Makhanda taps dry for days after water treatment works failure

An emergency shutdown left most of the city without any water for a few days this week

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An emergency shutdown of the James Kleynhans water treatment works, which supplies water to most of Makhanda’s population, left residents without any water for at least three days this week. Archive photo: Loyiso Dyongman

  • This week’s water outage is the latest in more than a decade of water supply problems in the Eastern Cape city.
  • Although the municipality gave a day’s warning, some households were caught unaware and had not stored any water.
  • Water trucks promised by the municipality were nowhere to be seen.

Large parts of Makhanda were without water on Monday and Tuesday this week after the municipality had to switch off a pump at one of the water treatment works due to a major leak.

Although the municipality sent a message via social media on Saturday warning of the imminent emergency shutdown, some residents were caught unaware and left without water stored in their homes.

Water tankers promised by the municipality did not seem to have been dispatched, resulting in some households having to beg for jugs of water from neighbours who had stocked up ahead of the cut-off.

The entire eastern side of the town in which the township is situated was affected, including suburban areas such as Hillsview and Oatlands North. These are supplied by the James Kleynhans water treatment works, which, according to the municipal statement, had “a major leak on the suction duct that poses a risk of flooding the pump station”.

Makhanda has been experiencing water outages for more than a decade. An upgrade of the water treatment works began in 2015 and was supposed to have been completed by 2017 but has still not been finished.

The municipality estimated water would be restored on Wednesday.

Residents in one of the affected areas, eNkanini, confirmed water supply had been restored on Wednesday, but residents in other areas, such as Vergenoeg, had not yet received water.

The less populated, suburban west side of the city, in which Rhodes University and the main business district are situated, is supplied by a different, smaller water treatment works at Howieson’s Poort Dam southwest of the city.

Pensioner Zwelandile Mbatyi from eNkanini informal settlement said he was away over the weekend attending a family funeral with his family. Mbatyi said he returned with his wife, daughter, and granddaughter on Sunday afternoon and was not aware the water would be switched off.

He said when he loaded buckets onto a wheelbarrow on Monday morning to fetch water, his neighbour told him the communal taps were dry. He said all he could do was ask his neighbour for a jug of the water she had stored.

A number of residents in eNkanini said there were no municipal tankers providing water as promised.

Makana Business and Residents Association board member Philip Machanick said he didn’t know what caused the leak at the James Kleynhans water treatment works but a well-functioning facility should not have so many failures.

“We know what this will be like. People are going to struggle, particularly those without rain tanks as a backup, the money to get water delivered, or a car to cart water in big quantities.”

Machanick said even once the leak had been repaired, it would take a while before reservoirs were refilled and water to be available in the entire supply system.

He said the current outage would not have happened if the water treatment works upgrades had been finished on time.

“Every date we have been given for completion has been and gone. June that year, July another year, August last year. The community should not stop putting pressure on the government to complete this project. Even a snail would be embarrassed at the slowness,” said Machanick.

Municipal spokesperson Yoliswa Ramokolo and acting director of Infrastructure Mzomhle Radu didn’t respond to questions by the time of publication.

TOPICS:  Water

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