THE PEOPLE SPEAK
Lack of access to clean drinking water tops agenda as Ramaphosa takes imbizo to rural Limpopo
The eighth presidential imbizo, held in Sekhukhune, was almost hijacked by a ‘rent-a-crowd’ with a political agenda — as residents faced Cyril Ramaphosa and officials over water shortages, poverty, bad roads, unemployment, illegal mining and a lack of education facilities.
Residents of the small, impoverished village of Ga-Motodi, outside Burgersfort in Limpopo, are confronted with the difficult choice of buying 2,500 litres of borehole water for R350 or fetching it from a river 5km away where animals also drink.
Those with the financial means opt for the former, but for residents like unemployed Rebotile Mnisi (43), a mother of four, the latter is inevitable.
“It’s difficult to buy water when you don’t even have food. So you take the dirty water from the river, add Jik and boil it,” said Mnisi.
Another resident, Betty Mashele (77), echoed similar sentiments while doing laundry and fetching water from the river, which she would later boil to make it relatively safe to drink.
Mnisi and Mshele spoke to Daily Maverick hours before President Cyril Ramaphosa was due to arrive for the eighth district development model (DDM) presidential imbizo on Friday, 14 July.
The imbizos offer an opportunity for locals to directly engage the President and senior government officials on service delivery challenges. Friday’s imbizo was held under the theme of “Leaving No One Behind” in developing communities, rebuilding the economy and service delivery.
‘A hard life’
“Life here is very tough, as you can see. We have never had running water. Our children are unemployed, transport is scarce and there are no roads,” said Mashele, who has lived in the area for more than four decades.
Both Mashele and Mnisi stay about 3km from the Ga-Motodi Sports Complex, where thousands of people gathered for the imbizo.
Ramaphosa began his countrywide presidential imbizo roadshow in March 2022. To date, it has been to eight provinces: North West, Free State, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Northern Cape, Western Cape and now Limpopo.
In other provinces, residents have used the imbizos to raise their issues in an orderly manner, but at Ga-Motodi the event was almost hijacked by a small group of people trying to turn it into a political rally.
Instead of shining a spotlight on the apparent lack of infastructure, water scarcity, load shedding and a lack of clinics and schools, several attendees sang Mayor Eddy Maila and Ramaphosa’s praises. Some declared their intention to re-elect Ramaphosa for a third term as President, which angered residents, who suggested that many in the crowd had been paid to be there.
Ramaphosa was all smiles for most of the imbizo, which had scores of people wearing ANC regalia and chanting revolutionary slogans.
“This is not an imbizo. It is not possible that all these people can share the same view. The writing is on the wall; they were all rehearsed to praise the mayor in front of the President,” said an angry resident, who identified himself as Uncle Joe.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘We don’t have water,’ rural KZN residents tell Ramaphosa at imbizo
‘Give us services and we will re-elect you’
Resident Steven Maake pleaded with Ramaphosa to ensure that services, including running water, jobs for young people and the legalisation of illegal mining, were delivered to the community ahead of the 2024 general elections.
“Please, President … in turn, we will make sure the ANC wins the elections next year. We will also make sure you are re-elected for a third term in 2026 as ANC president.”
Water problems were a dominant issue, raised by nearly every speaker who took the podium. MEC for public works Nkakareng Rakgoale, who chaired the programme, pleaded with speakers not to keep bringing up the subject.
“Sekhukhune is the home of three big dams, De Hoop, Loskop and Flag Boshielo,” said one angry resident. “These dams are always full but the same water is sent through huge pipes to Lebowakgomo, Jane Furse, Marble Hall, Groblersdal or Polokwane, while those living near the dams continue to drink from the same source as donkeys, goats and cattle.”
Responding to the water crisis, Ramaphosa said more than R12-billion would be set aside for the chronic water shortages in Sekhukhune. However, he expressed concern about poor planning and lack of capacity in the municipality.
Under-utilisation of funds
Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu disputed allegations that the government had failed to allocate financial resources to small, ailing municipalities such as Sekhukhune. Mchunu said money had been allocated, but the municipality did not spend it.
In the 2021/22 financial year, Sekhukhune was allocated R224-million for water. But the municipality spent only R50-million, returning R171-million to the National Treasury. In 2022/23, it was allocated R184-million, spent R112-million and returned the surplus to the Treasury, according to Mchunu.
The President has committed his government to doing things differently in poor, rural areas: “The new way we want to work is the following: when they fail to spend the money, we are going to take over, whether they like it or not, because our people want government to work for them. Most of the time we do not have a money problem, but a problem of people…”
Mchunu said the government had committed R12-billion and the private sector another R12-billion to a new water project in the district, to serve 140 communities around Sekhukhune and Mogalakwena and create 42,000 jobs. This announcement was welcomed with loud cheering.
Residents in the Sekhukhune district have for many years taken to the streets over the functioning of local mines, demanding a share of the mining wealth.
In May 2023, six villagers were arrested in connection with violent protests by residents who had from February camped outside the Makgomo Chrome plant near Impala Platinum’s Marula Platinum Mine outside Burgersfort, preventing trucks from transporting chrome ore.
Resident and local businessman Nkgetheng Maabane said though the protests were not ideal for the economy, residents resorted to them as earlier appeals seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
“We don’t want to block the roads, we want to work for our kids. Please open the doors,” said Maabane.
He told Ramaphosa about the struggle by black business people to get mining licences. He said he did not promote illegal mining, but asserted it was a result of the licence issue and a lack of jobs. All he and other business people in the area wanted was to play an active role in the economy.
“We want to mine, we cannot be spectators. We want to be contributors in the economy of this country.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: The fight goes on, vow Limpopo protesters demanding stake in chrome mine
Deputy Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Dr Nobuhle Nkabane admitted to several challenges, including racial inequality, that his department was grappling with.
“We have tried by all means to transform the sectors, however there are also limitations.”
While Nkabane would not go into detail regarding the exact nature of the challenges, she agreed to host a two-day imbizo with stakeholders to look into the issues raised by local business people.
Before the imbizo, Ramaphosa visited a R700-million road construction project in Burgersfort. The major road, according to him, was an indication of the government’s determination to build infrastructure in rural areas.
Regarding calls for a university or a mining college to be built in the district, Ramaphosa said this was a legitimate request that he would try to meet as young people had demonstrated a positive attitude towards the attainment of education and skills. “It is about time we uplift young people,” he said. DM