A Mandalay senior citizen who has dementia has had her water supply cut after receiving a mystery water bill of R49 688.28.
The sick and frustrated 73-year-old Nonceba Vuma, who shares her house with her daughter and two grandchildren, has had no water to drink, wash or flush the toilet for at least five months.
It has been hard for them during the lockdown and they’ve had to ask for 20 litres of water a day from neighbours.
Ms Vuma, whose husband died a year ago, told Vukani she does not remember owing the City any money.
The City said she had had debt written off in 2013 and under their current policies, didn’t qualify for another write-off.
They said according to their system, there is water consumption on the property, however, it has been limited to 350 litres a day.
When Vukani visited the property there was no water. According to the City of Cape Town, Mama Vuma owes them R49 688.28 and that she had been sent a warning letter on November 30 last year.
Ms Vuma, however, said she never saw the letter – and even if she had, would not have been able to cover the bill as her only income is a social grant.
“These are difficult days of my life. It has been a struggle since I lost my husband. For me to use a toilet or cook, let alone to wash myself, I have to ask water from the neighbours for water.
“I need to thank them for being so patient with me and my kids. I am a senior and I am sick, I live on social grant, how would I be able to pay huge sums of water bills? I pray that the City can honour my last days on earth by giving me water,” she said
Annie Schoeman, who has been helping Mama Vuma by giving her 40 litres of water every day and engaging with the municipality, said one day she took her to the offices in Mitchell’s Plain to negotiate but they were told to pay R1 500.
She said while they were waiting to be served, Mama Vuma collapsed inside the offices and had to be rushed to the hospital. “She is old and sick but she has to go queue in the offices. I am also old, I am 73 years too but I am still going strong,” she said.
At one point, said Ms Schoeman, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel. After frantic calls to the City of Cape Town, they were told that the water supply would be restored within 72 hours. This, however, did not happen.
“These water cuts to seniors are becoming increasingly frustrating, especially now that we are being preached to respect coronavirus. Most of us (seniors) cannot afford to pay for water as we depend on a social grant. I give her 40 litres of water every day. The meaning of that is that,I might follow suit. My water might be cut soon,” she warned.
Responding to Vukani’s queries about this matter, the City, said it deals with municipal debt ”holistically”, in terms of the relevant legislation and the City’s approved by-laws and policies.
“In terms of relevant legislation, we have to send out invoices advising the debtor of their liability. If the accounts are not settled after the due date, appropriate debt collection actions must be taken,” the City said.
“It is important to emphasise the City does not cut off water at residential properties, however services are restricted to a running trickle flow of water. Trickle-flows are effected to 200 litres per day as a result of debt management actions on arrears debts and also in cases where there is abuse of water and tampering or by-passing of the water meter.”
The City said it has a process to release trickle-flow restrictions across the metro and these are actioned as property owners contact the City to make the necessary arrangements.
The City added that it does offer assistance to residents, including the elderly, based on income or property value and urged Ms Vuma to visit the nearest walk-in centre to enquire about her eligibility for assistance.
Asked if she ever asked for assistance at the City’s offices, Ms Vuma and Ms Schoeman said they had tried on numerous occasions, but had been sent from pillar to post.