at some of the busier points to ensure that no one jumped the queue and tempers were kept in check.

In other parts of the city, residents waited in the hot sun for water, some using supermarket trolleys to carry their containers of water.

Many watched desperately as they realised that the water in the storage tank was dripping slowly to an end.

“When will they come and fill up this tank again,” Greenpoint residents asked as they watched the water slowly drip into their containers.

Many of those filling the containers were children, who had been sent home from school due to the lack of water.

Northern Cape Department of Education spokesperson, Geoffrey van der Merwe, said yesterday that the district officials had engaged with schools.

“Principals were advised by the department to use their own discretion on whether to continue with classes or to send the children home, based on the specific conditions at the school in terms of hygiene, health risks and the availability of alternative water.”

A number of schools opted to send their pupils home.

“The situation will be monitored on a day-by-day basis and a decision will be taken again this morning. We are still hoping that the water situation will return to normal and there will be classes.”

The department also took a decision to postpone the launch of its Read to Lead Campaign, which was initially scheduled for yesterday, due to the non-availability of water.

“Due to the magnitude of the programme, it was decided to postpone the event as we do not want to put the lives of our pupils and guests at risk,” Van der Merwe said.

Several government departments and offices also closed yesterday and staff were sent home when the toilets were unable to cope.

Where employees were not immediately sent home, staff questioned the health risks to which they were being exposed.

At the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court, the lack of water resulted in the public toilets becoming a major health hazard as the appalling state of the facilities had officials balking at the doors – with unflushed toilets, taps without water and a putrid smell.

However, according to several court officials, these conditions paled in comparison to those below the courtrooms where suspects were forced to await their appearances before the respective magistrates in already overcrowded cells.

Their discomfort was compounded by the water cuts which left dozens of suspects detained in close quarters, sharing ablution facilities that weren’t functional.

“This must be a violation of their human rights,” remarked one legal aid representative. “It’s bad enough that they are kept in such crowded conditions but with so many people sharing a toilet that doesn’t flush, the cells are practically unbearable at the moment.

“To make matters worse, they are being given their lunch while they wait for their cases to be called and are being fed under disgusting circumstances.

“Many departments, including some who are responsible for the water debacle, simply shut up shop for the day and I really think the courts should have followed suit.”

Despite a busy schedule on the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court roll yesterday, the courts eventually adjourned for the day at lunchtime.

Hospitals in Kimberley meanwhile appeared to weather the crisis yesterday.

Lenmed manager, Hector Mackay, said that they were managing fine. “The fire department is sending us water, as well as a private company.”

He added that the theatre list at the hospital was continuing “as normal”.

Denise Coetzee, from Mediclinic, said yesterday that both Mediclinic Kimberley and Gariep hospitals were coping well with the water situation. “I am happy to say that we have not encountered any difficulties at this stage and no scheduled operations had to be cancelled so far,” Coetzee said.

She added that at Mediclinic Kimberley everything was functioning as normal. “The borehole we have there is providing us with more than enough water.

“At Mediclinic Gariep, there is a big water tank which is still filled with 100 000 litres of water, as well as four 10 000 litre JoJo tanks.”

Coetzee said that the fire brigade had refilled the water tanks at the hospital with 30 000 litres of water on Saturday, and again with 30 000 litres on Sunday evening.

“The only adjustment we made was to move the dirty laundry at Mediclinic Gariep so that it could be washed at the Mediclinic Kimberley building since we have more than enough water there.”

Coetzee added that the fire brigade would provide a further 30 000 litres of water by last night if it was necessary.

“We were able to go on with all planned surgeries yesterday as well as today with the water we have on hand.”

Meanwhile, residents have questioned the blatant absence of the city’s executive mayor, Mangaliso Matika, during the crisis, with many suggesting that he had gone away for the weekend to escape the water shutdown.

“While we understand that the water was switched off in order to give the municipality an opportunity to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure, it is extremely sad to see that the political leadership is nowhere to be seen during the crisis,” a resident said.

“While residents had to endure long queues, he (Matika) has been conspicuous by his absence – the least he could have done was to be there and be providing leadership and support.

“This is one of the worst situations many residents have found themselves in but there has not been a single word from the mayor. The salaries our councillors receive are for serving the community not to serve themselves.”

The mayor’s spokesperson, George Mosimane, denied that Matika was out of town, stating that “at this present moment he is at the site where the challenges are being experienced”.

“There is no truth to the rumour that he was not in Kimberley. I don’t know who is spreading these lies. He has been around town.”

Mosimane added that as the manager in the Mayor’s Office, he himself, together with his other staff, are on the ground and they are regularly updating the mayor “while he was doing his own rounds”.

“The staff in the Mayor’s Office were on the ground monitoring the tanks and the provision of water over the weekend. The performance of the mayor is not about his own performance but that of his office, which is why he has a support staff. The executive mayor is not answerable to his office about his daily whereabouts.”

The water crisis also brought residents together with many offering water to others in need.

The Beaconsfield Mosque in Broadway filled up a 2 500l container with water before it was switched off and nearby residents filled containers from the church’s premises.

“We have been able to help a lot of people,” Basheer Etty from the church said yesterday, as many more people arrived to collect water. “I think we might be blessed because the tank is still not empty.”

Municipal spokesperson, Sello Matsie, said that staff worked throughout the night to refill the water storage tanks.

“The storage tanks were supposed to be a back-up but by yesterday many people, who had stored water for the weekend, had run out. Especially in the bigger areas, the tanks have run out of water quickly, while the attempts to provide mobile tanks had to be abandoned after two tanks were damaged when they fell off the trucks that were transporting them.”

Matsie said that part of the problem was that it was a lengthy process to fill the water trucks up at the Newton Reservoir and then dispatch them to the areas where the tanks needed filling.

“It takes a while for the water trucks to get to the reservoir, where they have to queue up in order to refill with water. We tried to alleviate the situation by providing an additional tap at the reservoir but it still takes quite a while. Yesterday a long line of trucks were waiting to fill up with water.

“The other problem is that the storage tanks have been vandalised and the taps stolen. In one incident, the residents attacked vandals who tried to steal the tap.”

The municipality has also had to supply the outlying areas, including Riverton, and some of the surrounding farms with water.

“We have made every effort, however, to refill the storage tanks as soon as they become depleted.”