Maverick Citizen: Eastern Cape drought

Graaff-Reinet celebrates as Nqweba Dam fills up

A photo of the Nqweba Dam taken this past weekend. (Photo supplied)

Graaff-Reinet residents rushed to the Nqweba Dam on Sunday as it finally began filling after being dry for almost a year – but civil organisations in the town warned that with constantly failing municipal infrastructure there might be water everywhere, but residents still struggle to find some to drink.


“The hope in town is palpable,” the chairperson of the Graaff-Reinet Economic Development Forum, Derek Light, said. “The rain brought us tremendous joy.” The Graaff-Reinet Economic Development Forum represents civic organisations and residents of Graaff-Reinet.

The main supply dam for the town, the Nqweba Dam, has been filling since Sunday and according to the Beyers Naude Municipality, dam levels were close to 15% on Monday with its feeder rivers still flowing strongly.

“We are thrilled with the rain,” Light said. He said traditionally the Graaff-Reinet area gets the most rain in March and, “We are confident that come April we will be in a good position.”

He said the run-off to the dam has been increasing in the past few days as the ground is saturated after good rain fell in the area.

“The mood has lifted in town. You pick it up from everybody. Farmers are optimistic again. Many people drove out to the dam on Sunday just to see the water running,” Light said. “The Karoo responds so beautifully to rain.”

The Graaff-Reinet community had worked with the municipality to remove the carcasses of 74,000 fish that had died after the Nqweba Dam dried up.

One of hundreds of dead fish is seen in the Nqweba Dam which is the main dam feeding the town of Graaf Reinet, South Africa, 02 January 2020. The dam ran dry as a result of what locals are calling the worst drought in a thousand years.(Photo: EPA-EFE/Kim Ludbrook)

Light said that when it came to the provision of potable water to Graaff-Reinet communities, the town was not out of the woods.

“We really want to learn from this drought. We are working on long- and short-term projects to address water supply problems. We are trying to resolve issues with existing infrastructure so that when we find ourselves in a drought again, it will not be an issue,” Light said.

He said the Graaff-Reinet Economic Development Forum has formed a joint operations centre with the municipality and the national Department of Water Affairs to find answers.

“We are finding solutions and we are looking ahead at planning for the next 20 to 50 years,” he added.

He said the drought again underscored the importance of maintaining existing water supply. “In many cases, we have an infrastructure problem rather than a water problem.”

In this photo dated 9 October 2019, the Nqweba dam outside Graaff-Reinet had dried up completely. (Photo: Estelle Ellis)

He said the town aims at becoming excellent at taking care of what it has. “We are taking the lessons learnt in Cape Town and we are applying this,” he said. 

Pastor Dolan Cochrane from the Assembly Church said the mood in town had lifted in a significant way.

“People feel lighter. They have hope. People were beginning to despair and weigh up difficult decisions. We haven’t seen the end of the drought and it hasn’t broken yet, but we are feeling a ripple of hope in town,” he said. “We are trusting for more rain.”

Corene Conradie, the founder of the Graaff-Reinet Water Crisis Committee and a volunteer for Gift of the Givers, said the whole town was in awe of the rain and the dam filling up.

“It is such a beautiful sight after a year of drought. The dam was on 1% in February 2019. It is still filling up and the rivers are flowing strongly. It means hope for us,” she said.

Conradie said many communities were, however, still without water.

“The water currently in the dam is not drinkable. It is very salty. The pipes on the dam wall were vandalised and broken beyond repair. The sluices are also not working. Our fear is that the dam will overflow and flood the town. We are hoping to hear from the municipality soon,” she said.

She said communities are still being supplied with water from boreholes, but many municipal boreholes are drying up.

“Gift of the Givers is still distributing water,” she said.

A spokesperson for Beyers Naude municipality Edwardine Abader did not respond to questions about the provision of potable water to communities, but did say previously that they were struggling to provide 10l of water per person at the moment. MC

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