Bakgatla engage ombudsman over water crisis

Chedza Mmolawa

The Botswana Gazette is in possession of a complaint filed with the Office of the Ombudsman by residents of Bokaa Village. The community has petitioned the Ombudsman, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe over the water crisis in their village which they say is a serious injustice and failure to deliver on undertakings by then Minister, Prince Maele and the embattled authority-Water Utilities Cooperation.
The petition is a follow up to a complaint sent to the then Minister of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, Prince Maele in 2017 that demanded that the ministry take appropriate measures against the people it had engaged to supply water to the Bokaa community. Speaking to this publication the community spokesperson, Fortune Nyenye said they had asked the ministry for assistance but instead of relieving their situation it had provided “contaminated” water that was delivered in jojo tanks.
In their complaint to Maele, the community accused the ministry of undermining their intelligence by providing them with contaminated water as a “short-term solution.”
The ministry’s permanent secretary at the time, Thato Raphaka responded to the complaint by saying “issues of this nature should be brought to them through the village leadership which is either Bogosi, council or the village development committee and not just community members.”
The lead petitioner, Fortune Nyenye said the letter from the permanent secretary does not in any way address their concerns nor their rights as citizens.
In the petition to the Ombudsman, the community assert that the issue has dragged on for too long, and nothing is being done to address their concerns. The failure to deal with the water crisis is affecting the community’s wellbeing, the complaint claims.
The petitioners seek Makgonatsotlhe’s intervention as they say the “temporary solution” has failed to address the real water crisis issue because they always experience water shortages. The petitioners state that they fail to comprehend why they have a shortage of water when they have Bokaa Dam on their land, which they say can provide them with sufficient water.
“We are of the respectful view that the response from the ministry was made in bad faith as it does not address our concerns and our civil, democratic and constitutional rights are being violated as we are denied the right to water which is a basic essential to life,” wrote the petitioners to the Ombudsman.
They added that their goal is to make the Ombudsman aware that in the past the government policy encouraged residents and citizens nation-wide to connect water to their homes as a way to supply and distribute clean water for consumption. Nyenye reveals that, all stand pipes were closed by the water authorities because they wanted to induce people to connect water and stop using pit latrines which they alleged would contaminate the water in the Bokaa Dam.
“These people complied. Having forced residents to resort to use of water system toilets now the authorities cut water putting our people into health hazard. In light of the above we humbly request for your intervention with a view to resolve our problem,” wrote Nyenye.
In an exclusive interview with The Botswana Gazette, Nyenye revealed that since they handed the petition to one, Gaselabone at the Office of the Ombudsman in November last year, they have not received any response. He said he has been making trips to the Ombudsman but has not been given an answer.
“As we speak I am home and there is no water. When I say there is no water I am not just talking about water from the taps, those were long closed by the department of water utilities. I am talking about the same water in the jojo tanks they have been giving people in our area. Even when we go to Mochudi water utilities offices the head of department there has no interest in coming to see the situation herself. We live in unbearable and unhealthy environments and nobody cares. Since the water problem started, over 10 small children have died from drowning in buckets kept in homes by families, yet still nobody cares,” a clearly exasperated Nyenye reveals.
Nyenye added that even at their local clinics, health officers have attributed the diarrhea cases they receive to the polluted water the area residents are forced to consume. He said they were told that the reason why their taps have been closed is because there was a fault in the pipelines supplying water to the area and that was in 1997. Up to date, the government has not been able to fix the problems.
The Acting General Manager of Water Utilities, Kgatleng District, Yvonne Mothupi told The Botswana Gazette that the water shortage situation is only about two months away from being rectified. She said there is currently a project along the A1 named Construction of Bokaa Pipeline Project which is expected to be complete by December, and that it will address the water shortage of the small village. Mothupi explained that indeed the problem is caused by infrastructural limitation in the area, “to be specific,” she explained “the water pipeline supplying water from the source to the village is smaller than it should be, hence making it difficult to transport water.”
“The water at the source is more than adequate, the problem however is the pipeline transporting the water to the village. Currently we have tried to ease the problem by strategically placing 4 water tanks to provide water in the village. It is not the whole village that is affected it is just some parts of the village so we are trying to manage it. We called two or more kgotla meetings in the village explaining to the people that the project will soon be completed,” Mothupi said.
When contacted for an interview by this publication, Ombudsman Makgonatsotlhe said he was not aware of any petition sent to his office from residents of Bokaa. He said he unaware of the water crisis in the area and would investigate if such a petition was delivered to his office.