Bloemhof - Maserame Mogoregi could barely bring herself to speak.
She sat listlessly as the hot afternoon sun beat down on her back.
Her 1-year-old son had died just three days previously.
Onalenna Mogoregi, born and raised in Boitumelong township in Bloemhof, North West, began to vomit and had diarrhoea last Monday.
His mother took him to the clinic later that day.
“When I got there, they told me that the medicine was finished. So I took him home and kept giving him mageu (maize-based drink) and Powerade.”
North West health officials acknowledged the medicine shortage and said it had now been resolved.
On Wednesday, the day officials said the problem had been resolved, Mogoregi took Onalenna to the chemist.
The medicine did not improve his condition.
The next day, she took him back to the clinic, where he was put on a drip.
“They saw that he was weak, so they took him to Bloemhof Hospital,” said the 24-year-old.
At 6am on Friday, the doctors rushed the boy to Klerksdorp Hospital.
“He died on the way,” said Mogoregi. “I had been giving him the boiled water and the mixture as people were saying the water is bad. But (the government) told us too late,” Mogoregi said.
Another child died on the resuscitation table of a hospital at the weekend, raising the death toll to three.
Municipal officials have identified two possible sources of the water contamination in Bloemhof.
According to Oatile Letebele, the director of corporate services at the Lekwa Teemane Local Municipality, the first cause may be from residents dumping waste into the Free State side of the Vaal River.
“People who are using septic tanks pump (the sewage) into the water sewage lines, and a septic tank is built there to capture the sewage.
“But there are times when there is a delay and the residents may have pumped it into the Vaal River instead.”
He said a contractor was forced to flee riots last month, leaving manholes at a construction site unsealed.
He said the source of the contamination was E.coli, but assured that the water had been backwashed and purified.
On Friday, the lab results tested negative for E.coli.
A report from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases said there was no certainty that the water contained E.coli.
Some Boitumelong township residents told The Star on Monday that they still did not have running water.
Meanwhile, the municipal manager of Lekwa-Teemane was suspended on Monday amid the water contamination crisis.
North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo said Andrew Makuapane was suspended pending a forensic investigation.
A preliminary report from the investigation was to be tabled before a special meeting of the North West provincial executive council on Tuesday.
“The suspension of Andrew Makuapane follows a meeting that involved Premier Mahumapelo, Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane and the exco (executive committee) intervention task team established by the premier to look into challenges facing the municipality and visits to families who lost three infants.”
Mahumapelo said a joint team – which includes his cabinet task team and Water and Sanitation officials – had been established to look into the ailing infrastructure, a funding model for the municipality, governance and administrative challenges facing the municipality, and sewage spillage into the water pipes, which has resulted in the contamination of water.
Mokonyane and Mahumapelo came to pay their respects to the family on Sunday, while visiting the area to address the unrest caused by the water problems.
The ANC has also joined many South Africans in extending its sympathies to the families affected.
“The ANC has noted and welcomed the pronouncements made by the minister of water and sanitation in relation to the situation in Bloemhof,” ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.
“This commitment is in line with the undertaking we have made, as the ANC, to significantly improve the provision of water and sanitation.
“A major and urgent task that faces the newly formed department will be to ensure that we strengthen local government’s capacity to provide every household with quality, clean and safe drinking water while at the same time accelerating delivery on our resolution to eradicate the bucket system in South Africa.” - Additional reporting by Baldwin Ndaba