Protesters from 68 Eastern Cape villages converge in Bhisho to demand clean water

Representatives march to the provincial office of COGTA under the banner of the Inyanda National Land Movement

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Residents of Middledrift in the Eastern Cape went to Bhisho to demand clean, piped drinking water. Photos: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

  • Villagers from 68 villages in Middledrift say they have been without piped water for months.
  • On Friday, about 100 people, under the banner of the Inyanda National Land Movement, marched to the COGTA provincial office in Bhisho, to demand the MEC intervene.
  • Amathole District Municipality spokesperson said they are only aware of one problem with a reservoir that supplies villages.

On Friday, about 100 people under the banner of the Inyanda National Land Movement, an organisation representing 68 villages in Middledrift who say they have been without piped water for the past five months, marched to the provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) in Bhisho.

They want MEC Zolile Williams to force the Amathole District Municipality (ADM) to fix the water problems in their area.

The march was sparked by the municipality returning millions of unspent rands to the National Treasury. Resident Noxolo Pandu said they don’t understand why every year the ADM failed to spend the money it had when people were suffering from a lack of water.

Municipality spokesperson Nonceba Madikizela-Vuso said she could only confirm that in the 2021/22 financial year, unspent Municipal Infrastructure (MIG) and Water Services Infrastructure Grant money had been returned and a roll-over request submitted.

Madikizela-Vuso said Middledrift ward 1 villages (where the protesters say their water problems started) gets water from the Debe Neck scheme, owned and operated by Amathole Water.

She said there were no major issues with the scheme, except a blockage at one reservoir on the far east, supplying Xhukwana and Nonaliti villages.

Previous protest

Pandu said after they protested in 2021, ADM workers came to fix an old borehole.

“Water started coming out of our taps, but that only lasted for three months. Taps were dry again,” said Pandu.

“Last year, the municipality started sending water trucks, but the problem with water trucks is they only come once every two months, and the water does not accommodate the whole community,” she said.

“I live in Qamdobowa, a village in ward 1. The ward has six villages. From the water truck each house would only get one 20-litre bucket. Then we are forced to go back to the streams, because there’s no other option,” she said.

Monwabisi Nzuzo, who lives in Gugulethu Location, close to Middledrift, said they also experience water outages. “Sometimes we would be out of water for six hours, sometimes for the whole week,” he said

Inyanda National Land Movement chairperson Monwabi Jende said, “The fact that there’s money being returned, means someone is failing at their job.”

“In Middledrift we have a local municipality, Raymond Mhlaba, but when people go there to complain about water, they are told to go to ADM offices in Fort Beaufort Town. And they are aware that people don’t have money for this up and down,” said Jente.

In a memorandum, the protesters said municipalities must act with urgency to resolve the “the escalating water crisis in the Eastern Cape” and the violation of their basic right to water.

The memorandum was handed over to Nicholas Monti, “COGTA petition receiver”, who promised to pass it on to Williams.

Rollover grant request

In August 2023, the municipality said in a statement that grants had been unspent because of institutional instability, including employee protests and the suspension of senior staff members in the engineering department. But it claimed to have stabilised the situation, but had still only spent R155-million (39%) of its R395-million Municipal Infrastructure Grant in the year ended June.

“ADM is cognisant of the impact of non-expenditure, more so for its rural communities that are in dire need of the bulk water infrastructure,” the statement said.

Villagers want COGTA to force the Amathole District Municipality to fix the water problems in their area.

TOPICS:  Government Water

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