'It's funeral after funeral': Families who lost loved ones to cholera say leaders playing politics

25 May 2023 - 14:31
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A member of the Hammanskraal community fills water from a Jojo tank.
A member of the Hammanskraal community fills water from a Jojo tank.
Image: Ziphozonke Lushaba

Families in mourning amid the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal, north of Tshwane, are sharing their pain at losing loved ones to a preventable disease. 

Seventeen people have died of the disease and the district hospital is packed with patients.

The cause of the outbreak has not yet been established but residents have told TimesLIVE they believe it is linked to their long struggle with poor quality water due to problems with waste treatment. Cholera can be spread by faeces from infected people deposited into water resources or if food is washed with contaminated water.

The acting chief director of communicable diseases control in the health department, Aneliswa Cele, recently said the primary mode of transmission of cholera in Southern Africa has been linked to climate change. “We cannot deny that. We can see what is happening in our country with the floods we are experiencing and limited access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services.”

Political parties in Tshwane have been engaging in a war of words over the mismanagement of Hammanskraal water infrastructure.

“They are making it about politics, they are fighting among themselves politically whereas they are costing us, they are dragging each other to court while we are burying our people,” said Kamogelo Stock.

Stock, 39, who is a resident of Kanana, lost her grandmother on Sunday, three days after she experienced stomach cramps and diarrhoea. Her condition rapidly worsened after the initial onset of symptoms.

“She said it was as if someone was slicing her with a knife in her intestines.”

Stock said her grandmother became extremely weak and was unable to keep food down. The family took her to the Jubilee District Hospital where she was put on a drip, but she succumbed to the illness.

“When the results came back they said it was cholera,” she said. Her grandmother was declared dead on Sunday at about 4am.

Stock is frustrated that polluted water could be contributing to the spread of cholera.

My spirit is broken, I don't know what to say when councillors come because they can't bring her back — she is gone
Philly Kgareybyae, who lost his sister Gladys Kwenda to cholera

She said she thought the water from the municipal trucks was safe and they have been using it. “We thought the tap water was the one that was not OK.

“I am angry, I am disappointed, I don't know how to express my feelings. It's too much in Hammanskraal, especially here in Kanana.

“It's very painful because it shows that our government is failing us. We have been fighting this thing of water for a long time. We once blocked the streets and burnt the tyres because of the water issue. Now we lost our loved one because of their carelessness and them not caring for us.

“How many people will die, for how long will we lose our loved ones because of this water?”

Lucas Thema now has to assume the responsibility of being a parent to his siblings after losing his mother, Johanna Thema.

The unemployed 26-year-old will be burying his mother on Saturday.

“She got sick on Sunday, she had diarrhoea and was vomiting. We tried home remedies. On Wednesday we took her to Themba clinic and she received a drip and medication. When she came back home we gave her the medications. But she got worse on Friday and died at home.

He said they had been drinking water provided by the municipal water trucks.

“After she had died, we all had diarrhoea and were vomiting.

“We went to Jubilee hospital and got assistance. As I speak we are better,” he said.

Thema has left four children, with Lucas being the eldest

“It feels like a movie, it's like I am not seeing properly. As the firstborn I have to be strong for my siblings because if I become weak, they will also be weak. Now I am playing a parental role, I must show them the way,” said Lucas.

He has urged the government to improve the quality of water provided to the community.

“I am not the only one who has lost a parent, other families have also lost loved ones, they must intervene.”

Lucas said they have stopped drinking both tap water and water from trucks since they got sick.

“This thing is very painful, once you start vomiting you get weak to a point where you struggle to walk. In the stomach you feel like someone is pulling your intestines.”

Philly Kgareybyae lost his sister, Gladys Kwenda, to cholera on Monday.

He said on Sunday the 47-year-old woman woke up with diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps. “She thought the stomach was just cleaning itself until she had no water in the body. She couldn't hold it in any more, it would just come out even when she coughs.”

Kgareybyae said his sister went to Jubilee hospital on Sunday.

“When she got to the hospital, they never gave her a drip even though she was weak. They helped her at the last minute when they could see that she is seriously struggling. It was too late,” he said.

Kwenda's grandchild also fell ill but survived.

“My spirit is broken, I am in so much pain, I don't know what to say when councillors come because they can't bring her back — she is gone,” he said.

Kgareybyae said they were drinking tap water in the house. They have since stopped doing so and they are now buying bottled water even though it is a struggle to afford it.

“It's all about sacrificing. At home she was the only one who was working.

“What is most painful is that we just buried someone a few weeks ago and this week it's her — it's funeral after funeral.”

They will be burying her on Sunday.

PODCAST | Cholera crisis: what to do with non-performing local government?


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