The Shirley community in Vhembe District in Limpopo has been without clean water for 10 years – and the municipality can’t say when the community will get water.

The communal water taps dotted around the village, in Njhakanjhaka, about 30km east of Makhado, are no longer in use.

Some families fetch water from a stream nearby, where cattle and goats also drink. Others buy from neighbours who have sunk boreholes.

Moses Shibambu, Vhembe District spokesperson, said a water project at Nandoni Dam “will see the Shirley community connected to water”. This will reduce the water shortage, he said. But he could not say when the new system
would be working. He referred GroundUp to the municipal water affairs department.

But the Vhembe water department told us there was no-one to speak to and the phone extensions were not working.

Ward committee member Ripfumelo Elwin Maleka said the water supply in the area had come to a halt around 2009 because the municipality had failed to maintain it. “For 10 years we have struggled to get clean water. We have
approached the municipality but they are not taking us seriously,” said Maleka.

Some of the communal taps in this neighbourhood of some 500 households are rusty or damaged. Along the road near H.S Phillips Secondary School is the pumping station, which is now derelict. The school has its own borehole.

Along the dusty bumpy road separating the homesteads, Joseph Nesengani was collecting firewood on the side of the road. “We fetch water from a stream one and half kilometres away. Cattle, goats and sheep drink from that stream.
Since the communal tapes went dry we have drunk stream water,” he said.

He and his wife fetch about 50 litres of water a day from the stream, sometimes using a wheelbarrow.

Mary Mabetha, said she bought water from a neighbour at R3 for a 25 litre container. She has three children and uses about 100 litres a day for her family. She and her husband are unemployed and depend on social grants.

Samuel Msengi drilled his own borehole in 2015. He says he does not like the idea of selling borehole water. “Community members fetching water from my borehole offered to pay R1 per trip. I use that money for electricity for
pumping the water.”

“This is a poor community and we struggle to make a living.”