Grahamstown not clear of water worries yet

Student Kelsey-Rae Lawrence, dubbed the Shower Girl, became the unofficial face of Rhodes University's #WaterProtest in August last year. Picture: @Artemu
Student Kelsey-Rae Lawrence, dubbed the Shower Girl, became the unofficial face of Rhodes University’s #WaterProtest in August last year. Picture: @Artemu

The pump that was supposed to be installed on 15 January at Howiesonpoort Dam to alleviate the water crisis in the Makana Municipality has not yet left Johannesburg confirmed Johan van Wyk, Marketing Executive of LH Marthinussens, the company tasked with repairing it.

The Makana Municipality released a statement on 9 January concerning the ongoing water crisis, stating that the water supply to Grahamstown is still uncertain, as the pump currently in use has no redundancy. “The pump has had its final test today… it has not left Johannesburg and it has not been installed,” said van Wyk on 21 January.

Only one pump has been in action at Howiesonpoort Pump Station since November 2013 as the second pump was struck by lightning and was in the process of being repaired in Johannesburg by LH Marthinussens. It was expected to be returned and reinstalled on 15 January 2014.  Power outages have also affected water supply to the town.

Grahamstown has been plagued by water outages for years. The situation worsened in 2013 when Joza in Grahamstown East went without water for months and Rhodes University experienced outages for two weeks at its longest point, affecting 46 residences.

Carte Blanche reported on the issue in November 2013 and the Presidency was involved after Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor Saleem Badat issued an open letter to Makana Municipality and staff and students marched en masse to present it to Grahamstown mayor Zamuxolo Peter.

Concerns about hygiene were also raised at the time though the university was not forced to close. Water was supplied by the Grahamstown Fire Department to the outlying affected residences and to the high-lying areas of Grahamstown. The Rhodes University staff was also encouraged by Dean of Students Dr Vivian de Klerk to take in students to allow them to do laundry and have a hot shower during the crisis.

Two major water treatment plants, Waainek and James Kleynhans, supply Grahamstown. Waainek is supplied by Howiesonpoort Dam and Settler’s Dam, both of which are situated below it. James Kleynhans is 200m above sea level while Grahamstown is 500m above sea level. These height differences result in significant problems in water pressure levels as water has to be pumped uphill.

Water protests by the university and town’s residents in August last year were boycotted by the Rhodes University Student Representative Council (SRC). The SRC state that the water crises’ effect was the fault of the university for failing to implement an emergency plan.

De Klerk stated that the cost of building a reservoir for use by the University was too high. Should Rhodes install its own infrastructure the effects on the economy of Grahamstown would be significant as the university currently pays R2.5 million in rates and services charges per month to the Makana Municipality.

The Caucus Leader of Makana and Democratic Alliance Ward Councillor Les Reynolds said in an email to the Grahamstown community, “The economy of Grahamstown and indeed Makana as a whole is unique in Southern Africa in that it largely depends on several educational and research institutions. The water crises is thus more than a local annoyance but has the potential to cause major economic damage to the city as a whole.”

On 16 January Grocott’s Mail reported that Makana Municipality has been granted a R75 million “rescue package” by the Eastern Cape government but that in the long term an estimated R225 million is needed to upgrade and maintain the infrastructure.

Water crises are not confined to Grahamstown however, with reports all over South Africa of years of neglect of water infrastructure and water supply being discontinued to many areas. Ongoing service delivery protests due to lack of water supply in Mothuthlung in Brits in the North West Province last week resulted in the death of at least three protesters.

Words by Chelsea Haith

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