The court has spoken: let the people run water
It took a court battle and the threat of imprisonment for the municipal manager, but now the walk to collect water has become a joyful jaunt for residents of a North West town. Among those happily queueing for water this week after a 5km walk through Koster was Sello Ntswang, who was pushing a wheelbarrow full of containers.
“I hope one day to have the water come to my house, but we are so happy to have clean water to drink now,” he said.
In December, residents were handed the running of the town’s water and sewerage works by the high court in Mahikeng after years of struggle. Even when the taps did occasionally flow, the water was not fit for human consumption. Now, when people fill their containers, they can thank the Kgetlengrivier Concerned Residents organisation for ensuring it is safe to drink.
The court made its order after Kgetlengrivier municipality failed to comply with a December ruling giving it until January 7 to rectify the town’s water and sewerage problems. Municipal manager Joseph Mogale is due back in court on May 11 to give reasons why he should not be jailed for up to 90 days on a contempt of court charge for failing to fix the problem.
He referred all further questions to the provincial department of co-operative governance & traditional affairs.
Carel van Heerden of the residents’ group said: “We’ve already spent R15.8m to fix all the pumps and the burnt electric motors and to clean the sludged dams.”
They have since been reimbursed by the provincial government.
“We are now using a dual system which runs using two pumps and two motors per station,” Van Heerden said. “The municipality was running on one pump per station. You cannot do that. When there was a broken motor, the whole system would stand still and you could not pump water anywhere for a couple of days or weeks.
“The municipality built a sewerage system costing R144m which only operated for two weeks. The operators were not capable to run it and they abandoned it. We took over that plant and it is now operating like a RollsRoyce.”
The court also directed Kgetlengrivier municipality to appoint a service provider to run the plants, but that solution was shortlived and on March 24 the residents took over again.
Van Heerden said they were keen to go into a partnership with the government as they had the expertise and people to run the plants. “All we want is to provide clean water and sanitation to the people,” he said.
Israel Matsile, from Reagile township, said he was grateful for “small” developments such as receiving clean drinking water, but breathing fresh air seems to be a distant dream for him and the community of Koster as most still struggle with sewage spills.
“Most of the manholes in Extension 4 are clogged by rubbish, which causes the sewage to spill over to the streets and houses,”
he said. When the Sunday Times visited the area, some residents had dug trenches for sewage to flow from their blocked toilets to the streets.
Traditional healer Frida Ditswane is also dependent on the goodwill of neighbours who share their water with her during the week, and on weekends she repays the
favour by hiring a bakkie to transport water back. “I am struggling for over 10 years to have running water, now things are better,” she said.
An AfriForum audit last month of local government in the North West revealed that Kgetlengrivier municipality’s water delivery had deteriorated over the years and only
27.7% of households had piped water inside their dwellings, compared with close to 35% in 2011.
Morné Mostert, head of local government affairs at AfriForum, said: “No community can function properly without water services delivery. The constitution guarantees water services delivery to each individual. We’ve seen the municipality struggling to deliver this in terms of the mandate of the constitution. We want to make sure that these services are being kept up and implemented correctly.”
The North West co-operative governance & traditional affairs department did not respond to queries from the Sunday Times.