Where the promise of water ran away into the ground
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