Mail & Guardian
Water tops the election agenda in
Some residents of a municipality in the province, who have to collect water from the Motse River for basic needs, are backing independent candidates
After noticing that farmer Jonathan Thobejane had a regular supply of water from the Motse River in Limpopo, desperate residents asked him to connect them to his system.
Thobejane, a small-scale farmer in Magobading, a village under ward 14 in the Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality, has installed a water pump to extract water from the river. The water is pumped up to his plot on the banks of the river. Electrical wires used to power the pump hang from the steep riverbank, across the river and down to the pump. A network of black pipes twist and turn along the bank and upwards across the river, back towards Thobejane’s plot. Another line of water pipes stretches further up towards people’s homes.
Residents pay R300 a month to fill a 2500 litre tank from this connection. The water is not purified, but faced with a chronic shortage of water, the scheme is a life saver.
“I was only making a plan to irrigate my crops. But when people saw this they came to me crying, asking for water. I had to help them because shortage of water is a major problem here,” says Thobejane.
With the local government election just a few weeks away, access to regular water supply remains top of the agenda in villages across Limpopo, including those in Fetakgomo Tubatse municipality.
Last month, the minister of water and sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, paid a three-day visit to Limpopo.
The category B municipality, which forms part of the Sekhukhune district municipality, is the largest of the four municipalities making up the district, accounting for 42% of its geographical area. It is a largely rural municipality with an estimated 342 villages and six proclaimed townships.
Fetakgomo Tubatse municipality received qualified audits from the auditor general between the 2016-17 and 2019-20 financial years, but lost R243-million irregularly invested in the VBS Mutual Bank during the 2017-18 financial year. The municipality is still reeling from the effects of the investment, which led to the sacking of the mayor, Johannes Phokane.
“The municipality is not out of the woods yet as we are still feeling the pinch of the loss of the investment made with VBS Mutual Bank,” current mayor Ralepane Samuel Mamekoa told the council during a presentation of the 202122 budget in May.
Fetakgomo Tubatse municipality boasts a large citrus agriculture sector, and blames its water supply problems on ageing infrastructure, no development stemming from the apartheid era, and mismanagement and lack of capacity under the democratic government, among other things.
Moloko Moloto, spokesperson for the Sekhukhune district municipality — the water authority for Fetakgomo Tubatse municipality — says the main problem has been the breakdown of and damage to reticulation infrastructure.
He says the department of water and sanitation has approved a technical report for a R121-million water treatment plant at Ga-malekana, which would ensure a marked improvement in water provision.
The municipality has also been working to ensure that sources of supply are in working order prior to fixing reticulation issues. “It would have been pointless to start with reticulation when you have problems at the source,” he says.
As residents wait for the taps to flow regularly, the water issue has become a hotly contested political issue and is set to play a central role in the 1 November elections.
“The ANC has failed to give us water. It is still failing. Now we must vote to bring someone who can change this,” says resident Maphefo Legadimana, who fetches water from the Motse River daily, about 500 metres from her home in Magobading.
It costs her R45 to fill a 210 litre tank, which she uses to wash, cook and for other household requirements. Like scores of other residents, Legadimana is unemployed and relies on a government grant to support her children.
She said she previously voted for the ANC but would now be supporting an independent candidate.
Magobading has not been left untouched by the intra-party political battles that have been raging ahead of the polls.
Resident Reuben Masemola accused the ANC of trying to impose a candidate on the ward, despite party members having voted for someone else. They took the matter to the dispute resolution structures at regional level.
But they were not happy with the outcome and decided instead to register Lazarus Phala, who was set to stand for ward 14 on the ANC ticket, as an independent candidate.
“People are tired of these organisations. They are tired of empty promises. We decided to go with an independent candidate because we want people to have faith. We will strive to get services because the ANC is rejecting us,” Masemola says.
The municipality is earmarked for the development of the Fetakgomo Tubatse special economic zone, which is projected to bring billions of rands into the local economy. Although the municipality is a vital cog in the province’s economy as a mining hub, with an estimated 30 mines extracting the chrome and platinum-group mineral deposits, it is plagued by high unemployment and poverty.
There are also high incidents of illegal mining, which have seen more than 200 people arrested and charged in the past two years. The area is the subject of ongoing battles between illegal miners and police, who conduct regular raids. Several people blame illegal mining on the failure by all tiers of government to ensure residents participate in the sector.
