Women and water access in the Eastern Cape: an anthropological investigation into supply and sustainability in water scarce districts: with specail reference to: Mbelu, Ntilini and Cwebe.
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This study looks at domestic water supply within the context of household dynamics in a rural area with a particular focus on the acquisition of water. The study examines the implications for women and gender through customary norms and practices, local institutions, ideologies and cosmologies, household structures and people’s practices. In the rural areas of Amatole District Municipality, women and men’s relationships to water and its acquisition are fundamentally different, and the differences have deep consequences for women’s status, standard of living and their survival. It also aims to explore the dynamic gender relations and women’s vulnerability and dangers they face while trying to access water. Twenty-three years after the introduction of democracy, the provision of water in rural South Africa remains elusive and prevails as a blot to the country’s legislature and their policy makers and advisers Thus this study is intended as a critique of this lack of provision and aims to provide an insight into some of the concealed realities in service delivery failures in post-apartheid South Africa. Water is the foremost human basic need and is crucial for sustainable development particularly in rural areas where there is limited access to clean and safe water. The internationally based Gender and Water Alliance (GWA) (2006) states that limited access to clean and safe water is associated with poor hygiene and sanitation at household level and that it widens the poverty gap, creates gender inequalities and fails to annihilate water borne diseases. The target area for this study was Amatole District Municipality, where piped water to each household is non-existent. Situated in the wild coast of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, scattered households are a characteristic feature of the undulating terrain in the area. The villages under study were Cwebe, Mbelu and Ntilini, where infrastructure development and employment opportunities remain equally non-existent. The demographics of the areas consist of mainly women, young children and older men. The younger and middle-aged men migrate to the mines in other provinces, especially Gauteng Province, where most of the country’s richest mines are located. Almost all of the residents in these three villages are unemployed and depend on remittances and social grants. Only a small number of the villagers depend upon working their land on a subsistence basis. Another small percentage is employed in the only tourist resort in the area, which can accommodate a maximum of 32 guests at a time, indicative of the rather limited employment opportunities in this soft industry. The villages are sparsely scattered, and the terrain is hilly, which makes it difficult for the local residents to access the distantly available water with the relative ease for which they constantly hope. The nature of the terrain and the alleged high costs of a reticulation system is often blamed by the local state for its absence. In Ntilini and Mbelu, for example, women and children source their water from the dangerously deep gorge linked to the Mhashe River which is also difficult to access. The area also has five dry boreholes, which are not maintained. The more distant Cwebe on the other hand get its water from the Nlonyane River and its tributaries and springs. A water tank in the area also exists, but for agricultural uses only. Localised belief systems and customary norms continue to prevail upon their existence in each of these villages, despite their relative hardships. At least three of repeated factors remain as justifications for their continued association with the land that they occupy viz. spatial identity, social identity and ancestral association. All of these factors remain interconnected by virtue of the obeisance they have towards the local leadership, and the spatial and social identities are conditioned by local marriage patterns, as well as their beliefs in the oversight of their ancestral spirits in their daily lives. By virtue of having them buried on their homestead properties the belief is that ancestral spirits 5 prevail as an omniscient and omnipresent force which requires permanent occupation by the living as an appeasement to their continued sustainable inter-relationships. The consequences of such a belief system is an unshakeable belief in an eternal association with the land, precluding any possibility of relocation for the sake of improved service deliveries, including piped water to their homes Women bear the brunt of this belief system in the area and therefore have to travel long distances to collect clean drinkable water, often under challenging if not dangerous circumstances. Women in rural areas such as Cwebe, Ntilini and Mbelu (notwithstanding other areas all over South Africa) do not feel the impact these policies have made on the lives of women in urban areas. Rural women still feel isolated in the development planning that is theoretically intended to benefit them, because their views and experiences are not caucused. While post-Apartheid South Africa lays claim to a constitution that matches the most progressive in the world, there remains startling inconsistencies in the ways in which ground realities are given due conscience.