Khulumani for Dignity (21)

Water for Dignity (WfD) was first established in 2013 as the citizen science component of the WRC funded ‘Towards a New Paradigm’ Makana case study, which was established in the context of growing concerns about water supply and management in Makana Muncipality. Discussions between the Institute for Water Research and the Khulumani Support Group led to the formation of WfD, with the main objectives being:

  • To be the leading player in building community understandings about water and its provision and quality;
  • To provide a channel for the frustration and anger experienced by local residents through engaging them in contributing to the solutions.
  • To build a sense of responsibility for protecting and managing water infrastructure including water tanks.
  • To provide education about water contamination and processes and equipment for filtering water.

Practices that promote human and ecological health or ‘living communities’

Since 2013 WfD have taken numerous initiatives to promote both human and ecological health in Grahamstown East as concerned ‘citizen scientists.’ Key initiatives include:

School Water Forums

WfD have set up several school water forums that have sought to engage learners, parents and educators in improving the water, sanitation and hygiene situation at schools in Grahamstown East. At present WfD are focusing on facilitating a turnaround strategy for Andrew Moyake primary school, where over 200 learners currently only have access to one functional toilet. Teachers, pupils, parents are currently working on a plan with WfD to quickly ensure that more toilets become serviceable and then to ensure that this is sustainable and that further progress is then made to ensure the toilets are fully functional.

Learners participating in the school water forums have also undertaken ‘river walks,’ to learn about river ecology and the value of maintaining unpolluted rivers. Mini Sass monitoring was used as an opportunity to engage learners in understanding how pollution can affect river ecology.  

One Street One Tank and Emergency Water Initiative

In response to the challenge of regular water outages the WfD team and IWR motivated for funds from Unilever to support an emergency water storage pilot, where citizens would have access to emergency water during an outage.  This initiative started with the establishment of three 5000l JoJo tanks being erected in the yards of members of the ‘Community Water Forums’ set up by WfD. Although these tanks have been invaluable in assisting people with emergency water supply, WfD’s research has shown that supplying emergency water through 250l water barrels at a household level is likely a more sustainable option. During the remainder of 2015 150 water barrels will be distributed to households experiencing regular water outages. Payments received for the water barrels will help ensure that emergency water barrels can be gradually delivered to many more households.

Citizen Report Cards:

With support from Khulumani Support Group and IWR, WfD designed and carried out survey work in several township suburbs, with a particular focus on Vukani. This work also involved collecting stories from households that have highlighted the lived experiences of people who have faced water related challenges. The strength of this work has been to clearly highlight the human dimension of the water challenges people face, including how people are actively responding to the challenges being faced such as regular water outages. This work has provided a more nuanced understanding regarding the non-payment of municipal accounts. Although only 5% of people reported paying their accounts, this work has shown that the perception that people are unwilling to pay bills is only a small part of the story, with a breakdown in the billing system also being an important component in understanding the non-payment of accounts.

Some examples of stories relating to the billing system are:

“Yes, we do have a meter; it was broken and they replaced it with one that is not working, even now, since last year. We reported it several times and no one came up”.

“Statements do come, but I don’t pay them. I live on a government grant.”

“No meter readings; no statements; no bills. Can’t pay for something she doesn’t know”

“Charge: don’t know how the municipality got to R22 000 – no bill”.

Although the research found that virtually all households in Vukani have access to a tap on their properties, it also found that 98% of people keep an emergency water supply in small buckets at home, which highlights the experience of regular water outages. 90% of households reported having a water outage in the month prior to the survey took place.

Learning in relation to water issues, which in some instances led to behavioural changes was an emergent outcome of WfD’s engagement with residents through the survey process. A masters student conducting research on the impact of WfD in the Grahamstown East community found evidence suggesting that since their engagement with WfD, residents had: learnt about their constitutional rights with regards to water and the environment, employed water conservation strategies at a household level and made an effort to report water issues (e.g. leaks in the neighbourhood) to the Municipality.

“They taught me about water conservation for example if you doing washing of 2 t-shirt you don’t have to take too much water of which I was using a lot of water for washing before WfD.” (Vukani resident)

Collaborative and cohesive efforts which strengthen and build community relationships/Leading by example

All the WfD team members have grown up and live in ‘Grahamstown East’ and have focused their efforts on building community relationships to improve water access. Although the team nominally work for 15 hours a week and receive a small stipend, often the work extends well beyond these hours.  During household visits WfD have been engaging with community members regarding the numerous challenges with water and sanitation. WfD team members have followed up with municipal officials regarding problems that households have faced, such as leaking sewerage and false meter readings. During the recent period of administration that the Makana Municipality underwent the WfD team participated in the “Reconnecting with Communities” Work Stream, in order to participate in turnaround strategies put into place. Here they communicated some of their key findings from their survey process in Grahamstown East.   

The development of community and school water forums have sought to strengthen community level responses to challenges faced, with WfD espousing the idea that people should seek to be ‘part of the solution’.  In September the results of the Citizen Report Cards will be shared with community members in Vukani. This meeting will be used as an opportunity to further mobilise community members to respond to the identified challenges, as well as collaborate on the emergency water storage initiative.

Evidence that strategies or measures are in place to ensure continuity of these activities

WfD has matured as an autonomous organisation during the last 3 years, which has led to their collaboration with different organisations. They are now able to draw on separate support mechanisms from IWR and the Khulumani Support Group, who have both been seeking additional funding to carry the work forward. In addition WfD are now in a position to develop new partnerships to collaborate with other organisations, including Rotary, Galela Amanzi, the Kowie Catchment Campaign, the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA).

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