‘We have failed you, the people of Hammanskraal,’ says Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa said various spheres of government would work together to resolve the Hammanskraal water crisis, but it’s unclear where the money will come from.
It will take R4-billion and about three years to resolve the ongoing water crisis in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed on Thursday during his widely anticipated visit to the epicentre of the current cholera outbreak.
The City of Tshwane, in its 2023/24 budget, allocated only R150-million annually over the next three years to refurbish the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant.
On Thursday, the Department of Health announced that the death toll from the cholera outbreak had risen to 31 countrywide, which Ramaphosa and his entourage apologised for. Twenty-nine deaths have been recorded in Gauteng, one in Free State and one in Mpumalanga.
“We are sorry that it has taken the deaths of a number of people, even though we have not yet confirmed that the cholera deaths are as a result of the water supplied to residents. Your basic human right of having clean water — we have not lived up to your expectations as the people of Hammanskraal,” said Ramaphosa.
“We have failed you, the people of Hammanskraal.”
It’s unclear how the government plans to contain the outbreak when the source is unknown. There’s also the question of where the R4-billion to fix Rooiwal will come from.
“We need to find the money, money that is going to be invested there, but also the commitment and determination must be there at a council level,” Ramaphosa said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Tshwane mayor points finger at ‘network of corruption’ as cholera death toll rises to 17
The President, flanked by Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu, Health Minister Joe Phaahla, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi and Tshwane Mayor Cilliers Brink started his tour of the area with an inspection of the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant.
Raw sewage has been pouring into a river near the plant, which treats Hammanskraal’s sewage. For many years Hammanskraal residents have been subjected to undrinkable water while upgrades of the plant commenced and never finished.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Deadly cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal was ‘just a matter of time’
During his visit, Ramaphosa appeared to be visibly shocked by the deteriorating condition of the plant, which he was informed had no single engineer to oversee the treatment of the water or inspect the water’s quality.
Addressing hundreds of residents at Temba Stadium, Ramaphosa pointed to several failures of the DA-led government, without alluding to the fact that Tshwane politics have been turbulent since the 2016 local government elections, with no party holding a majority in the council.
After the 2021 local elections, the DA has been in a rocky coalition with ActionSA, the IFP, Freedom Front Plus and ACDP.
Edwin Sodi and the R295m tender
One of the contributing factors to the crisis, according to Ramaphosa, was the awarding of a R295-million tender to upgrade and refurbish Rooiwal to companies linked to controversial businessman Edwin Sodi.
Only 68% of the work was done, forcing the city to cancel the contract, which was found to have flouted procurement processes and included a number of irregularities.
“These tenders are the ones that get us into trouble because you find that those with the tender fight amongst themselves, fight for money. In the end, it is our people who then suffer,” said the President.
“Because, had the work been done properly in that waterworks, much as we still don’t know the cause of the cholera, the provision of clean, quality water would have been a right you would have been able to access.”
About three years ago, Parliament raised the alarm about the plant being poorly operated and maintained. The Rooiwal upgrade, which began in early 2020, cost the city more than R2-billion, according to a report in News24.
Ramaphosa also blamed the municipality for its inability to allocate funding.
“Another problem is that the municipality said it didn’t have money, but they have been getting the money. They are not budgeting properly; sometimes when the money comes it disappears.”
Ramaphosa’s criticism of the DA-led administration can be seen as a campaigning tool for his own party, the ANC, ahead of the 2024 elections.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Killer cholera hits amid decade-long bickering over Hammanskraal water crisis – and tender scandals
Mayor Brink previously attributed the Rooiwal crisis to a network of corruption which the city had failed to eradicate. Ramaphosa too admitted that several things had gone wrong, but said they would soon be rectified.
He argued that part of the reason the Rooiwal plant struggled was due to the city’s growing population and that the municipality needed to expand the waterworks, invest money in the plant and focus on its maintenance.
“There have been errors and mistakes and they must be corrected,” said Brink.
One of the immediate solutions is for the City of Tshwane to continue providing water to Hammanskraal residents with water tankers, a suggestion that residents vehemently rejected. Some residents claimed the water in the tankers was unsafe and in some cases was sold to them.
Ramaphosa said the city would look into allegations of water being sold from tankers. He urged residents to always boil their water, another suggestion they seemed to reject as they asked, “With which electricity?”
Another suggestion the President touched on was the building of another water system by the Magalies Water authority, which he said would provide clean water in six months.
Ramaphosa also mandated Lesufi — who in April announced that 3,000 “crime wardens” would be deployed across the province to assist in the fight against crime and lawlessness — to employ young people to be trained as water wardens.
Ramaphosa said all three spheres of government would need to work on an integrated approach to address the water challenges faced by Hammanskraal residents.
“Money will be made available from various departments of the government, including the city. The city will also make a contribution to make sure that we revamp and expand Rooiwal.” DM