“We have the soap, but where is the water to wash our hands?”
This was the cry of a group of people who picketed outside Cape Town Civic Centre ahead of the nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. They demanded that water be provided to Khayelitsha’s informal settlements.
“It is 20 days since the first case was confirmed. Many of us did not have water then and still do not have water now,” said Sibusiso Mdlankomo.
“The government is telling us that to keep safe, we must wash our hands. We must wash our hands with what?” he asked.
Mdlankomo said it was “normal” for thousands of people in Khayelitsha’s informal settlements to walk to a standpipe or taxi rank for water and carry the bucket back to their shacks.
The government’s appeal for people to “wash your hands” means they have to do this many more times a day because they need more water.
The protesters want to know how they can keep this up safely during the lockdown, which decrees that they have to stay at home.
Older people who cannot carry the water themselves are already paying up to R20 for porters to fetch water from taxi ranks for them. This cuts into their meagre cash flow.
The porters themselves will also lose the small income they earn if they are told to stay indoors.
In addition, buying sanitiser is eating into carefully managed budgets.
The protesters want answers.
Mdlankomo fears the worst if water is not supplied to informal settlements urgently, and if people are restricted from walking to fetch water during the lockdown.
“It means that we must die in our rooms,” he said.
The spokesperson for the ministry of water and sanitation was in a meeting and will provide finer details later.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu stated in one of many briefings that water tankers were being procured to provide communities with water during the lockdown.
Its website states that it provides and maintains more than 50,000 toilets and more than 10,000 communal taps in informal settlements throughout the city.
It has a programme to clean and service toilets (at least three times a week, or by agreement with the community) and offers free basic water and sanitation to residents in informal settlements.
When full-flush toilets cannot be installed, it provides portable toilets.
It has already stated that, although many services will be scaled back or closed, such as the licensing department and essential services would continue to operate.
Workers are being issued with protective clothing for refuse collection, maintenance and cleaning.