If you don’t own a donkey cart in Setloking, you need to have enough money to pay for a daily supply of water.
There is only one source of water in the village of Setloking at the foot of the majestic Blouberg mountains in the rural, arid, northwestern part of Limpopo.
Every morning at 07:30, Josias Mokgobu walks the kilometre from his home on the southwestern side of the sparsely populated village, down a rocky path carved by countless trips by donkey cart to the foot of the imposing mountains.
His job is to kickstart the pump that draws underground water into a 5,000 litre tank. By then, scores of men and boys are already gathered around the precariously balanced green water tank that supplies the entire village. They arrive there on donkey carts loaded with buckets and drums.
The diesel operated engine that sucks water from underground is faulty. It pumps only a few hundred litres at a time, before its motor grinds to a halt.
Those first in line fill up their containers and load them onto the carts. After thirty minutes or so, the engine crackles into life again. Minutes later the green tank gurgles as water finally gushes through the pipes.
This goes on every day of the week. The donkey carts come and go – boys and men coming to draw water, then taking it back to their homes in the village. While waiting for their containers to fill, they provide water for their thirsty donkeys and goats.
“If you don’t have a cart and donkeys here, then you must have money to pay for water. But who has money here?” asks Phineas Setjie, one of the residents who has been actively seeking solutions to the chronic water problems in Setloking.
A 25 litre drum costs R2.50 from the donkey cart water vendors. This translates to R175 if a household fills up one 250 litre drum every day of the week. In a month, a household would have to spend R700 on water alone – almost half an old age pension and more than a child grant.
Although the amount may seem paltry, in an area where the majority survive on social grants and a little seasonal subsistence farming, it’s a lot of money.
“If this machine breaks…” Setjie says, shaking his head. “Then we are in big trouble.”
When the pump does break down completely, the locals travel to the neighbouring village of Burgeregt where residents face similar challenges with water.
Alongside one of the sandy streets, a large green water tank rests on a pile of bricks and sand, leaning slightly against a tree trunk.
“These things are useless. We call them our flowers because they are just decorating our village, nothing else,” Setjie’s voice rises in irritation as he points to the empty tank.
There are four similar tanks in the village. Some are broken after being without water for a long time. Residents say the municipality is supposed to service the tanks every week, but they haven’t been to the village in over three weeks. And when the truck does come, the water provided is not enough for the village of about 400 residents.
Another shiny metal tank towers above the rocky donkey cart path. Setjie was part of a team employed to erect the tank. He doesn’t remember the year but says it was long ago. It has never had water. Broken water pipes leading to the tank protrude from the dry ground.
Last year, as the water woes in the village worsened, villagers contributed R150 a household and hired earthmoving machinery to build a catchment wall in a seasonal stream that flows through the village.
But the dam has dried up. The villagers have had to send their cattle to pastures far away in the Blouberg, and only manage to check up on them once a week. Some have lost cattle to predators. The herds return to the village during the summer rainy season.
Setjie says some families have relocated because of the persistent water shortages. But for many, the roots are too deep to just get up and go.
“We can’t leave this place. Our old people are lying here. They are buried here. A lot of people have left because of the water problem. But we are refusing to leave because we can’t leave our ancestors. Also, if you move because of water, who knows what challenges you are going to encounter in your new home?”
Setloking falls under the Blouberg municipality which is part of the Capricorn district municipality. In his budget speech for the 2019/20 financial year, Capricorn district municipality mayor John Mpe said a Medium Term Revenue and Expenditure Framework (MTREF) budget of R168-million was put aside for water projects in Blouberg in the previous financial year.
He said they would use R213.1-million for MTREF to establish water projects to benefit 4,872 households.
In its draft 2020/21 Integrated Development Planning (IDP) and budget, the municipality identified water and sanitation as one of its key areas for development. The district municipality says the Blouberg local municipality has the highest percentage of people living in poverty, using the upper poverty line definition, with a total of 79.1%.
Statistics SA says 5,244 households in the Blouberg rely on communal taps and boreholes, while only 629 houses have taps on their properties.
“Blouberg and Molemole rely solely on groundwater sources. Boreholes have low yields and are not sufficient to meet current water demands. Furthermore, borehole transformers are frequently stolen, which further increases the water backlog. Most households in Blouberg and Molemole are serviced by communal standpipes within 200m from the furthest house,” the municipality says.
In response to the outbreak of Covid-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa last month announced additional funding of R20-billion to municipalities for the provision of emergency water supply, increased sanitisation of public transport and facilities, and food and shelter for the homeless.
The SA Local Government Association (Salga) told parliament that 19,011 water tanks have been provided across local governments, while 1,315 tankers have been allocated in response to the outbreak of the virus.
However, concerns have been raised about the ability of municipalities to sustain the provision of water to communities after the lockdown.
“While welcoming the deployment of water tanks and tankers, we are placed under financial obligation to provide free water, and this creates a much bigger risk of sustainability beyond the crisis,” Salga said in its presentation to the portfolio committee on cooperative governance and traditional affairs.
For residents of villages like Setloking, the daily struggle to access water takes precedence over adhering to lockdown regulations like physical distancing, wearing masks and washing hands regularly. DM