Joy was written on the faces of water-starved villagers near Mthatha on Wednesday when clean water came out their taps for the first time in decades.
In 2013, residents of Ntilini village in Lower Xhongora told the Dispatch that the last time the communal taps gave water was before the dawn of democracy.
Those who could not travel the long distances needed had no option but to drink dirty, foul-smelling water from a donga nearby, which they had to boil before consuming.
The years of suffering were put behind them when OR Tambo district mayor Thokozile Sokanyile officially opened the 10 piped water taps installed on Wednesday.
Sokanyile apologised to villagers for the municipality’s failure to address their water challenges sooner, and praised them for their patience.
“In other places, we have seen how the anger of the people can quickly spiral out of control.
“We are not doing this as a way of asking for votes but to help people, especially during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Sokanyile said.
Villager Nopasika Gqwetha, who had the honour of sampling the first glass of piped water alongside Sokanyile, said they were thrilled that their days of suffering were over.
“It really does taste very nice, unlike the water from the donga which we had to boil first before drinking.
“To make matters worse, people dumped used diapers in that water, and others did their washing in it.
“But because we had no other choice, we had to drink it.”
She said many people had suffered from diarrhoea, and in one of the neighbouring villages there was once a cholera outbreak.
Even animals drank the same water.
Nokwakha Nkqetho, from Khongwana village, said she had walked two hours every morning over a steep and rocky mountain to get water from a natural spring on the other side.
Because of the distance, she and other women in her village had to wake up very early in the morning.
Because of the rocky terrain, she would sometimes lose her step on the way back while balancing a bucket full of water on her head.
“If the bucket fell and cracked, you had no choice but to walk another two hours back home to fetch another bucket,” Nkqetho said.
Her neighbour Nontembiso Ranuga, also familiar with that two-hour journey, is overjoyed that now she may be able to gain some weight as one of the taps was less than 200m from her house.
Sokanyile said the taps were connected to three new boreholes in the area, which would supply Ntilini and some of the neighbouring villages.
She said two boreholes were built at a cost of R3m from the district municipality’s operations and maintenance budget and R2.7m from the water and sanitation infrastructure grant had been used for the third borehole.
She assured villagers, however, that the boreholes were only a temporary solution to their water problems as the district authority was building bulk regional water schemes to service vast areas, instead of stand-alone schemes.
Asked why it had taken so long to bring water to Ntilini, Sokanyile said the main issue had been inadequate funding.
“If it were up to us, we would love to build these boreholes and construct new water schemes to bring water to all our people at the same time,” she said.