Home Opinion and Features When our taps splutter, sputter and splash

When our taps splutter, sputter and splash


GREY MUTTER: All over, at municipalities across the Province and across the nation, warning lights are flashing, service delivery is stuttering and it seems to be only a matter of time before things come to that inevitable, dreaded, final dead stop, writes Lance Fredericks.

The basic provision of water to communities, towns and entire cities has steadily been becoming more of a problem. File picture: Dumisani Dube

AND JUST like that, January is upon us, and secured by the fridge magnet, or jotted down in a journal is your list of resolutions for 2024. I sincerely hope that nothing derails your plans, because I have experienced how suddenly and heavily these derailments can occur.

A few years ago I was driving back to Kimberley from Port Elizabeth and I was somewhere between Cookhouse and Cradock, when an unexpected, and rather unpleasant ‘derailment’ of my plans occurred.

Up to this point, my car had been cruising like a dream. It was a hot day, but the air-conditioner kept the cabin cool. My favourite playlist was coming through the sound system, already I was thinking of the meal I was going to buy when I got to Cradock, and I was ruminating on my list of brand new New Year’s resolutions; it was a short list and I believed that they were pretty achievable.

Then my thought process was interrupted when the car lurched, and a warning light blinked on the instrument panel. Next, the aircon stopped blowing cool air and another warning light came on.

In less than a minute, the instrument panel looked like the Symphony of Lights ‒ the daily light and sound show that is displayed across the Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong ‒ and I started remembering my ‘sailor vocabulary’.

As impressively lit up as the instrument cluster was, I wasn’t pleased as my vehicle spluttered, stuttered, sputtered and lurched. A message appeared on the instrument cluster: “Stop Driving Now”. It turned out that I had no choice in the matter; the car shuddered one more time before it rolled to a standstill on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

Long story short, the repairs were rather costly, and the trip back to Kimberley didn’t take only a few hours ‒ resolutions were pushed aside as I turned to digging myself out of the debt I had incurred.

A few years down the road, I still own the car, but these days I don’t drive with complete confidence. Always, always in the back of my mind is the realisation that my jalopy proved unreliable one hot January day in the Eastern Cape.

These days I drive almost expecting a sudden lurch, sputter, splutter or stutter ‒ my confidence has been badly eroded.

The thing is, the most common reason why an engine sputters is when you are about to run out of fuel, but as I learned, it could be an indication of a much more serious, and expensive, problem.

And here’s the thing, my car didn’t sputter because it’s a bad machine, just like stuttering whilst speaking doesn’t mean that a person is not intelligent and sharp as a tack. In my car’s case, in that rare and unfortunate occurrence, a drive belt in the engine failed which brought all the woes down on my head.

Now, when a person stutters it could be due to neurological factors as some studies have identified differences in the brain structure or function of individuals who stutter, particularly in areas related to speech production and motor control. But stuttering could also be as a result of developmental factors when some children go through a period of disfluency, and many naturally outgrow it. Then there are environmental factors like high-stress situations, emotional factors like anxiety, and stress, that could cause stuttering.

But what we may not have realised is that stuttering could take on many forms. We all know of repetition-stuttering when the person repeats sounds, syllables, or words, saying “b-b-book” or “I-I-I want”. We also know of prolongation when certain sounds are extended, such as “sssssnake” or “llllater”.

But how about interjections and insertions as forms of stuttering that we overlook? Interjections involve inserting additional sounds or words, often in an attempt to break through a moment of stuttering. For example, saying “um”, “er” or “uh” between words.

Do you, er, do that more often than, errr, not? Then, in a way, you’re stuttering.

Also, have you noticed people using the words “like”, “dinges”, “you know”, “whatsisname”, “I mean” and a few more far too many times when they regale you with their narratives? That could, like, you know, be a, whatsisname … a form of, dinges … I mean insertion-stuttering.

But why would I start off the year speaking about stuttering? What does this have to do with anything?

It’s simply because when there are daily water interruptions in Kimberley, that’s a stutter. Another kind of stutter occurs when we turn on our taps after the daily water interruptions and it splutters and spurts. In fact, I get the impression that Kimberlites are living in a state of dread, waiting for the next dry spell, like I drive around dreading every jerk or splutter from my car’s engine.

Here’s the thing, when I hear of sporadic water provision, occasional access to electricity and intermittent maintenance to crumbling roads in our city, it’s like being transported back to my car during that fateful trip from Port Elizabeth.

All over, at municipalities across the Province and across the nation, warning lights are flashing, service delivery is stuttering and it seems to be only a matter of time before things come to that inevitable, dreaded, final dead stop.

However, with a bit of application, things don’t need to come to that.

Consider the following illustration: worldwide, about 70 million people stutter. For about 4% of that 70 million, stuttering is a childhood condition. But for about 1% of them, it can carry on for their entire lives.

Medical professionals say that stutters cannot be cured, though they can be treated.

In fact, James Earl Jones, the man behind the voice of Mufasa in ‘The Lion King’ and Darth Vader from ‘Star Wars’, had a stutter that was so bad he barely spoke for eight years. Ultimately, he learned to work with it by reading poetry to his class.

Former golf champion Tiger Woods, like a boy he once wrote to, also stuttered as a child. In a letter to the child, Woods shared, “I know what it’s like to be different. I stuttered too, and I used to talk to my dog until he fell asleep.”

Woods addressed his stuttering by taking a two-year class to learn to cope with it.

Now though comparing service delivery to a speech disorder may seem to be a bit of a stretch, the point I am trying to make is that with a bit of determination, a bit of effort and a bit of desire, maybe our country’s stuttering service delivery can be ‒ if not healed ‒ at least improved a bit.

It would be horrible if the same thing happens to our country’s municipalities that happened to the man who struggled with a ‘lethal stutter’.

In his case, he died of natural pauses.

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