MASERU — They say they have not seen any meaningful development in their area of Tšenola Lepereng for close to two decades; they are Maseru city’s forgotten community.
Signs of residents’ daily struggle for survival are everywhere in this informal settlement of Maseru, more so their lack of running water.
Over the years, the villagers claim to have survived on water from unprotected wells located just outside the settlement.
Livestock, the residents say, drink from the same wells, exacerbating a health hazard compounded by sewage which, until recently, was flowing just below the village.
Children, some residents also claim, used to play in the sewage stream while livestock would also drink the toxic liquid.
Legend has it that Tšenola Lepereng — which sprawls from the foot of a mountain in Maseru — started to take shape in 1994 as more and more people came from various parts of the country came to the capital hoping for a better life.
Almost twenty years on, the anticipated better livelihood has still not materialised and their settlement is yet to be recognised by the Maseru City Council, hence the absence of basic amenities such as potable water and electricity.
A visit to the village last Thursday revealed a community not only crying out for help but also at a loss about its continued illegal status, which has reduced it to a squatter-camp.
“This is now our home and we will do everything which is required to make sure that at least, we have a community tap close by.
“Life is hard for everyone here and if we had anywhere else to go, we could have left a long time ago,” said the chairperson of the Lepereng Development Committee, Masheane Thejane.
While the absence of electricity and other basic facilities such as a health centre are a cause for concern, it is the lack of tap-water which has become the biggest challenge faced by the more than 300 residents of the area.
Evidently filthy, the residents have no other viable option but to fetch water from the three open wells for household use.
And fetching the water is everyone’s business — from children aged four to fragile grandmothers in their 60s — and all have to wait their turn to draw the liquid slowly trickling out of the ground.
It is always a long wait, and one the residents cannot dodge as this is their only source of water.
Yet the residents’ greatest fear is what would happen should the wells completely dry up.
Maseabata Mofihli, 14, said the responsibility of fetching water for her family was affecting her education.
At her age, Mofihli is supposed to be in Form B but because she has to take turns fetching water with her sister, she has missed classes over the years, so she is still in Class Six.
It is now 4 pm and Mofihli is still waiting to collect water despite arriving at the well at around 10 am.
“I have to collect 40 litres today so that I don’t have to wake-up as early as 4 am to collect more water before I go to school tomorrow.
“I have been collecting water since I was seven years of age, so this has become part of my life.”
The water, she stated the obvious, is dirty and unhealthy.
“At times the water makes me and my family sick, but there is nothing else we can do but just use it for all our domestic chores.”
Another resident, ’Mamahlomola Selikane, 38, who is a street vendor, said she has been fetching water from the wells since 2009 when she started staying in Lepereng.
The mother-of-three, who was waiting with Mofihli, said she had been waiting to collect the water since 9 am.
“I am hoping by 5 pm, I would have collected 40 litres of water.
“I was unable to work today because there was no water in the house,” she said.
’Mamalefane Monaheng, 64, said fetching water and coming to the wells to do her laundry has been her life since 2006.
She always brings along her two grandchildren aged four and six, to also collect their own water.
“It is hot and they just want to have their own reserves in case the water runs out in the house and I have to wait here for hours before getting back,” Monaheng said.
On this particular day, Monaheng had come to do her laundry, despite the obviously dirty water.
“To some people, it might not make sense that I am washing dirty clothes using equally dirty water but this is the only water we have and at least, it will make the clothes a bit clean,” she said.
However, the Lepereng residents’ battle for a better life, and in particular clean water, could be a protracted one as the Maseru City Council maintains they are illegal settlers.
Council spokesperson, Lintle Moerane last week Friday confirmed the position of the municipality remains the same — that the Lepereng settlement is illegal.
“Council knows about the water problem but it is not possible for us to authorise the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) to provide them with water because according to the city planning, that area is a cemetery.
“Therefore, we cannot even talk about roads being constructed in the area.”
Moerane, however, added there have been efforts recently to provide the residents with water.
“However, these efforts did not come from the municipality side and we are not sure how they are being implemented,” she said.
The WASCO Spokesperson, Lineo Moqasa, on her part, said because the settlement is not planned, it would be difficult to develop the water distribution infrastructure.
“It would take us a huge capital to provide water in the area because of the terrain.”
She explained that although the Maseru City Council had not authorised the provision of water in the area because of its unplanned status, they had installed two prepaid community stand pipes near the settlement; below and up the mountain.
“The issue therefore could be that they find it strenuous to travel up the steep road to fetch water or they cannot afford to pay for the water.”
Thejane, the area’s development committee chairperson, however, said the community tap was not within their area.
He said the residents were willing to contribute money to pay for water-infrastructure development in the area.
“We are also appealing to the government to help us be recognised as legal settlers so that at least this area is developed to improve our quality of life,” he said.
He explained the community has contributed M200 per household in preparation for payments that might be needed for them to be connected to the main water supply system.