Women get up at midnight to fetch water

In thirsty Thulamela, villagers have to race each other to get enough water

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Photo of a woman gathering water
Nthuseng Mpokolo scooping water from a spring at Thulamela village. Photo: Manqulo Nyakombi

While most people are sleeping at night, women in Thulamela village in Matatiele, Eastern Cape, near the Lesotho border, get up during the night to fetch water from a borehole.

The pump gives a limited supply of water, as the borehole is pumped dry in a matter of minutes. Villagers then have to wait for the aquifer below ground to refill, before water can be pumped again. To fill a bucket therefore takes a long time. In the effort to beat their neighbours in the morning, when everyone wakes up, starts the day and needs water before going to school or to work in town, some people get up at midnight and during the night hours.

A shortage of water in the village has been a problem for years, say the women. The village has standpipe taps, but they have never worked. A hand-pump borehole was installed last year in the centre of the village, but it runs out of water during the day when demand is high.

GroundUp met 13-year-old Matshidiso Sefoloko at the borehole. She had been there since 8am. Three hours later, she still hadn’t filled her five-litre bucket.

A water pump
Matshidiso Sefoloko at the borehole pump in Thulamela village. Photo: Manqulo Nyakombi

Like many people in the village, Nthuseng Mpokolo, 18, goes to a spring, one kilometre away, instead of waiting at the pump.

“I have to get water before school and leave some for my grandmother. Because she’s old, she cannot fetch water, and it is not safe for her,” she said.

GroundUp met Mpokolo scooping water from the spring with a bowl into her 20-litre bucket. She had been waiting for almost an hour while the water trickled slowly out of the rocks, taking about five minutes to fill each scoop.

“There’s another river on the other side, but it’s far; it’s two kilometres away from here, and it is in a very dangerous place in the hills,” she said.

“Every day after school, I have to fetch water. We queue here for hours. So if I have homework, I leave the water, then wake up at midnight to fetch it. At least, at that time, there’s only a few of us,” she said.

Sometimes animals dirty the water. Thozama Mohlomi, Mpokolo’s neighbour, said the last person at the spring is supposed to cover it with a zinc sheet, but sometimes people forget.

“I could not get water yesterday – it was very full [with people queuing]. Today, I had to leave my kids alone at night coming here and it’s very risky; who knows what might happen to me while I’m here or to my children,” said Mohlomi.

She wished the municipality would provide the village with water tanks. 

“I came here three times last night,” she said.

Matatiele Local Municipality manager Tshepang Nakin said “a company from Limpopo” had installed the borehole. “I don’t know anything about them”, he said. He refered queries to the district. GroundUp has been trying since November last year to get a response from Alfred Nzo District Municipality on the issue.

Photo of a muddy spring
The spring near Thulamela village that gives a trickle of water. Photo: Manqulo Nyakombi
TOPICS:  Water

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