Water outage could close Rhodes

Originally produced for City Press.

“Seriously?! This is supposed to be fixed!”

It’s been two days since Abigail Butcher marched to the Grahamstown municipal offices as part of Rhodes University’s protest about continued campus water outages. It’s been a day since the water supply was restored to Butcher’s residence, Livingstone House. It’s been 12 hours since it went off again.

Butcher stands in the shower, soap and shampoo in her hand, yelling at the dry shower head. She used it yesterday for the first time in 10 days.

“It’s like living up Kilimanjaro up here,” she fumes.

Staff and students at Rhodes University took to Grahamstown’s streets on Wednesday to protest the latest, nine-day water outage that left 46 residences and other parts of campus high and dry. The city’s Joza township has been without water for far longer – three weeks and counting.

The problem started after attempts to repair a broken pump failed. On Wednesday, Yoliswa Ramakolo, the municipality’s spokesperson, said a problem with the pump’s motor had been fixed.

Now there was a problem with the device which turned the pump on and off, depending on the water level in the tank, Ramakolo said.

“Maybe by the end of the week the system will be working. At the moment, water trucks are taking water to all the affected areas.”

In an open letter to the Makana Municipality handed over on Wednesday, Rhodes Vice-Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat lamented its “utter failure … to deal effectively and efficiently with the crisis”. He also warned that Rhodes was on the brink of shutting down due to growing health concerns.

Badat, flanked by about 200 angry staff and students – one of them wrapped in a towel with another towel around her head – handed the letter to Grahamstown mayor Zamuxolo Peter.

On Thursday, water was briefly available – but it rand out rapidly. By late yesterday, the hilltop residences at Rhodes were still without water, and Joza remained dry. The municipality could not be reached for comment.

Since the water outage, Butcher has had to beg showers from her friends. “I make my BBM status ‘Who’s got water?” and the first person to answer gets me,” she says.

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