The South African Green Revolutionary Council (SAGRC) asked authorities and stakeholders what is wrong with our tap water in Emalahleni.
Like all other mining affected communities Emalahleni community is one of those who live with problems with drinking water. The water that comes out of our taps in this area is brownish and people in the community say it is the cause of health problems. The SAGRC of Mpumalanga has identified this problem as a key issue for their work.
The poor state of water coming out of the tap has lead many in the community not to pay water bills because it is not good for human consumption. The acting municipal manager admitted to the SAGRC on the 24th April 2015 that only 76% of the residents of Emalahleni are up to date in paying their services. The meeting was held between SAGRC, Action Aid and Emalahleni municipality at the committee room.
On the 07th of April 2015 the SAGRC activist’s team met with the sewer and waste water management department of the Municipality to discuss the Braagspruit Purification Plant. We asked the lady if she drinks tap water and she responded “I don’t drink tap water I buy purified bottled water tap water is full of manganese and if I consume it my unborn baby will be affected” she confirmed her statement by pointing at her bottled water under her office desk. She further explained that she is aware of the purification plant and said that it is supervised by the provincial government and not the local municipality. She referred us to the site manager at Water Works purification plant at Woltemande Street.
It was not easy to enter the plant as the security was tight. We had to make phone calls to enter the premises. The site manager was a co-operative official to engage with. He explained to us how the purification plant worked and also took us to a stinky lab where hazardous water purifying chemicals were mixed; we were prohibited to take pictures.
We wanted to find out if the plant is functioning properly to the recommended standard. He explained to us that the purification method is safe and sure that the water coming out is clean and drinkable. According to him the challenge with dirty tap water is the old deteriorating infrastructure. He commented that most pipes are old and were made of asbestos and the rust is contaminating hence the water becomes brownish in colour.” He further alleged that the municipality is aware of the situation and there is a mega PVC pipe replacement.
We requested if we can be allowed to be part of the testing team and we were told about the law that doesn’t allow us to be. We also requested reports showing previous tests results but we were also deprived with no clear reason. The municipality failed to provide us with answers about the replacement of asbestos pipes by the PVC project and told us the provincial government is administering the project on their behalf and this raises questions as to how the province understands the blueprint without involving local engineers.
To go deeper into the water problem we attempted to interview the local mines and steel companies. We failed to get appointments with BHP Billiton,Evraz Highveld and Vanchem are still battling to secure meetings with Sammancor, Transalloys, and Anglo Coal as well as Eskom.
The waste water and sewer manager became so angry when we asked her about the relationship between the municipality and Rand Water. “I don’t have answers to such questions” she said.
This type of responses raises suspicions especially when they are told by senior officials in the municipality. The search for the correct answers continues and the struggle for clean drinkable water in Emalahleni continues.
The poor of the poorest families living by handouts, grants and cheap labour are left with no choice but to use tap water for cooking and drinking while those who are financially able are able to buy clean bottled water.