Give Mokonyane the credit she de­serves

CityPress - - Voices - Mat­lakala Mot­loung voices@city­

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

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