A woman from Emjindini, who wished to remain anonymous, showing the brownish tap water. Photo: Richard Nkosi.

Brown water and burst pipes the last straw for Barberton residents

Posted in News by Richard Nkosi on 21 October, 2020 at 9:47 p.m.

BARBERTON - For the past few weeks, local residents have had no alternative but to use dirty brownish water for laundry, bathing and washing dishes. Some residents who cannot afford bottled water have no choice but to drink it and cook with it.

Several homeowners and business owners have lodged complaints with the City of Mbombela Local Municipality, responsible for the water supply, about a high number of burst pipes in their households and businesses.

With water scarcity experienced in the area like in most municipalities in the country – the Lomati Dam presently reported to stand at 17,8 per cent – there are an abnormally high number of water leaks and pipe bursts in streets. These leaks and pipe bursts go for several days unfixed. Other sections go for over a day without water being siphoned off.

These were some of the complaints of frustrated residents in the area, who said they have been deprived of adequate services since Umjindi Municipality amalgamated with the Mbombela Local Municipality to form City of Mbombela back in 2016. They explained that the problems started just over few weeks ago, when tap water came out muddy and odorous. 

Philip Minnaar, DA councillor in CMLM, said it was unfortunate that the City does not take responsibility and does not communicate with the residents in the area. He said most of the Barberton town and Emjindini township areas are currently without water. 

He mentioned the municipality has to close the reservoir valves to ensure residents do get water at some point during the day or night. “Once the valves are reopened again, the system needs to refill and push out all the air in the pipes. Depending on the area, this can take between two to three hours. The first water will also have a muddy colour caused by the sediment that has naturally built up in the pipes over the years,” explained Minnaar.

DA councillor Philip Minnaar. Photo: Anchen Coetzee.

As for the pipe bursts and leakages, Minnaar said this was caused due to the unavoidable water rationing. He said the constant changes within the system between water and air result in pressure stress on the pipes, especially joint fittings. 
“Over time, this causes weaknesses in the pipes and joint fittings, causing water leaks and pipe bursts. Transport, availability of material and limited staff are the major challenges faced by the municipality, taking into consideration that they also have to deal with sewer problems as well as normal maintenance and repairs,” added Minnaar.

Africa InTouch News interviewed a local family. A woman, who did not want to be identified, said she does not wash white clothes in the tap water as it is brownish and stains them. She gave this reporter a glass of this water to smell, and indeed it did smell like unpurified water collected in a dam or a river. "This is the smell and look of the water when we have had taps running for a while in the morning. We have all fallen sick from this water. Unfortunately, a lot of people here do not work, so most of the time we do not have money to buy purified water,” she said.

Residents have to use this water to do laundry. Photo: Richard Nkosi.

Many local residents are afraid to drink water from taps, which means many spend hundreds of rand each month buying bottled water. At the same time, people are still paying for the water supplied to their homes.

Ernest Hlongwane said they end up paying for something that is not appropriate. “The water is muddy and has a bad smell. Most days we have no water, but the municipal bills charge us more than the water we have used. It is not understandable,” said Hlongwane.

A bucket of tap water looks like this in Barberton. Photo: Richard Nkosi.

Minnaar said the air flowing through water meters results in unrealistic water usage and exorbitant accounts. “The DA appeal to the municipality to investigate methods on how to resolve this dilemma and to put strategies in place to compensate the public for these losses.” At present, little or no information on important water issues reaches the community of Umjindi. “The DA request that CMLM get communication structures in place so they can start connecting with the public to keep them informed of anything regarding the water issue,” said Minnaar.

The CMLM public liaison department has not responded at the time of publishing.

Editor: Anchen Coetzee
Written by: Richard Nkosi
Subeditor: Wahl Lessing


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