Over the past three years, rain has been particularly scarce in KwaZulu-Natal’s northern Zululand area.
Farmers of the Hlabisa Big 5 Local Municipality became used to the increasingly frequent sight of dead vegetation, dead and dying livestock and wildlife, dried-up dams and river courses, and ever-lengthening water supply interruptions.
During the drought, members of the 25-strong Hluhluwe Pineapple and Farmers’ Association (HPFA) regularly cut and baled grass from their farms to sell (at heavily subsidised prices) to local small-scale, communal livestock farmers as emergency feed.
During this period, the HPFA members also helped repair government-installed boreholes, storage dams and livestock water reservoirs – all vital for water supply to people and animals in nearby traditional authority areas.
However, according to HPFA chairperson, PJ Hassard, the worst was yet to come.
In March 2016, the 25,9 million cubic metre capacity Hluhluwe Dam, which supplies potable water to five communities in the municipality, was at a critically low capacity of 16%.
For a time, water extraction from Hluhluwe Dam to the nearby water purification works flowed at a mere 30m3/h.
When functioning at 100%, the system can pump water at 1 000m3/ h to the purification works.
“To keep everybody within the four phases [the water supply cycle] during the drought, we needed a flow rate from the dam to the purification works of at least about 350m3/h.
Water flow from the dam was eventually so weak that local communities would often go for weeks without running water and had to rely on tanker trucks bringing water in from elsewhere, and in very limited quantities,” explains PJ.
Water supply to Hluhluwe town, and to the surrounding Mfekayi, Nkondusi, Mdletsheni, and Mpukunyoni communities, became so restricted that the muncipality offices had to close due to the lack of sanitation.
Out of desperation, local businesses invested in sinking their own boreholes, or bought or hired tanker trucks to cart in water.
“The water collected by tanker trucks often originated from local farmers’ boreholes or from other municipal areas.It was a very unpleasant time for all the residents.”
The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) had meanwhile installed a diesel-fuelled pump below the Hluhluwe Dam wall to pump any water still coming out of the sluices up to the nearby purification works. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t work for long because of rampant diesel theft.
When discussing what else could be done to assist the nearby communities, two members of the HPFA each offered the use of their electric pumps to replace the department’s diesel-fuelled pump.
“When we loaned our electric pumps to the DWS, we soon discovered that there was no electricity supply to the points where the pumps had to be installed. So the HPFA used R37 000 of our finances to purchase the 400m power cable needed to supply electricity to the pumps,” PJ says.
HPFA members, with their farmworkers and DWS staff, spent two days installing the system. This provides five local communities dependent on water from Hluhluwe Dam and its associated purification works with running water, albeit on a rotating schedule within the imposed water restrictions.
According to PJ, the Hluhluwe Ratepayers’ Association (HRA) also contributed R15 000 to the urgent repairs of one of the farmer’s pumps used at Hluhluwe Dam. Due to being overworked since its installation, one of the pump’s electric motors and control panel had burned out.
With the HRA’s contribution, however, repairs were quickly made, resulting in a minimal water supply lag.
Mandla Gumbi, DWS foreman of the Hluhluwe Phase 4 Water System, tells Farmer’s Weekly that despite water restrictions still being imposed, members of the community are happier than they have been in months as they have access to running water again.
“We DWS employees at Hluhluwe Dam explained to these communities that it was the local commercial farmers who had worked with us, loaned us pumps and bought a power cable so that the communities could get running water again. These people have told us that they are very grateful for the farmers’ assistance,” Gumbi says.
Caring for the community
PJ says that the HPFA became involved in rectifying the water supply problem because it understood the effect that water scarcity would have on the local economy if the situation were allowed to continue or deteriorate any further.
“Many local businesses, especially lodges [catering to tourists], would have been forced to close down due to the lack of water. This would have led to job losses for many people within the communities, and would have been a local socio-economic disaster. We didn’t want the already high local unemployment figures to increase even more.”
PJ adds that the HPFA also wanted to demonstrate to surrounding communities that local commercial farmers wanted to be part of a successful local area, province and country, and to challenge the perception that commercial farmers were only prepared to work in isolation for their own benefit.
“I sometimes get stopped in the street by local residents who extend their thanks to the HPFA and to the Hluhluwe Ratepayers’ Association for our assistance in getting the water running again. Hluhluwe Dam is still only about 25% full now after recent rain, so water restrictions are still going to be around for some time. However, we’re glad that we’ve been able to help to keep whatever water is available flowing to local communities.”
Sandy la Marque, CEO of the KZN Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) under which the HPFA falls, says that the association’s assistance is an example of how farmers and their local communities could work together in times of crises to find and implement workable solutions.
“It’s truly inspiring to see the goodwill our farmers so generously displayed with no expectation of reward. Selfless acts like this will go a long way towards nation-building. If we’re willing to pull together and do something constructive, change will come,” she says.
Phone the Hluhluwe Pineapple and Farmers’ Association on 079 190 6939, or email [email protected].