Lovemore Munonoka, chairperson of the Fetakgomo Tubatse Business Forum, which represents 54 enterprises across the mining, construction, catering services and other sectors, says part of the problem is that mining companies overlook local business.
He says that the government, including the Fetakgomo Tubatse municipality, has not created a platform to allow local businesses to benefit from the mining sector.
Munonoka argues that if the municipality took steps to help for
malise, train and support locals, illegal mining would stop.
“Illegal mining, it’s not good. They do not pay tax, they have no proper equipment, it is dangerous and it is damaging the land. The problem is the government is doing very little. [It] should come to the ground and issue permits, ensure people meet requirements, legalise it,” he says.
Most of the illegal miners are village residents who make very little from their dangerous work.
The business sector, says Munonoka, is also affected by the shortage of water. He says the forum has explored various interventions to avert the water crisis, but it has no capacity or financial muscle to implement these.
Tokelo Mahlakoana, an activist with the Mining Affected Communities United in Action and a resident of Fetakgomo Tubatse municipality, says the mining companies do not consult affected residents, which makes it hard for them to participate in legal mining activities.
“The rate of unemployment is very high and GBV [gender-based violence] is increasing. If the mines can start consulting the affected communities, that will create a good relationship and things will be easy for everyone,” she says.
The Fetakgomo Tubatse council comprises 54 councillors from the ANC, 15 from the Economic Freedom Fighters, four from the Democratic Alliance and one each from the Azanian People’s Organisation, the Congress of the People, the Pan African Congress of Azania and the Socialist Agenda of Dispossessed Africans (Sada).
On a partly overcast day, Aubrey
Ngwatle, the president of Sada, rests under a tree on a dusty football field in Pidima in Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality after a day of campaigning for his party.
The village along the D4140 main road mirrors conditions in most of the 342 villages in the municipality. The road cuts through a mountain range and connects the village to the rest of the world, but it is a nightmare of gravel and rocks that protrude dangerously from the ground.
The village has no recreational facilities. Children spend their afternoons playing a game of football on a field full of rocks with makeshift goal posts. Cellphone network reception is poor. There is a dire shortage of water and economic activity is limited to a few sparsely stocked spazas and a tavern where locals drink on weekends, and on weekdays after receiving social grants.
There are communal fields on the outskirts of the village, where some families in defiance of the changing rainfall patterns still plough the standard one-hectare allocated by the traditional authority.
For the youth looking for better opportunities, villages such as Pidima are no-stay areas. This has led to a migration into areas around the towns of Burgersfort and Steelpoort, near where most mines operate. The migration has led to a huge occupation of land and put the municipality under strain to provide services for an unplanned influx of people.
But a number of brightly coloured RDP houses on several properties attest to the hand of the municipality having reached the village.
Ngwatle says Sada believes the solution to problems facing villages like Pidima is the improvement of roads to help increase economic activity, doing away with consultants, and giving municipalities such as Fetakgomo Tubatse the authority to implement its own water programmes.
Although water woes continue to plague residents like Theledi Mmila, who, like Legadimana, is forced to draw water from the Motse River, some notable changes have been brought by the municipality.
Mmila, who moved to the new section of Magobading in 2015, was connected to the electricity grid in 2017. The prepaid meter is mounted on one of the galvanised steel sheets that make up the four walls of his small shack. Last year the municipality built a pit toilet on his property. Like most youth in the area, he is unemployed and survives on casual work. “It is better than nothing,” he says of the electricity and the toilet. “But our biggest challenge, every day, is water.”
In what seems to be part of the ANC’S election charm offensive, the
minister of water and sanitation, Mchunu, officially opened the Flag Boshielo water treatment plant for the Ephraim Mogale local municipality, which also falls under the Sekhukhune district municipality.
The plant is set to benefit 156 villages in the Ephraim Mogale, Makhuduthamaga and Elias Motsoaledi local municipalities. Mmila, Legadimane and Thobejane live about 150km from the new treatment plant. They will not benefit from its refurbishment because they don’t fall under its area of service.
The Sekhukhune district municipality, which is the water authority in the area, has promised to change its implementation of water reticulation projects by doing away with the communal system, where people get water from standpipes in the street.
If these grand plans come to fruition, Mmila and other residents could one day abandon the trip to the Motse River and get water from taps installed in their yards.
But, for now, there is still an election to get through. — Mukurukuru