Dying for water

photo : iol


The people of a Durban community tread a hazardous path in their daily quest for water, one they believe cost a 9-year-old boy his life.

For two months, residents of St Wendolins have been forced to walk to the uMhlathuzana River to fetch water after their communal taps were shut for no reason.

It was on one of these trips that Samkelo Zamiso died when he was electrocuted by an illegal electricity connection, a death the people believe would not have happened if their taps worked.

For the past 10 years, residents’ water came from two container toilets and showers provided by the municipality.

Before that, they crossed Wiltshire Road – a busy main road used mostly by trucks – to get to the uMhlathuzana River down the road’s rocky embankment. Also across Wiltshire Road is a community called Island which has running communal standpipes.

Samkelo’s grandmother, 62-year-old Hlekisile Zamisa, broke into tears as she ­described her grandson’s last moments, saying she had felt life leave his body while she cradled him in her arms.

She described how, earlier this month, as he did every day, the Grade 4 Nonopha Primary School pupil had finished his afternoon meal and had gone to fetch water from the river.

Zamisa, who has been living in St Wendolins for 27 years, said soon after Samkelo had left, another boy came running to say he had been electrocuted.

“They brought him here and I held him in my arms, his life ended in my arms. When he got here, his aunt called his name and he responded then he was quiet, we were not sure whether he was still breathing or not but I felt his life leave his body in my arms.”

She said from looking at him, she didn’t think his injuries could result in death because the only burn marks were on his hand where he had been holding the metal handle of the 5-litre bucket filled with water.

“I’m in so much pain from what happened – every time I talk about it my heart breaks all over again. He was a smart child, kind-hearted and he would come home after school, have something to eat and say ‘gogo, I’m going to get you some water’. Living here has brought me such pain, to watch Samkelo, who I raised from a very young age, die in my arms.”

Zamisa also believes that if an ambulance had arrived soon after the incident, Samkelo could have been saved.

She and another resident, Jabulile Nxumalo, whose 11-month-old grandchild was electrocuted in December 2016, said even the police from the Mariannridge Police Station, less than 5km away, arrived hours after the tragedy.

“We are so grateful to two metro police officers from Queensburgh, Divian Munien and MW Shange, who stopped to help. They drove to the police station to get SAPS here and they managed to go and get us a private ambulance. The state ambulance only arrived four hours later,” said Nxumalo who has lived in the area for 45 years.

She said her grandchild died after he touched an exposed illegally connected wire while he was crawling outside.

“We think because his nappy was wet, that’s why he was electrocuted. When we picked him up to pull him away from the wire, he was already dead.”

She said while water was a current challenge in the community, electricity was an ongoing one, dating back many years.

“Some houses here have electricity while others don’t. If this was not the case we wouldn’t be connecting illegally.”

She said they had never been offered an explanation about their water cut, but this week, municipal water department authorities were in the area with the councillor and said they would fix the problem.

“We have to cross the main road to get water from a standpipe in the area across from us called Island. They (the municipality) must make it clear whether we are ever going to get water here or not so we can go back to collecting water from uMhlathuzana and go back to dodging snakes there,” she said.

Chris van der Burgh, the ward councillor, said a meeting had been held with the residents last weekend to teach them about electricity, and to update them on a planned housing project which had been delayed for some time.

“The last report I had was that it was expected to begin towards the end of this year. Once I have the details of this and what is likely to happen with that, I can then request for the balance of the houses to be connected to the electricity.”

More than 50 years ago, the area started as an informal settlement. Over the years some residents turned their shacks to residential structures.

Today there are more proper residential structures than shacks in the area.

Van der Burgh said connecting an area to electricity was a six-month process involving planning around existing infrastructure and then connecting.

“There are always allegations in everything and there are allegations that certain houses were selected to be connected while others were overlooked during connection.”

Van der Burgh said he was also working on addressing the response time of emergency services in the area.

“Earlier this year a lady was in labour and I came out here and she was sitting on the side of the main road when I arrived. After waiting I eventually put her into my own car and drove her to hospital. This is unfortunately the service that this community is receiving.

“I will never forget the voice of the lady that phoned me about Samkelo – I will never be able to get that out of my head,” he said.

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