OPINIONISTA: This is what happens when the provision of water becomes a political football

6 days ago 10

Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.

Getrude Morobane has lived in her Ward 79 home in Hammanskraal, Tshwane, since 1982. At the time the area was part of the Bophuthatswana homeland under Lucas Mangope.

As with the absurdity of apartheid laws, Hammanskraal had certain sections that were part of the white apartheid South Africa and other sections that fell under the puppet homeland government. Development in the area followed a similar pattern.

The only significant development she has seen in the area is a tarred road that passes in front of her house.

By now she has become accustomed to empty electoral promises.

In her street she has had the honour of having been visited by two senior politicians, but both have yet to fulfil their promises.

In the upcoming 1 November local government elections she does not expect anything different. In 2006, then newly minted Tshwane mayor Dr Gwen Ramokgopa stood in Morobane’s living room and wore a concerned look as she listened to her troubles with the poor drainage in the area, which led to her low-lying house often being flooded. Her neighbours face a similar challenge. The mayor promised to resolve her issues but was never to be seen again. Fast-forward to September 2021, and Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu was led to Morobane’s house, where he inspected the damage caused by the 2018 flooding, when water levels inside the house reached just below shoulder height. It was the worst flooding. She has not bought any new furniture to replace the damaged items, in case the heavy rains return to cause more havoc.

Her pleas for an effective water drainage system in the area have fallen on deaf ears. But Hammanskraal has an even bigger problem.

The successive political leaders – of the ANC and the DA – at the mayoral office in the heart of Pretoria have not resolved the long-standing issue of unsafe drinking water in the area. The municipality sends water tankers to cart water to the community, but even that supply is intermittent. If residents do not rush to the water tanker as soon as it arrives to fill community tanks then they may have to wait another two or three days to get water. It’s a lottery.

Tshwane is now led by the DA, which has been in power since 2016. The ANC had been in charge ever since the metro was formed in December 2000.

Poor planning, ineptitude and an uncaring attitude by both administrations have left the water issues unresolved since 2005.

Rapid urbanisation in South Africa has caused many areas to grow at a faster rate than the existing infrastructure can handle. The Rooiwal Water Treatment Plant, which services Hammanskraal, processes 200 million litres of water and sewage flow a day when it only has the capacity to handle 40% of that volume. This leads to the leaking of effluent into the Leeudraai Dam, which services the community areas in Hammanskraal.

Until a damning report from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in 2019, which found that the water provided to the community of Hammanskraal was unfit for human consumption, the City of Tshwane had insisted that it was safe for drinking.

It will still be a few more years before the community of Hammanskraal can drink water coming out of their taps, as the refurbishment of Rooiwal is still in the second of three phases.

Two weeks ago, we saw Minister Mchunu make a curious visit to a home in Site C, Khayelitsha, where he said he had been invited by the owner to witness the sewage spill into her yard.

It was also interesting to see DA leader John Steenhuisen – flanked by former Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga and the current mayor, Randall Williams – marching for water in the neighbouring City of Joburg. While the City of Joburg is pathetic in the provision of water – with unexplained water cuts becoming commonplace – the march by the DA had little to do with the frustrations of ratepayers in Joburg, but rather it was about the upcoming local government elections.

As mayor, Msimanga had effectively dug in his heels and insisted that the effluent-laced water of Hammanskraal was safe for drinking despite glaring evidence that it was not.

Similarly, Mchunu’s visit to Khayelitsha and Hammanskraal – both DA-led areas – and his feigned “shock” at the conditions is nothing but sheer politicking at its worst.

If we had such responsive ministers even outside the election period, then there would be no service delivery protests in our country.

Water is a basic human right. Section 27 of the South African Constitution stipulates that citizens have a right to healthcare services, sufficient food and water, and social security. Provision of water is not optional, nor should it be used as a political football.

The season of political trickery is in full swing, but no one is fooled. DM168

Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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