Give Mokonyane the credit she deserves
Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane was hardly in office for a month, when she attended the debate in the National Assembly that followed the 2014 state of the nation address. The opposition took a swipe at the ANC for promising that the people of Giyani in Limpopo would have access to clean water by September that year.
They were at pains to point out that the project in question would not see the light of day. Villages had been without water for months and patients at Nkhensani Hospital were being turned away because of this lack.
Mama Action visited Giyani to hear firsthand the people’s cries. An old woman said she had been repeatedly raped while going to fetch water a distance away from her home, adding that she would continue doing so because she had no choice: she needed water.
Water problems in Mopani, which is a dry, mountainous and rugged region, have been well documented in this very newspaper.
Between 2010 and 2014 government paid wily and enterprising tenderpreneurs no less than R500 million to deal with leaky pipes, broken pumps and malfunctioning boreholes, which were decaying from years of neglect and lack of maintenance.
In typical South African style, many companies simply pocketed the money and ran for the hills, leaving hundreds of thousands of penurious villagers in Giyani, Tzaneen and Phalaborwa to share dirty river water with livestock.
In 2010, the entire region was declared a disaster area because of chronic water shortages. Things came to a head in 2014, when the hospital taps ran completely dry.
While attending to the hospital’s emergency, officials faced another crisis. A cholera outbreak hit Ngobe village in Giyani, after the municipality’s waste water treatment plant had collapsed and raw sewage was discharged into the Klein Letaba River.
All these coincided with the May 2014 general election, which saw Mokonyane appointed minister. By August, she read the riot act to Mopani District officials over their failure to solve the water woes.
Mokonyane invoked sections of the Public Finance Management Act which allowed her to intervene and deal with Giyani’s water crisis.
Three months later, water was restored to Nkhensani Hospital and contractors had refurbished the town’s collapsed waste water treatment plant. But this was hopelessly inadequate for the burgeoning town.
So, a packaged waste water treatment plant was imported from Germany to supplement the refurbished plant, which had exceeded its lifespan by at least two decades.
This project, which is now the subject of much angst, has restored the dignity of the people of Giyani in just 18 months. Some of the villagers, who had never enjoyed access to clean drinking tap water, were being serviced for the first time.
We invited City Press, in the spirit of transparency, to tour various sites with us in April 2016. Journalists saw for themselves the more than 150 new or refurbished boreholes – each with a minor purification and pumping plant – working at full tilt, sending water to reservoirs in needy communities.
More than 200 youths in these villages were, and still are, being trained to maintain the boreholes and mini purification plants, and their corresponding pumps. To some, 200 jobs may not mean much, but in a country where unemployment is rife, it goes without saying that the youths in these areas are grateful.
This project will go down in history as Mokonyane’s legacy. She should receive credit for it.
City Press did well to expose and document procurement shortcomings of the project. Competent authorities such as the AuditorGeneral and Treasury are looking into those issues. But it is critical not to conflate and confuse procurement issues with the quality of workmanship.
The department is pleased with the workmanship; it is of world-class standards.
But following the end of the emergency phase, it became clear to government that to provide lasting solutions to the region’s water crisis, we needed new bulk infrastructure such as reservoirs, about 400km of major pipelines and more treatment and purification plants.
The project has been divided into three phases, the emergency section being phase one. The reservoirs, pipelines and additional plants fall under phase two. The last phase, which will require additional funding, will involve connecting water from reservoirs to individual households.
Phase two is well under way and far ahead of schedule, with over 340km of pipes and pump stations having been completed.
Let us judge Mokonyane on the sterling work she does in the water sector. She continues to advocate for transformation in this sector and there is now greater awareness about the importance of conserving this scare resource.
People living in rural areas now have access to clean drinking water.
The minister works hard and must be credited for the interventions she implemented during our country’s devastating drought.
I know that the media are not compelled to do public relations work for government, but I implore you to give credit where it is due. Motloung is head of communications
at the department of water affairs and sanitation