Why do lives have to be sacrificed before crucial human needs are addressed in this country? The water bubble finally burst when 4 people died in protest about poor water delivery. This propelled the truth about water onto public platforms.
Do we really understand what it’s like to walk ten hours for one bucket of water? Up to the light comes the worm of corruption and incompetence which had infested the delivery of basic life needs over so many years.
Of the recent protests, perhaps the most notable is the protest for water service delivery by the Mothutlung community in the North Province of South Africa. Inadequate provision of safe drinking water played a major role in this disgruntled community, but what is the story behind the story?
Contributing to the Sustainable Water Resource Handbook last year, I (Elma) wrote the chapter on the water crisis in the North West during the summer of 2013. Broken pumps, broken pipes, rivers full of sewage, money issues, negligence, schools without water, apologies and promises. It seems those problems continued unabated.
Poor water services delivery is attributed to ailing water infrastructure, and the lack of the relevant skills. Major supply pumps that supplies water to the Mothutlung communities have been dysfunctional for about three years. Instead of fixing the problem completely, the authorities resorted to offering R1, 3 million per month to contractors to supply water via water tankers to the water stressed communities. And then some apparently saw fit to sell this water at a profit to desperate, thirsty citizens.
Algae infestations in Hartbeespoort
Furthermore, water authorities in Madibeng municipality have blatantly blamed the current water supply inefficiencies on algae infested Hartbeespoort dam that puts a burden on its water purification systems.
According to the municipal spokesperson Lebogang Tsogang “The deteriorated raw water quality is unavoidable as it emanates from the Hartbeespoort Dam.” Various sources argue that the high algae concentration in the Hartbeespoort dam is exacerbated by the hot season and dry weather in that municipal area.
However, it must be noted that the current acute water shortage is now “chronic”. In October 2010, Mr. Erick Matlawe the then administrator of the Madibeng municipality wrote to the Premier of the North West, informing her about the water crisis at Madibeng.
As a result, a partnership that attempted to deal with the crisis was “forged” between Madibeng, Department of Water Affairs, Magalies Water and Bojanala District Municipality. It is four years down the line now, and no drastic change has been witnessed.
Two months ago our community members perished at the hand of the SA Police Force while protesting for water. While the rest of the communities remained deprived of their constitutional right for access to clean water, community members had to depend on water tanks that supply water every three days.
Quick fix not sufficient
Astonishingly, what seemed to be an enormous problem to solve was partially dealt with within some few days of the protests.
The Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa announced that running water has been restored in some areas of Mothutlung just days before the protest. However, this was contested by visitors who found citizens still battling with only a quarter of the normal water flow restored. This was hardly a problem solved.
The Mothutlung community has become a battlefield for electioneering between various political formations. With this year’s fiercely contested election just around the corner, many politically inclined members of the society claim that the water crisis or the breaking down of the pumps are a result of political sabotage.
Independent and liberal thinkers have rubbished this, saying that the crisis has been fuelled by maladministration by the municipality’s officials, and inadequate technical intervention in their attempts to deal with the problem.
Subsequently, a mayor and two senior officials at Madibeng municipality have stepped down from their portfolios for allegedly underperforming their duties in relation to the current water crisis.
Another plan – will it work?
A Memorandum of Understanding and Project Implementation Plan have been signed by Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and Premier Thandi Modise. The plan is worth R 2 billion that will be spent on improving water infrastructure, creating a groundwater scheme and replacing old pipes.
The Madibeng local municipality has once again vowed to act swiftly on the prevailing water crisis. A provincial executive council task team has been appointed to deal with the issue of service delivery. However, it remains to be seen if this task team will be effective in dealing with the problem in a very short time. A similar team was assembled by the municipality in early 2013, and did not bear the desired results.
It is therefore obvious that the current problem is not the unavailability of programmes, policy frameworks or assemblage of task teams. The challenges lie in the implementation of action plans. Skilled, committed and honest people are in high demand.
A taste of the future
It is now evident that the forecasted SA looming water crisis is not a plain prophecy but a reality. Hydrological experts have predicted that the demand for water in SA will surpass the supplying capacity by 2025. Environmentalists know that even today there is not enough clean water to supply the needs of our nation –and our water sources are more and more polluted every day.
Yet the Mothutlung community can be used as model to illustrate what we’re heading towards if this country doesn’t push water to the very top of the agenda and take the right measures.
Perhaps it’s time for authorities to make use of the section 21 institution such as green Non-Profit Organizations (NPO) to play a role in providing solutions and human capacity building in water resources issues to both the communities and municipalities.
Just imagine what would happen if the awareness campaigns covering the country’s water crisis was done with the same intensity as the HIV/AIDS issue. From where we are standing now, many municipalities are too reluctant to involve green NPO’s in their attempts to solve the water crisis. Instead, they view them as left-wingers opposing progress. Can the government afford to keep this stance in place?
It’s about time to admit that the solutions to our current water problems require multiple stakeholders’ participation. Solving SA’s water woes shouldn’t be perceived as a strictly political game. It’s everyone’s responsibility because everyone needs water for survival.
By Allen Tshautshau and Elma Pollard