Observation realities of access to Water, Energy and Food in the Eastern Cape Province

I went to Eastern Cape after many years, although I was born there. It was fascinating to see how some parts of EC have improved infrastructure and other resources, especially the wealthy parts, i.e., East London, Gqeberha, and Bhisho (these cities are economic centres in the province). However, some parts of the province – namely villages and peri-urban areas — are still underdeveloped. The sites which we visited are under Buffalo City Municipality, i.e., Alice, Mngqesha Great Place, Mdantsane, East London, King Williams Town, and surrounding areas. In each area, there were many dynamics of access to resources, where you can see a clear separation of two worlds, that of the wealthy and that of people who were disadvantaged. For example, there is a significant difference between Alice (town) and East London (city), such as infrastructure and other available resources. East London seemed to be more developed compared to Alice. Other areas such as Mngqesha and Mdantsane were less developed than Alice.

I noted that in Alice and surroundings most households have outside pit latrine toilets, a tap inside the yard (some have water tanks), or access to a communal tap, and there were no home gardens in the locations we visited. In East London some individuals had inside taps, tanks, and toilets inside the house (in contrast to Alice and surroundings). Water remains a major issue across the Eastern Cape, this includes water scarcity and contaminated water. There are various politics around water – in terms of access. As a result, residents in Alice do not have water every weekend. This includes the University of Fort Hare in Alice and its surroundings. However, the university with its resources has a backup plan, compared to residents. Some residents who can afford water tanks, use these tanks as a backup. Nevertheless, in some cases, tanks run dry due to a lack of rain in the province, and everyone is forced to purchase water. Those who cannot afford to buy water are left behind, and they wait for the local municipality to provide for them. 

Eastern Cape
Eastern Cape

Across the areas visited there was electricity, however, some people mentioned that they use gas stoves as a backup plan, as they always have electricity issues around the areas, i.e., stolen electricity cables, load-shedding, power failure, etc. Some areas did not have streetlights. I noted in passing through some villages, that people had wood and a place to cook outside; these areas rely heavily on wood to cook. Across the province some villages still do not have access to electricity, others are using solar power. Such struggles seemed to have created a form of solidarity. For example, in poor areas when passing local houses, I noted women were carrying water buckets with water collected from the outside tap, and some young girls were carrying pots outside (this looked like someone who was rinsing and getting water with a pot, maybe to cook). One woman was carrying a container that seemed like it was for sugar, salt, or maize meal, coming from the neighbour. In some poor areas community members were fixing the roads, stop signs, and streetlights with their resources, not waiting for the local municipality. 

Hunger and malnutrition are huge issues across the country. However, Eastern Cape and Limpopo have the highest statistics of food insecurity. In EC, NGOs, community members, and municipalities seemed to be playing a critical role in addressing food insecurity. However, some individuals are into growing crops for commercial purposes, while others are growing their crops to eat. For example, In Mngqesha, in the local king’s palace, there is a community garden established by Ms. Portia, who started this with the support of the king, Buffalo City Municipality, and community members. This site uses tunnels and outside gardens to plant. This community garden is commercial, and it also addresses hunger and food insecurity around the community, it supplies East London Market, the community, street vendors, Boxer, and Spar.

By Lucy Khofi

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