In­ter­ven­tion in Giyani,where wa­ter-borne diseases were killing the el­derly and ba­bies,is tes­ta­ment to this,writes

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

OUR DEMO­CRATIC govern­ment has many suc­cess sto­ries to be proud of and they in­clude that more than 1.1 mil­lion house­holds have re­ceived ac­cess to de­cent san­i­ta­tion since 2014.

Also, more than four mil­lion houses have been built since 1994, more than 331 000 de­liv­ered since 2014; and more than 17 mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries are re­ceiv­ing so­cial grants.

Sadly, our democ­racy also has its tragedies, no­tably the many peo­ple who died be­cause of HIV/ Aids when an­tiretro­vi­ral drugs were not made avail­able in the early 2000s and the Marikana and Life Esidi­meni deaths.

It is sad that the tragedies are well known, but not the many times the govern­ment has in­ter­vened and pre­vented loss of lives is for­got­ten.

One such in­ci­dent is the emer­gency in­ter­ven­tion in Giyani in re­sponse to the his­toric lack of wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture in Lim­popo’s Mopani District Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

In 2009, con­cerns mounted about a ris­ing num­ber of in­ci­dences of wa­ter-borne diseases in the Mopani District in Giyani in par­tic­u­lar.

A pro­tracted le­gal bat­tle en­sued, with the high court in Jo­han­nes­burg mak­ing ad­verse find­ings against the mu­nic­i­pal­ity for its han­dling of wa­ter projects.

The Supreme Court of Ap­peal also in­di­cated dis­plea­sure about the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s con­duct by mak­ing a puni­tive costs or­der against it in 2014.

In Au­gust of the same year, a few weeks af­ter tak­ing of­fice as the new min­is­ter of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion, Nomvula Mokonyane, be­came aware of the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the Mopani district.

Ba­bies and the el­derly were dy­ing while cholera and other wa­ter-borne diseases were ram­pant.

And vi­tal units at the Nkhen­sani Hospi­tal in Giyani were clos­ing down as a re­sult of con­tam­i­nated wa­ter and the in­ad­e­quate sup­ply.

The Supreme Court of Ap­peal, hav­ing taken into con­sid­er­a­tion Mopani District Mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s prob­lems in re­solv­ing the wa­ter is­sues, gave an or­der au­tho­ris­ing the De­part­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion to take over the Nan­doni to Giyani Pipe Pro­ject from the mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

At the time, I was em­ployed else­where and I only found out about the de­vel­op­ments in Mopani District through me­dia re­ports.

Le­pelle North­ern Wa­ter, an en­tity of the De­part­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion, was ap­pointed as the im­ple­ment­ing agent and it ur­gently pro­vided the nec­es­sary re­sources to en­sure the speedy im­ple­men­ta­tion of wa­ter projects in Mopani.

In par­tic­u­lar, Giyani Wa­ter Works was given a com­ple­tion dead­line for the end of Septem­ber 2014.

Le­pelle North­ern Wa­ter suc­cess­fully met the dead­line.

The emer­gency in­ter­ven­tion con­tin­ues.

Un­like an emer­gency in­ter­ven­tion by the po­lice, which may take a day or two at most to re­solve, an in­ter­ven­tion in in­fra­struc­ture projects can take many years to solve the prob­lems.

The drought that rav­aged South Africa since 2013 is an­other ex­am­ple of a nat­u­ral disas­ter that saw our govern­ment in­ter­ven­ing.

No lives were lost, de­spite it be­ing the worst drought that had hit South Africa in more than 80 years.

When taps ran dry in 2014, South Africans wanted wa­ter from the govern­ment and the De­part­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion re­sponded by send­ing wa­ter tanks to hun­dreds of com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try.

The drought hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief in­cluded large wa­ter aug­men­ta­tion projects that saw wa­ter re-routed from Le­sotho in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.

The Giyani crises and the drought placed the prob­lems of the his­toric dis­par­i­ties in in­fra­struc­ture, in­ad­e­quate and age­ing wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion in­fra­struc­ture as well as the ca­pac­ity of our mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties un­der a mag­ni­fy­ing glass.

Yet de­spite all these chal­lenges, no lives were lost, be­cause this govern­ment saw fit to en­sure that emer­gency in­ter­ven­tions were done in the in­ter­est of com­mu­ni­ties.

This week, I re­ported to Par­lia­ment’s Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Pub­lic Ac­counts (Scopa) on ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture by the de­part­ment.

Some of the ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture in­cludes his­toric debt that dates back as far as 2009.

But most of it re­lates to in­ter­ven­tions in the in­ter­est of saving lives, such as the emer­gency in­ter­ven­tions in Mopani District in Giyani.

The me­dia re­port­ing painted a dif­fer­ent pic­ture for South Africans.

The pic­ture was of mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion and fi­nan­cial mis­man­age­ment, de­spite the fact that no pub­lic funds were stolen.

The me­dia re­ports did not tell the sto­ries of the many black en­trepreneurs and black pro­fes­sion­als who en­sured ac­cess to wa­ter ser­vices.

The re­ports cer­tainly did not high­light that govern­ment is pro­gres­sively re­al­is­ing the Con­sti­tu­tional right of ac­cess to wa­ter, de­spite mi­gra­tion and in-mi­gra­tion.

It did not re­port on the hu­man tragedies that were pre­vented in many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties across South Africa.

Our govern­ment is not boast­ful about its achieve­ments, of­ten it does not tell its sto­ries of pre­vent­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ters and it cer­tainly does not take enough credit for its tire­less work in bring­ing eq­uity, dig­nity and se­cu­rity back to our com­mu­ni­ties.

I there­fore wish to re­mind South Africa that to­day, more than 3.7 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing with HIV have ac­cess to life-long an­tiretro­vi­ral ther­apy.

I can also proudly re­port that of the 55 vil­lages that were set to ben­e­fit from the Giyani Wa­ter Works In­ter­ven­tion all have con­sis­tent bulk sup­plies.

An­other 13 vil­lages are re­ceiv­ing er­ratic sup­plies of wa­ter.

Nkhen­sani Hospi­tal’s six bore­holes have been re­fur­bished and are all work­ing.

A 10 000 litre wa­ter tank was re­placed and the in­ter­nal pipe retic­u­la­tion sys­tem of the hospi­tal, leak­ing taps and toi­lets have been fixed.

De­spite all the neg­a­tiv­ity that taints the im­age of our demo­cratic govern­ment, I proudly stand in its ser­vice know­ing that I work for a re­spon­sive govern­ment that in­ter­venes in the in­ter­ests of our peo­ple.

I work for a govern­ment that makes hu­man lives a pri­or­ity.

Mkhize is act­ing di­rec­tor­gen­eral of the De­part­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion

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