Where the prom­ise of wa­ter ran away into the ground

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

IN mid-2015, a del­e­ga­tion from Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion vis­ited the wa­ter-stricken Mopani district in Lim­popo to get first-hand in­for­ma­tion and see for them­selves the na­ture of wa­ter woes faced by lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. They did not like what they saw and heard, and later in­structed of­fi­cials of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to take dras­tic mea­sures to ad­dress the dis­crep­an­cies.

Mopani District Mu­nic­i­pal­ity is the over­ar­ch­ing author­ity cov­er­ing Tza­neen, Greater Letaba and Giyani.

This week, the multi-party par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee re­turned on a three-day over­sight visit to the area to see if any progress has been made since their last visit.

They found that the be­lea­guered com­mu­ni­ties still don’t have wa­ter or proper san­i­ta­tion. Of the 4 280 bore­holes that have been drilled in dif­fer­ent vil­lages, 78% of them are not work­ing. Iron­i­cally, most lo­cals find them­selves un­able to af­ford the drilling of bore­holes in their area be­cause of prices that range be­tween R50 000 and R1 mil­lion.

This led to an MP re­mark­ing that these were “Rolls Royce” bore­holes.The town’s four dams, Ma­goe­baskloof, N’nwamita, Tza­neen and Thabina, are serv­ing largely white farm­ers, while the black com­mu­ni­ties of Lenyenye, Tikkieline, Tours and other vil­lages are left to con­tend with ground­wa­ter that comes from dys­func­tional bore­holes.

In Tours Vil­lage (Ward 34), the com­mit­tee met with the com­mu­ni­ties who told them the wa­ter in their area had wors­ened. A con­trac­tor who was hired for mil­lions by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity to drill bore­holes had dis­ap­peared with­out pay­ing the sub­con­trac­tors, leav­ing hun­dreds of lo­cal peo­ple who were work­ing in the pro­ject with­out their money.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity brought in wa­ter tankers, but these were er­ratic and un­re­li­able.

This raised sus­pi­cion among the MPs that some­body ben­e­fited un­duly from the wa­ter tanker pro­ject.

The MPs re­jected a re­port by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity that said the Oli­fants Proto-Catch­ment Man­age­ment Author­ity was re­spon­si­ble for the wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion re­form pro­gramme in the Oli­fants Wa­ter Man­age­ment area.

The is­su­ing of wa­ter use li­cences by the De­part­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion to black emerg­ing farm­ers be­came an is­sue dur­ing the dis­cus­sions. Port­fo­lio com­mit­tee mem­bers felt bore­holes had been van­dalised de­lib­er­ately “so that some­one must get a con­tract to sup­ply wa­ter tankers”.

Min­is­ter of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Nomvula Mokonyane sub­se­quently with­drew the act­ing ap­point­ments of all the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers of Pro­toCMAs . Di­rec­tors in in­sti­tu­tional es­tab­lish­ments, the Min­is­ter ruled, will con­tinue to per­form wa­ter re­source man­age­ment func­tions rel­e­vant to their wa­ter man­age­ment ar­eas and will re­port to their re­gional heads.

Mopani is no stranger to con­tro­versy. Af­ter be­com­ing the min­is­ter of wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion in 2014, Mokonyane vis­ited Giyani af­ter re­ceiv­ing com­plaints about per­sis­tent wa­ter prob­lems in Mopani.

She found that vi­tal wards of Nkhen­sani Gen­eral Hospi­tal had been closed be­cause of in­ad­e­quate wa­ter sup­ply. In the same year, the Gaut­eng South High Court found against Mopani District Mu­nic­i­pal­ity over its faulty man­age­ment of wa­ter projects.

Mokonyane brought to­gether the three spheres of govern­ment to col­lab­o­rate on find­ing a so­lu­tion. Le­pelle, a paras­tatal of the de­part­ment, swung into ac­tion and the Giyani wa­ter treatr­ment plant was re­fur­bished. A pipe­line was laid to pump wa­ter from Nan­doni Dam to Giyani. It was all sys­tems go as com­mu­ni­ties of 55 vil­lages started re­ceiv­ing retic­u­lated wa­ter. Bore­holes were drilled at Nkhen­sani Gen­eral Hospi­tal and the wards that had been closed were re-opened.

How­ever, with a sys­tem in place and as lo­cals found their foot­ing, things started go­ing wrong in parts of Tza­neen. Of­fi­cials blamed it on the chang­ing of hands af­ter last year’s lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions.

The MPs re­jected this as a lame ex­cuse by of­fi­cials who did not take par­lia­ment se­ri­ously.

Ac­cord­ing to a joint re­port be­fore the port­fo­lio com­mit­tee this week, the avail­abil­ity of land has brought along prob­lems of lack of wa­ter re­sources.

Land ten­ure could pose se­ri­ous prob­lems that need to be tack­led by the De­part­ment of Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment and Land Re­form.

Fed by the Wilge, Elands, Steelpoort, Ga-Se­lati, Blyde, Klaserie and Tim­ba­vati rivers, Oli­fants gen­er­ates an es­ti­mated five per­cent of South Africa’s GDP through min­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing, power gen­er­a­tion and agri­cul­ture.

“In some sys­tems, wa­ter is avail­able from ex­ist­ing wa­ter re­sources and in­fra­struc­ture but due to the large vol­umes of wa­ter re­quired for ur­ban, strate­gic needs, re­serve and in­ter­na­tional re­quire­ments, no more wa­ter can be made avail­able for new small­holder farm­ing.

“The only so­lu­tion to the im­passe is to de­ter­mine the re­serve, as this might un­lock some wa­ter that is re­quired for the con­ser­va­tive de­ter­mi­na­tion of the pre­lim­i­nary re­serve.

The re­port was re­jected by the par­lia­men­tar­i­ans.

They said it was in­con­ceiv­able that, 23 years af­ter democ­racy, emerg­ing farm­ers still strug­gled to get wa­ter use li­cences is­sued in terms of the Na­tional Wa­ter Act of 1998.

Khu­malo is a con­tent pro­ducer in the De­part­ment of Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion

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