Grahamstown: a sleepy Eastern Cape city probably best known as the seat of Rhodes University and for hosting the annual National Arts Festival, but recently making waves for less celebrated reasons.
The Carte Blanche programme of 29 September 2013 (http://bit.ly/16OxHVa) told the stories of Grahamstown’s water woes that leave residents without water for prolonged periods. In the video presenter Leigh Bennie interviewed, among others, the chairperson of the Water for Dignity project, Mbulelo Lepile.
Water for Dignity is a partnership between Khulumani Support Group and the Institute for Water Research (IWR) at Rhodes University, started in May 2013. It came out of the realisation by the parastatal Water Research Commission that the problems with water access, quality and treatment will not be solved without the participation of the community. Key targets of Water for Dignity are to establish a system of community-owned and monitored water storage tanks in line with the campaign, One Street, One Tank and to ensure that every township school has one working toilet and a wash station for hand washing.
Why is the project even necessary? It’s an accumulative problem: municipal mismanagement, archaic, crumbling local and national infrastructure, a burgeoning population – issues that are brewing countrywide. There is but one overwhelmed engineer in an area with 6 posts, Thembinkosi Myalato, who perseveres and does a superb multitasking job under the circumstances.
Lipile, with 16 years plumbing experience, saw an opportunity to help the situation. With Khulumani’s backing and IWC academics seeking scientific solutions, Lipile and his four teammates have used the crisis and subsequent intervention of a Presidential Task Team (and millions of rand for new pumps and engineering contracts) as a springboard for the project. Crucial for Lipile and Water for Dignity is the repairing and building of relationships between relevant departments and structures, upping the community interest and involvement- and ensuring accountability and responsibility. The team foster community-driven actions and activities that make citizens more equal partners with the state, rather than the state being expected to deliver water to a passive population.
“Since Carte Blanche so many things have happened. On 14 March, International Rivers Day, all the schools were invited to educate kids about water and we formulated a schools water forum. Mr Myalato came for the first time, as well as Environmental Manager Mr Nongwe”.
Together they face multiple challenges. All of the records of water supply for Grahamstown relate to Grahamstown West, the former entirely white town. Maps of where valves and water pipes are were missing. Task team funding means the valves are now being mapped and fixed so that water is distributed properly across the town.
Because the records for the townships are out of date the municipality has been unable to send accounts so there is almost no contribution from them towards the costs that small towns like Grahamstown are meant to provide for their own maintenance. But an engineering company has just finished a contract to visit every home to check whether there is a working water meter and where the meters are. Through Water for Dignity there is a new understanding about sharing the responsibility and costs for accessing water. Community and school water forums to monitor the use of provided budgets help to get systems working better, especially when parents and learners report on leaking taps and toilets. It also prevents diverting of budgets into the pockets of public servants as had previously been the case.
The Water for Dignity approach of depoliticising the issues and making them something that everyone needs to become involved in has paid dividends and set an example for other communities. However, the group is funding trips to assist other communities from their own pockets and Lipile laments the lack of skills funding to organise teams of residents who can be called to fix leaks.
Any assistance for Water for Dignity with this, and to implement its programme of constructing ceramic tanks so that every home has a back-up water tank for emergencies, would be very welcome.
Donations should be marked for Water for Dignity.
- Account details: Nedbank, Business Central Gauteng branch
- 96 Jorissen Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg 2017
- Branch Code: 128405
- Account name: Khulumani Support Group
- Type of Account: Cheque Account
- Account Number: 128 404 6052
- SWIFT Number: NEDSZAJJ
Find attached below a presentation that introduces the Khulumani Water for Dignity Team.