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PE Day Zero: Staff, inmates at St Albans prison scramble for water

Large water tanks are emptied in hours, says community leader

28 September 2020 - 12:57 By Mkhuseli Sizani
St Albans informal settlement community leader Phila Ntloko next to one of the empty 5,000 litre water tanks supplied by the municipality.
St Albans informal settlement community leader Phila Ntloko next to one of the empty 5,000 litre water tanks supplied by the municipality.
Image: GroundUp/Mkhuseli Sizani

A warden at St Albans Correctional Centre in Port Elizabeth has raised the alarm over water shortages and overcrowding at the facility.

“Our working conditions are not good and I hate being there. For six years I have been working here, but I never experienced a water crisis like this. The prison is too big and the demand for water is very high,” she said.

Since the start of September, Nelson Mandela Bay residents have been experiencing Day Zero. The situation is worse in areas like St Albans and in KwaNobuhle, in Uitenhage, with tanks delivering water to residents daily.

The warden at St Albans prison, who spoke to GroundUp on condition of anonymity, said their problems predate the city’s Day Zero.

The warden described scenes of “chaos” with staff and inmates battling to get enough water. She said maintaining physical distance during the Covid-19 pandemic was not possible because the prison was at full capacity.

“Everybody was rushing to be first in the queue to get water from the tankers. We had to carry as many buckets as possible to water to flush the toilets and to shower,” she said.

The warden said the release of some prisoners on parole to slow the spread of Covid-19 had made a difference.

“I share a toilet with four others wardens. When there is no water, it causes a huge stink. We have to boil water to bath.

“When we do laundry in the washing machine, we have to pour water with buckets. This is time-consuming and tiring,” she said.

The prison is opposite the St Albans informal settlement which houses more than 1,000 shack dwellers and has five water tankers with a capacity of 5,000 litres each.

Community leader Phila Ntloko said they had gone a week without water and some people resorted to going to a primary school to ask for supplies. Ntloko said their tanks are only filled halfway because drivers claim they have to deliver to surrounding farm residents who also need water.

“Some farm dwellers come here to draw from our tanks. In less than three hours the water is finished. Those who come home from work late are stranded and go to the nearby St Albans Primary School to get water,” Ntloko said.

Golden Miles Bhudu, general secretary of the SA Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights, said they are aware of the water problems at St Albans.

Zamikhaya Skade, provincial secretary of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, said: “There are serious water challenges there that make it difficult to COPE under those conditions. Water tankers are being sent to the prison.”

Nobuntu Gantana, regional co-ordinator of communications for the Eastern Cape correctional services department, acknowledged that the prison has been hit by the municipality’s water crisis.

“The department has put contingency plans in place. The department uses trucks to fetch water for inmates and staff. There are also storage tanks on the premises. Water is made available for eating and ablution for officials and inmates,” she said.

Stressed resources

Last Wednesday, the municipality released a statement about intermittent water disruptions. Mayco member for infrastructure and engineering, Mongameli Bobani, said the disruptions were “due to a water shortfall from stressed resources such as the Loerie system”.

The Loerie Dam is one of the five supplying water to Nelson Mandela Bay. Bobani said areas supplied by the Loerie system would experience intermittent water after supply dropped from an average 70 megalitres to about 18 megalitres per day.

“As an emergency continuity plan, residents in KwaNobuhle have seven water tanks. St Albans informal settlements will be supplied through water trucks and storage tanks.”

On Monday morning, municipal spokesperson Mamela Ndamase said the water was back on, but would be “subject to interruptions”.


  • This article was first published by GroundUp.