Khensani Mitileni is one of the many beneficiaries of the project. Photo: Rosetta Msimango
Water shortages and taps constantly running dry are a thing of the past at Ha-Matsila village in Limpopo, thanks to a solar power project, writes Mduduzi Nonyane.
When electricity supply was disconnected, Lewis Maluleke’s seven-year-old son used to go to school for three days without bathing, because the lack of power meant they could not pump water. Maluleke also suffered from bruises on his hands from manually pumping water from a borehole.
“We used to take turns with other village men, making sure that the elderly people were first in line. Life is now made easy because we can access water at a time of our choosing,” said Maluleke on the sidelines of the launch of the Matsila Community Solar Project in Limpopo last weekend.
He revealed that they had had to endure up to three months without water and he had had to carry five buckets in a wheelbarrow to supply his family with water.
Since we cannot afford to buy water, I had no choice but to look elsewhere. A trip to fetch water would take me about three hours. It was difficult to plan my week because there wouldn’t be an announcement when the water was cut off.
“It also made it difficult to grow my crops regularly. I am happy now that my life will improve,” Maluleke said, adding that his child would now be able to take a bath every day.
Maluleke and other residents of Ha-Matsila village in the Vhembe district can now breathe a sigh of relief and plough their crops regularly, thanks to hi-tech solar plants that will bring water to 10 000 households every day.
The Matsila Community Solar Project will provide clean running water to about 10 000 beneficiaries. Photo: Rosetta Msimango
The community has been in distress for several years, with the electric-powered water pumps failing to consistently supply water to their 10 communal taps.
This prompted their traditional leader, Chief Livhuwani Matsila, to collaborate with private investors after their cries to government fell on deaf ears.
The village is one of hundreds of rural communities in the Collins Chabane Local Municipality that struggle with persistent water shortages.
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Ha-Matsila is about 50km west of Giyani, where residents of more than 40 villages still struggle with water supply even after government spent nearly R2 billion on various water projects over the past four years.
Matsila said they approached asset management company Ninety One to fund the six solar systems that will pump water from the 10 boreholes utilised by four villages consisting of 4 000 people, all under the Matsila authority. The project is expected to benefit three neighbouring villages.
We saw a dire need for water in the village, which has been there for a long time, and we realised that, as the Matsila Community Development Trust, we had a responsibility to provide water to the people. We can’t leave it to the government only.
He said they started with one borehole, which was initially pumped manually and was later connected to a generator.
They added more boreholes, which were powered by electricity from Eskom, but then it became unaffordable as the need for water grew.
“The need for water has been growing as other communities also collect water from us. The rising electricity and fuel costs, together with constant power outages, led to the collapse of the project. So we realised that we would be in trouble if we didn’t install solar as a sustainable means of energy.”
The Matsila Community Development Trust partnered with asset management business Ninety One to install a solar-powered water pump that provides clean and consistent running water. Photo: Rosetta Msimango
Chief Livhuwani Matsila. Photo: Rosetta Msimango
He said the solar project had already made a significant and permanent impact on the lives of the Matsila people and surrounding communities “as we now have sufficient water for our daily needs owing to the renewable solar energy provided to us by Ninety One”.
At the village, Maluleke, who is unemployed and relies on the income generated from selling the spinach from his garden, said that, with constant and reliable running water, he would be able cultivate more crops. He said he had already started attending farming courses at the local development centre.
“I’m also happy that my wife will no longer travel long distances to other villages to fetch water,” he said.
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Student farmer Thembuluwo Mugivhi said the water crisis had made them feel inferior to other communities.
“People made negative statements and sometimes laughed that there was an electrical system that was not working,” said the 25-year-old.
Festivities during the launch of Matsila Community Solar Project. Photo: Rosetta Msimango
The renewable energy pump was provided by Ninety One. Photo: Rosetta Msimango
Single mother of three Khensani Mitileni, who was cultivating her garden near one of the communal taps when City Press visited, said she was happy about the prospect of being able to water her crops daily.
“I like to farm spinach and potatoes because those tend to grow quickly when watered properly. I will now be able to add more, knowing that I won’t have a problem with watering them. This project has come at the right time for the community, especially for us who are not employed and rely on our gardens as our source of income,” said Mitileni.
She also spoke of no longer having to travel far to fetch water, and said that she could now bath her children at any time.