Cholera almost claimed my child, we are now living in constant fear

A Hammanskraal woman has narrated a harrowing story of how she almost lost her son to cholera, which has already claimed 23 lives in the area.

Speaking to Sunday World, Nthabiseng Mkase said it all began two weeks ago when her six-year-old child started vomiting on a Friday night.

The following morning, she said, the grade 1 pupil failed to wake up, sparking concerns. When the child failed to eat breakfast until 10 am, Mkase, from Kanana Village, rushed her son to the nearby emergency tent for help.

The tent was erected by the Gauteng department of health to deal with the cholera outbreak in the area.

Inside the tent, Mkase said, the nursing sisters swiftly stabilised her child with an anti-diarrhoea drink. They called an ambulance, which rushed the mother and child to the nearby Jubilee Hospital.

“They (doctors) put my child on a drip, gave us medication and discharged him the following day. They told me my child was lucky because we brought him to the hospital
before he lost a lot of body fluid,” Mkase said, adding she had feared for the worst.

“By Sunday my child was still looking weak, but I think the medication was still making him dizzy. But I was scared.

“He then slept for a long time. On Monday, I didn’t take him to school. I forced him to go on Tuesday because they were writing tests. Even then he was complaining about stomach cramps. He is better now.”

Mkase’s child is one of hundreds of people who survived the deadly cholera outbreak, which killed at least 23 people in Hammanskraal, north of Tshwane, in recent weeks. Most of the affected people were hospitalised and later discharged.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla this week said the first cases of cholera in Gauteng were traced to a bus trip to Malawi back in January.

On Wednesday, Phaahla held a press briefing at Tshedimo-setso House in Pretoria, where he outlined the timeline of the cholera outbreak.

As the minister was speaking, the Mpumalanga health department reported that a 73-year-old hypertension patient from Phake near Siyabuswa had died at Mmametlhake Hospital outside Hammanskraal after testing positive for the disease.

Phaahla said the first two cases involved sisters who travelled together from Diepsloot in Johannesburg to Malawi and returned on January 30. He said the two tested positive for cholera on February 5.

Mkase, however, told Sunday World that the water problem in Hammanskraal started 15 years ago when taps ran dry. This was after the City of Tshwane replaced state-owned water utility Magaliesburg Water.

When the water started flowing from the taps, it was brown in colour and looked dirty. Her family stopped drinking the tap water and instructed all the children to do the same, Mkase said.

“However, kids are kids. When water drops come out of the tap, they play there and end up taking a sip. My child started vomiting after drinking from the tap.”

The unemployed mother of four said her family had to use the water supplied by tankers contracted by the City of Tshwane because they couldn’t afford to buy bottled water. Her husband is also unemployed and survives on temporary jobs. “Things are bad now. Water is life, and without water, we can’t survive. It’s tough,” she said.

“Even the water tankers are unreliable. They come as and when they feel like it. Sometimes they don’t supply us with water for a month. Then we are forced to run around looking for water.”

Mkase said the water problem got worse when the government connected sewage pipes in the area, which ended up overflowing in the streets.

“Even now, just look outside, it’s sewage all over the streets. Our water never used to be dirty. There was a time when you could even drink water from the nearby rivers. Now you can’t. You see raw sewage under the bridges overflowing into the rivers.”

The situation was not different at the nearby Mandela Village and Themba Township, where residents shared Mkase’s sentiment. Another family in Mandela Village also survived a cholera scare.

Tidimalo Matseba, 81, had to prepare an anti-diarrhoea mixture to help her grandchild, who was vomiting and complaining about a runny tummy. Luckily, the two-year-old boy has recovered.

“The child was vomiting, and when he went to the toilet, I then prepared a mixture for him,” said Matseba, a retired school teacher.

She said she often boilS and drinks water from the tankers because bottled water is too expensive.

Matseba’s neighbour, Ethel Mosesi, 61, said the water crisis is the worst she has experienced in the 31 years she has lived in Hammanskraal.

The mother of four said she spends R100 per week on water. Mosesi fears cholera might strike her neighbourhood. “We have been neglected. This problem has been with us forever. We have not yet had a cholera case here in Mandela, but are concerned because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” Mosesi said.

She said the government should fix the Rooiwal Water Treatment Plant and install water pipes from scratch.

Sunday World visited Jubilee Hospital and various parts of Hammanskraal on Friday.

While residents went on with their lives, the mood of fear was palpable. Locals who spoke to us said they feared the worst and were uncertain about their future. They said they were losing hope of ever getting clean, drinkable water in Hammanskraal.

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