Johannesburg – Police in the North West town of Bloemhof were expecting trouble as the weekend approached, with locals having spent the week without safe drinking water and widespread diarrhoea.
Constable Meokgo Ledibana, of the Bloemhof police station, told Sapa people intended protesting on Monday.
"Sometimes when you open the taps, shit comes out. It’s been five years since we had a water problem in Bloemhof. The community have applied for a march on Monday," she said.
"There will be no school or work. We are anticipating violent protests. Police are on high alert. Public order policing are also on high alert as well as the TRT (tactical response team)."
Warrant Officer Gerda Lambrechts said the last time the area had water problems riots occurred.
"It’s a problem for us because we’ve had this problem before. It even turned into riots where community members violently protested and burned seven police officers’ houses, [plus] the mayor’s house on 7 April this year."
The provincial water affairs department said on Friday it was aware that the contamination in the area was related to a sewage spill.
A baby died on Wednesday after contracting severe diarrhoea. On Friday, the health department said another five babies were admitted to hospital for observation. Over 200 people were treated in local clinics for diarrhoea this week.
Elisa Kadi, a cleaning lady at the police station, said toilets had not been flushed at the station as there was no water.
"Toilets were used and not flushed [at the police station]. We have stomach camps. Prisoners could not go to toilets because there was no water."
Water fetched for prisoners
Velathi Bankies, a civilian who works at the police station’s holding cells, said they had to fetch water for the prisoners from a nearby farm.
"We were not informed that there would be no water. We had to take prisoners to clinics from last week Saturday with diarrhoea. It was more than 10 prisoners.
"In the holding cells there was a bad smell. There were piles and piles of shit in the holding cells. We had to call fire fighters to provide water so that we could clean the holding cells and flush."
Griffith Mosiane, the school principal at Thuto Lore Secondary School in Boitumelong, Bloemhof, said most school children had suffered from stomach cramps.
"Out of 700 school children in the school, 500 had stomach cramps [last week]. The water situation was bad and the water is bad now. We instructed the children to not drink water."
When Sapa first entered the school, school children were stating: "Re tshwere ke mala (We have stomach cramps)."
Constable Steven Phepheng, a member of the community policing forum, said boiling the water did not help.
"The water is still not good. It’s dirty and brown. Even if they boil it, it still gets people sick."
No cases of cholera
North West water affairs spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said in a statement on Friday the water supply system in Bloemhof had been cleaned and sanitised.
"[The] local municipality drained their whole system, cleaned their sand filters, and the system is now sanitised. The system will be flushed… on Friday."
He said Bloemhof was inspected and no cases of cholera had been reported.
"Officials from the department [and other officials]… went on an inspection visit to the affected area, where water samples were drawn.
"At the moment, cases of diarrhoea have been reported and treated, whereas none of cholera have been reported."
He said the results of the water samples were not yet available.
"The samples were drawn primarily from the main reservoir, the source, and neighbouring schools."