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The village of brown teeth

ONALENNA KELEBEILE
Molamu says highly mineralised water has plagued Mokobeng for more than five decades.
For the past 50 years, the residents of Mokobeng in Tswapong South have never tasted potable, fresh waters. Theirs is a salty variety, suspected to be hard water, which has stained the front teeth of generations over the decades. Staff Writer, ONALENNA MODIKWA KELEBEILE reports

SELEBI-PHIKWE: It is easy to identify children from Mokobeng, Ngwapa and Matlhako villages. Their teeth are stained a distinctive brown due to years of drinking water with a high mineral and salt content.

What is unusual is the fact that villagers appear unbothered by the situation and have in fact accepted it as a part of their normal lives.  The poor water quality damages teeth, ruins oral health and also destroys household items due to its strong mineralisation.

A report of chemical studies conducted on a borehole in the village in 2009 and 2010, showed that the water is unfit for human consumption. The water corrodes household items and forms a thick white lining in saucepans. It forms a scum in bathwater and is also believed to block standpipes in homes forcing villagers to replace them regularly at cost.

Village councillor, Joseph Molamu says appliances such as electric kettles have to be replaced every two months because the salt crystals in the water form a whitish crust around the elements destroying them.

“Even geysers need to be attended to regularly, if not replaced completely,” he says.

“The situation poses a serious health hazard including runny stomachs, especially for visitors.

“We are forced to fetch water from neighbouring villages such as Chadibe and Sefhare.

“Our water situation has now become an anthem at the Mahalapye Sub Council, but it looks like we are fighting a losing battle.”

Mokobeng does have its fair share of water shortages, but the major problem villagers have is the quality. Boreholes supplying the village are situated two kilometres away and Mokobeng has areas that cannot be reached bythe water.

The main problem is that the water from the boreholes cannot reach the reservoir where it should be treated. This, Molamu says, is because pipes connecting the two are of low capacity.

“Those pipes were installed back in the years by Water Affairs Department and have been exceeded by the demand because the population has grown.

“We have been told that there is currently no money to replace them. We have heard that story for the past five years now,” he said.

According to the councillor, in 2010, water authorities promised villagers in Mokobeng and Ngwapa that they would be supplied with potable water from Lotsane Dam.

Later, he says, they were told that it would be expensive to supply only two villages in the sub-district hence it would be better to connect all 22 villages to the North South Water Carrier from Radisele village. However, the councillor says there were no funds to carry out the connections.

“Already there is a pipeline from Lotsane Dam supplying water to Martin’s Drift border. Why can’t another pipeline supply our villages.

“Mokobeng has a population of only 2,800 and Ngwapa only has 503. The Water Utilities Corporation is failing to service this small number,” says Molamu, adding that the issue of children and brown teeth regularly surfaces at kgotla meetings.

The councillor

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is currently embroiled in a personal battle with the corporation, which he says is symptomatic of the experience of other villagers who claim they are charged exorbitant amounts for water, even when it is not supplied.

“I incurred a P20,000 bill for the eight months that I was in Gaborone in 2014. I am not going to pay that amount until Water Utilities Corporation fully accounts for it. Otherwise the ruling will be made by the courts of law.

“I fetch water from my own borehole and therefore there is no way the bill can shoot up to that amount,” he said.

Village Development Committee chairperson, Dorothy Phodiso, is among villagers who have given up on a solution to the water problems.

Mokobeng simply has no alternative at the moment, she says, and villagers have become accustomed to the situation by force, not by choice.

“Metsi a rona a fetsa molora ebile a senya le diaparo (This water wastes our detergents and ruins our clothes). We have made numerous calls to Government, but even today this has not been attended to. We have been waiting for water supply from Lotsane Dam as we were promised, but we hear that it is supplied at the border,” she says, with a sigh.

According to Phodiso, efforts are made to spare outsiders the poor quality water. Potable water is usually bowsed to schools in order to supply those who do not originate from the village. During events such as weddings and funerals, family members are forced to fetch water from neighbouring villages.

One of these outsiders is a civil servant in the village who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she found it confusing that villagers appeared unconcerned with the state of the water.

“We are forced to fetch water from Chadibe and Sefhare for drinking purposes. The water from around here forms a scum even in the tea and leaves an unsavoury taste,” she said.

She added that the water also has an effect on the skin and forces one to use more detergent, as it does not foam easily.

“The situation must be addressed and potable water must be supplied. We should not be feeling like we are being disposed of by being posted here,” she said.

While efforts to secure a comment from the corporation drew a blank, Mmegi has established that according to the Botswana Bureau of Standards, the water in Mokobeng is apparently within acceptable parameters.

A water expert who asked not to be named said the Total Dissolved Salt in Mokobeng’s water falls within acceptable standards.

“The salty taste may result from the fact that the water passes through different rocks of different salt content underground. WUC tastes water every month for biological contents while water quality tests are carried out on an annual basis,” she said.

The reassurance is cold comfort to Mokobeng’s children whose smiles immediately distinguish them from their playmates from nearby villages.



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