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Girl Drowns Getting Drinking Water, Causing Riots in South Africa

A man refills water in a jojo tank loaded in one of the trucks hired to deliver emergency water to residents, at Blue Gum Bush in Qwaqwa, in the Free State province, South Africa, February 5, 2020. Picture taken February, 5, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko -
Girl Drowns Getting Drinking Water, Causing Riots in South Africa
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Eight-year-old Musa and her older sister Moleboheng walked slowly downhill to get water from a dirty waterway. The girls really wanted a drink and were tired of waiting for trucks to bring water to their neighborhood. The trucks never came.

But Musa never returned from the stream, her mother Phindile Mbele remembers, trying not to cry. The little girl drowned in the stream, which is thick with mud and pollution. A strong underwater current probably pulled her down.

“We rushed down there. She was still under the water... Two boys from the neighborhood went in and one carried her out,” Mbele said. “The house is empty without her. She was such a sweet, quiet child”.

Musa’s death last month angered people living in Mandela Park Township, near Qwaqwa, in South Africa. What had been off-and-on protests over water shortages became a week-long riot.

Protesters burned businesses, overturned government vehicles and threw bricks and bottles at riot police. The police reacted by firing rubber bullets.

South Africans have protested for years because they cannot depend on water and power supplies. Their long-term mismanagement and a lack of rainfall last year made the situation worse. Climate change is thought to be the cause of the drought.

“It rains here all the time but they say there’s drought. Then how did that little girl drown because that stream was full?” said Malgas “Skinny” John. He used rocks and burning tires during the January riot to block the road leading into Qwaqwa.

“We have to strike and burn things, only then do we get water,” John said. A father of two, he stood in line with neighbors to fill his container from a water truck.

“We’ll do it again, we’ll keep burning things if we have to,” he added.

Officials fear riots like the one at Qwaqwa could be a sign of more social problems related to climate change in the future. The dams and water pipes get older and sometimes break down while the population and the demand for water continues to grow.

South Africa’s water minister Lindiwe Sisulu has promised 3 billion rand, or $203 million, to end the shortages in Qwaqwa. The local government owes about 500 million rand for water.

Sisulu’s own department needs 3.5 billion rand more to carry out maintenance. Without those repairs, there could be what the government calls harmful effects on the national economy.

“We’ve been drinking this brown, filthy water since 2016,” said Musa’s mother Phindile Mbele.

“Nothing will change. I know, soon, I will have to go the same stream where my daughter died to get water.”

I’m Jill Robbins.

Mfuneko Toyana reported on this story for the Reuters news agency. Jill Robbins adapted the report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

stream n. a natural flow of water that is smaller than a river

rush v. to hurry

brick – n. a building material; a small block used in building

drought – n. long period of time during which there is very little or no rain

tire – n. a rubber covering for a wheel

mismanagement – n. the process of leading or something very badly or wrongly

filthyadj. very dirty

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