Covid-19: 'If I use a bucket of water to do laundry, then I have no water to cook, wash hands'

While South Africans are being urged to wash their hands frequently to protect themselves from the coronavirus, hundreds of families are sharing three water taps in Madiba Square, Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

The City of Cape Town installed the taps in 2005 shortly after the shack dwellers started to trickle onto the land, said community leader Sibongile Nyalela.

He added there were 380 numbered shacks in the settlement, and many did not have numbers.

"We used to depend on eight water taps for water to wash, drink and cook, but now only three are producing water," Nyalela said.

Families battled to get water to wash their hands, he added, saying the other taps were broken.

Nyalela said community leaders have now agreed with officials that the City would install additional taps and fix leaking and dirty toilets.

Community leader Khanyisa Msengana, who lives with her husband and two children, said long queues formed at the three water taps over weekends.

"I wait for an hour in a queue before I get one bucket of water to do laundry, cook and drink at weekends," she added, saying sometimes the water stopped flowing.

"If I use the one bucket of water to do laundry, then I remain without water to cook and wash my hands."

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Community leader Sibongile Mashwabana said she walked for about 10 minutes to fetch water in another area where she stands in a queue for about an hour.

Nyalela said shack dwellers wanted the City to install 18 taps throughout the settlement.

They also want some close to Mew Way (a major road) and some in the middle of Madiba Square so that firefighters can access water easily to battle fires.

Firefighters were unable to reach the square and residents needed water to fight the fires themselves, he said.

"We battle to find water to extinguish our shacks when they burn," said Nyalela.

Toilets in the settlement were not maintained, he added, with dirty water leaking from old pipes.

Mashwabana said even maintenance workers battled to keep the toilets clean as they had no easy access to water.

Toilets are broken and leaking. Photo: Vincent Lali

The mayoral committee member for water and waste, Xanthea Limberg, said former community leaders had rejected the City's attempts to install additional standpipes.

At the time, community leaders had raised "concerns around lack of drainage, and the health impacts of water stagnating", she added.

Regarding leaking and blocked toilets, Limberg said: "The City has employed temporary janitors from the area to clean the full-flush toilets. A City maintenance team also conducts repairs in the informal settlement."

Nyalela said he could not remember anyone stopping the City from installing water taps.

"There were few shacks when the City first installed taps here, so there was enough space for officials to install water taps, along with drainage infrastructure."

Nyalela said shack dwellers were willing to be moved elsewhere to create space to install drainage infrastructure.