Soaring summer temperatures, the shutdown of the North South Carrier (NSC) and an unceasing acute water shortage in the Greater Gaborone area has pummeled residents of Mogoditshane into the belly of a nearby old quarry. Oblivious of the dangers posed by the menacing rocks hanging perilously on the side walls of the 60-75m deep pit in search of a drop of water, these residents are walking into a Death trap
Deep into the overpopulated peri-urban township of Mogoditshane-on the outskirts of Gaborone city to the west, lies an abandoned quarry mine which presents both a kind of solace to thirsty residents, livestock and fitness fanatics, and a death trap on many fronts, all at the same time.
Ever since the southern parts of Botswana started experiencing acute water shortage that has cornered people into employing desperate measures of survival, scores of villagers, their livestock and water supply businesses compete for the murky bluish smelly water deep at the bottom of the quarry mine. The abandoned quarry sits right at the centre of Mogoditshane Block 5 location to the west of the township, just a stone’s throw away from the neighbouring houses and a dusty public transport route. Ironically, those who frequent the quarry to draw water for domestic use complain that trucks carrying huge containers and water bowsers are depleting the resource for commercial benefit throwing their future into uncertainty, instead of being concerned about the quality of the water and the risks it poses.
Mogoditshane is one of the hardest hit areas in greater Gaborone after Gaborone Dam was declared a failure late last year. Bouts of dry spells spanning over a month have become common. Water quality is increasingly becoming meaningless to them. A visit by The Patriot on Sunday to the quarry on Thursday uncovered a hive of activity from dawn till dusk by those frequenting the site including young and old men and women, water speculators, herd boys and their herds, fitness fanatics, love-birds/ couples, illegal sand miners and curious on-lookers. None of them seems aware that their activity is illegal, and most confess to have been using the quarry site for many months, if not years. But the surrounding is very untidy- some people have turned the quarry into a dumping site with pampers, sanitary pads, cow dung, plastics, papers and other rubbish thrown indiscriminately all over.
A woman pushing a wheelbarrow up the incline out of the quarry carrying full 5 litre containers said she was on her way home to use the water. “There is really nothing we can do except to tap from this quarry. We use this water to bath as well as to wash our clothes. I cannot consume this water. I do not think it is clean for consumption,” said 35 year old Maitlamo Gaolekwe, who works as a cleaner in a chain store in town. While some residents go for months without water, some still have their taps running even during severe periods. Residents said they have observed that old pipes that were connected by Water Affairs Department usually get water restored faster than the new ones by WUC. This situation has given birth to a new business; selling water from homes. A 20 or 25 litres container costs P5. “I buy water for consumptions from my neighbours who fortunately have water flowing at their houses most of the time. It is a way of life in this area. We are neglected,” said Gaolekwe.
While some are fortunate to purchase mineral water from retail stores, a 23 year old young man, Moakanyi Tshoganetso who resides in Block 5 said he has no money to buy safe water for cooking and drinking. He said at one point he was left with no choice but to use water from the quarry to cook. “Last month (October) I ended up drinking as well as cooking with this water because I had no choice. It got me so sick that I ended up at Nkoyaphiri clinic with diarrhea. It’s been three to four months now without water in our area especially the homes near this quarry. We have resigned ourselves to drawing water from here and it is now normal since we come here at least five times a week. I'm only concerned that these big bowsers are going to finish the water soon,” he said.
A man herding cattle out of the quarry, Kgwaphi Masie, said his primary concern is that his livestock drink water. “I am a herd man. I drive the cattle to come drink water here. We have been doing this for more than five years now. But the rate at which these truckers drain water into bowsers is worrisome. We cannot say anything because this place is no man’s land,” he said, adding that many other people have been fetching water in buckets from the quarry for many years. “People always come here with buckets. They use this water to bath and for other household chores. The water is dirty for use. You can also see that it is greenish in colour,” he said.
The water shortage in Mogoditshane has been aggravated by a recent NSC shutdown. When The Patriot on Sunday visited the quarry in September there were people drawing water from the pit following a minor week-long shutdown then. For their area, the shutdown lasted more than a month. This unpleasant situation has affected life. “We are one of the unfortunate areas in the Greater Gaborone area. It’s been more than a month now without water in our area. It is a very bad situation. This situation leads to poor hygiene. It also leads to poor productivity at work because of low self-esteem caused by lack of proper bathing. I have also used water from the quarry. I use it for bathing and cleaning,” said Enock Tshamba who resides in Mogoditshane Block 5 in the Khudiring ward in September. “We always wake up at night around 12 am to check if the water has recovered and we never find anything. It is a sad state that has gripped this area,” Tshamba explained.
A truck driver, Wamodimo Tsietso (23) who draws water into bowsers said he uses it in his garden. “I use this water in the garden. We also use it for building. The only water that I sell is from Broadhurst boreholes. A 2500 litres bowser is sold for P250. The water is taken care of by Water Utilities Corporation (WUC). The water is suitable for consumption and most people use it in their swimming pools,” he said.
However other truck drivers who draw water into bowsers frequently are in business. They sell this water to Mogoditshane residents and other parts of Greater Gaborone. On Thursday, the same situation as in September was unfolding. Residents were busy drawing water from the quarry. Going deeper into the mine, a few individuals were busy collecting water with bottles and buckets. Some were filling bowsers on their trucks. “I am collecting water for my customers who use it for different purposes. Some people use it for building while some for bathing. A 2500 litres container costs P120,” said Gerald Mukwa, the truck driver.
Environmental Health lecturer in the School of Public Health (UB), Baemedi Letsholo, said
any area after activity should be rehabilitated, and should not exposed the public to danger.
He said it is disturbing that the quarry is accessible to anything and everybody, which poses risk because mining uses different systems including chemicals and oils. He said these could contaminate water making its quality for consumption suspect. "That the quality of water is not known and could be hazardous is a serious matter. It is very dangerous especially in an unfenced area previously used as a quarry mine. The surface water that has been lying there could have been contaminated by cattle contaminate after drinking. Other animals also use the water. It is wrong to allow people to collect water and sell such water without proper tests performed to confirm its suitability for human consumption. In the current state there could an outbreak of diarrhea and many other diseases due to contamination," said Letsholo, adding that children and small domestic animals could also fall into the pit as it remains unfenced.
Area MP Sedirwa Kgoroba said he is aware of the existence of the quarry. “I know the quarry but I have not been properly informed about the use of the water it collects. Knowing that quarry, I do not think the water is healthy for consumption or any use,” he said. Kgoroba added that he is currently soliciting sponsors to help buy or donate bowsers to be placed in severely hit areas. “We want sponsors to help us with bowsers so we can in turn help the residents with water. Once we get these bowsers, WUC can fill them with water frequently for use by residents,” he said.
Dr Bontle Mbongwe, Public/ Environmental Health lecturer at the University of Botswana concurred saying: "Any open water that is not treated is not safe for household use, other than microbiological contamination it could be exposed to hazardous waste which people could have dumped there and people may therefore be potentially exposed to harmful chemicals and some heavy metals".
MoH had not responded to our questionnaire as they were said to be attending a leadership meeting outside the office at the time of going to print. Spokesperson Wada Motsamai however confirmed that they have been inundated with calls from residents of Mogoditshane complaining about the quality of the water sold by businessmen from the quarry. She said they were planning a public awareness campaign for the public about paying attention to the quality of water they use in their household especially during periods of zero supply.
The Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, who house the department of mines, had also not responded to a questionnaire emailed to them regarding the abandoned quarry.