Struggling for water in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha slum

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Story by Eden Habtamu
Photos by Fredrick Mugira

South Africa, Lina (not the exact name), 27, a domestic worker, lives in Khayelitsha, South Africa. She is a cleaner and baby sitter and earns little money not enough to feed her two younger sisters. She came from a nearby rural area looking for a better life and has not imagined her life would be so much lower than what she thought.

“We have to go far to fetch water and don’t have a toilet in our home. It’s too small to live, but I have to support my family,” She explains when asked if their living condition has the very basic provisions.

Some of the Houses in Cape Town's Khayelitsha settlement

The complaint proved right when a rally of Western Cape has been demonstrated in Western Cape VE informal settlement on March 21 condemned the “capitalist democracy”, ANC and others blamed for the bad conditions of life in the slum.

“We used to live better in some way in our rural villages,’’ Lina says. It was not crowded at least. We abandoned our village and now can’t go back. When things are impossible here, I regret coming to Cape Town.’’

The aim of the rally was to launch a campaign for the 2011 local government elections, which was: “No! No Land! No House! No Water! No Electricity! No Jobs! No freedom! No Vote!

Khayelitsha consists of 91 percent Black, 8.5 percent Colored and under one percent White with more than 50 percent young population. It is made up of old and new informal/formal areas. Khayelitsha’s distinguished informal settlements comprise QQ Section, TR Section, RR Section and Enkanini which have gained prominence due to their conflicts with government.

Since ANC came to power in 1994, it said the life of people in Khayelitsha has improved significantly, but its residents still suffer from lack of decent living environment. Most of its population still lives in a shack with no or inadequate access to water sanitation and hygiene.

Fezeka Nyingindwe, 14, is a 9th grade student and her friends told Eden Habtamu, one of our founding members that they enjoyed the edutainment program and learned the importance of preserving water.

However when asked if they had adequate access to water, Nyingindwe said: We have pipe water 2 to 3 days a week and my mother keeps water in containers when it is available so that we can use it when the pipes run dry.

Such water shortage scenario is common in developing countries and Khayelitsha provides the best examples of it. Khayelitsha, is a slum in Cape Town; a developed second biggest city in the naturally endowed republic. The growing settlement is 47km2 and home to 1.5 million people. Like many in South Africa say, “Apartheid is gone, but its legacy and shack remain.”

Cape Town was not segregated like the rest of South Africa until the 1950’s. It opposed to implement the Group Areas Act passed in 1950 and residential areas in the city were left un-segregated until the first Group Areas were introduced in the city in 1957.

Then Cape Town became the most condensed town in South Africa as hundreds of thousands came to look for jobs. They settled in the outskirts of Cape Town which gave birth to informal settlements that became today’s Khayelitsha.

Incentive and infrastructure development may help to minimize the people who migrate to urban cities with hopes and anticipation. It will save people to build on their skills and capital thus stops deterioration of life. It could also lighten the stress on the environment.

The rapidly increasing rural population and economically poor and over populated urban cites contribute their share for the development of slums in most of sub-Saharan cites. This is the drive behind the World Water Day 2011 theme “Water for cities: how to respond to the urban challenge.

Marking the WWD 2011 in Cape Town on March 21-22, 2011, UN Water in collaboration of African Ministers council of water (AMCOW), Cape Town Ministry of Water Environment and other concerned organizations organized an edutainment program for school children at the nearby slum Khayelitsha at Recreational Center of in Cape Town.

The children enjoyed the edutainment programs, made colourful by drums and different songs with messages on how to utilize, save and preserve water so that the coming generation will not be faced with loss of water.

The writer interviewing some of the students that attended the function at Khayelitsha Recreational Center in Cape Town

The South African Deputy Minister of Water and Environment, Rejoice Mabudafhasi, claimed that the children who come from the nearby “slums” do have adequate access to water and sanitation at a press conference at the event, though the children and other resident didn’t agree.

Today over 800 million people worldwide live in slums while 71 percent of urban Africans are slum residents with little or no infrastructure (proper housing, water, sanitation, electric power and communication is available.)

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