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Remember: Water Is A Human Right

water.jpgThe barely passable road that runs through an "informal settlement" within the Gugulethu township. Photo by Dan Connell.

By Ayana Aubourg

Water trickled down from the shower head after washing for about two minutes. Barely any came out of the faucet as I tried to brush my teeth.

The sun had just risen over the mountains in the far background. It's early morning in Gugulethu, a predominately black township in Cape Town. Residents carrying empty buckets and plastic bottles head to the nearest water tap in the "informal settlements" of improvised shacks that fill many of Gugulethu's undeveloped spaces.

The lack of access to water, in Gugulethu is partly because the township lacks adequate infrastructure to provide it. It remains a challenge to install and maintain water pipes on land that was formally a dumping ground for non-white people under the Apartheid regime.

People don't look surprised about the situation; rather they look prepared to follow the routine.
Whenever the water is shut off by the city, they fetch water from the shack areas.

While we are sitting at the dining table, Andrew, the manager of the guesthouse, repeatedly apologizes. He says this always happens whenever there are guests staying in the house. What contributes to his frustration is that the township received no notification that this would be happening.

"They forget about us," he says with frustration in his eyes.

"People in the suburbs would've received a notification of the water being shutoff," Andrew says, continuing to vent as he runs around the house preparing for breakfast.

The owner of the guesthouse, Donald Qubeka, watches the residents walk to the nearest water pipe. He holds his face in his hands as he paces back and forth. The last time this happened was last month, he says. This is the third time.

It's an inconvenience for school children, for those who work in the morning and for businesses, Qubeka adds.

I ask him to show me where the water tap is located. As we walk together he complains that the city doesn't tell them when they're facing problems with the water.

"It kills me" he says.

The city takes hours to fix the water because there's no pressure on them to get the job done, he says, adding that if you go to the suburbs and something happens, the city notifies them.

"If they said we are going to take an hour, they feel pressured to get the job done within an hour," Qubeka, says comparing his situation to those living in wealthier areas.

"But this side everyone relaxes because who cares," he says, throwing his hands up in the air.

Although South Africans have a constitutional right to water and sanitation, the provision of these services to townships in Cape Town has long been a contentious issue.

Gugulethu is one of many areas that lack consistent water and sanitation, which reflects the race-based spatial geography that was enforced under the apartheid regime. According to the South African Human Right's Commission report on Water and Sanitation, townships and informal settlements are the areas in which communities and schools, who are black and poor, do not enjoy these rights.

"That's the problem of this country," he exclaims. "Two thirds of the people live here in the townships, in shacks, but they are the ones that nobody cares about."

Within a few hours the water will be back on, but the social problems will not disappear.


Posted by South Africa Group on May 25, 2014 4:16 AM
Category: South Africa 2014


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