Gqeberha community blames high water bills on municipality’s failure to fix faulty pipes


Retirees Henry Jacobs and Belinda Alexander on their way to collect water from a standpipe near their home in Helenvale in Gqeberha. Locals say the area has had no clean running water since 2015. Photo: Mkhuseli Sizani

  • The community of Helenvale in Gqeberha claims to have an intermittent water supply since 2015.
  • Many of them have very high water bills due to helping neighbors who have no water at all.
  • The Municipality of Nelson Mandela Bay says the problem is decaying infrastructure. They also struggled to access the access pipes due to the number of garden sheds built on the main water pipes.
  • The City acknowledged there had been delays, but expected the project to be completed in September.

About 50 households in Helenvale, Gqeberha were left without running water and forced to depend on their neighbors, after upgrades to municipal water pipes were blocked more than five years ago. Since then, those with a water supply have been racking up high water bills as they share their supply with affected households.

Marta Damons, 59, says she has been prevented from purchasing electricity for the past 17 months because she owes the municipality an unpaid water bill of Rand 31,000. Its water flow has also been reduced.

“It takes about 45 minutes to fill a 20-liter bucket. The municipality wants me to pay 1,500 rand up front to unlock my electrical box. But I am unemployed. I depend on my daughter who survives on family allowances, ”she said.

The community says its problems started in August 2015, when the municipality began to modernize the infrastructure of the water supply system to prevent further water outages in the area. The collapse of infrastructure meant that some households would only have water between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. The municipality then began to replace the pipes in the area, but this process stopped, leaving 50 households without any water supply.

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki told GroundUp that the municipality had “completed a substantial part of the project” about four years ago, but said that “the remaining areas have been hampered by the delay in appointing a contractor over the past two years due to the covid19 pandemic. “

Meanwhile, Damons says she had to remove a faucet in her garden that neighbors used to access water.

“I am sick with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. I don’t even know how to cook and I use a candle. If the municipality had fixed the problem earlier, my water bill would not have accumulated, ”she said.

Her neighbor Joyce Damons, 72 (unrelated), said she spent around R300 a month to hire young people to collect water for her in containers. “I use the bath and the wash water to flush the toilet. But it leaves my toilet with stains. Every month I still have to pay between R500 and R600 for water even though my tap has been dry for more than five years. My water account is overdue and I owe R5,600 to the municipality.

Retired Belinda Alexander said: “We are a family of 10. Three times a day, I go to fetch water with my 11×5 liter buckets and 2×20 liters with this caddy. Laundry in the house accumulates and causes a foul odor. I keep my dishwater on all day. I also use the bath and laundry water to flush our toilet. I also used to supply the community which did not have water. But since January, I have no more water either.

Mniki said Helenvale is a “very old development” with decaying infrastructure, and the number of courtyard cabins built over the main water pipes made maintenance difficult.

Mniki said the project is expected to resume in September.

Asked about unpaid water bills, Mniki advised those who owe the municipality to visit their offices and each case will be “treated on its merits”.

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