ACTIVISTS’ EYE ON LIMPOPO
R2-billion spent on water contract in Giyani but villagers’ taps continue to run dry
For 14 years, since the water project in Giyani district, Limpopo, was first announced, we have been living on rainwater and promises.
The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) has just released its report into government water projects in the Giyani district, finding that a R90-million contract ballooned to R2-billion. The cash is flowing somewhere, but in my village of Mahlathi, the only way we get water is if it rains on our roofs and we collect it ourselves.
For years, we’ve been promised water. Former Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele promised that every village in the district would be a construction site, and that the dust would be kicked up everywhere from all the activity.
We certainly have dust in Mahlathi, Minister, but not thanks to water reticulation projects.
Tenders and corruption
President Ramaphosa himself talked about local development in awarding contracts to local, qualified businesses for this very water reticulation project. Here’s how that panned out, President Ramaphosa. When a contractor arrived in my village, the ward councillor took control of recruitment, and ANC comrades got the jobs.
Councillors are not meant to influence the appointment of contracts. Consultations are meant to take place with the communities and traditional authorities, who then elect a Community Project Committee. From the Community Project Committee, a Community Liaison Officer (CLO).
The CLO has to see that the project is going smoothly, and that there is no corruption. He has to inform the community about the project and be able to judge if there is anything wrong between the contractor and the workers. The CLO reports back to the Community Project Committee with updates.
Now, I recognise that there are a lot of processes, committees and roles. But they are a way — the only way we have — to make sure there is accountability to our community. Yes, it’s not straightforward, so I did my best to walk our councillor through the process, since I’ve been a CLO myself before. The action our councillor took? He appointed only ANC members to an ad hoc panel, who appointed the ANC branch leader as Community Liaison Officer!
One of the most upsetting things for me was that a pastor was part of the committee — someone who can’t leave a church podium without mentioning the ANC. But we weren’t so easily fooled. We rejected the councillor’s appointment of ANC members. When the councillor in question reported me for undermining him, the Mahlathi council and traditional leadership supported me.
Perhaps there would at least be some job opportunities, even if the main beneficiaries were ANC cronies?
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In fact, several positions came up and interviews were even conducted for engineering roles. One community member I know of passed her interview, then weeks later was told they wouldn’t appoint her — and hung up the phone. It was a devastating blow to this young woman and her family.
Instead of a rush of water into our villages, there was a rush to register new companies and open bank accounts before subcontractors were appointed — that same CLO who is an ANC branch chairperson was then awarded a contract.
Our traditional leader called a meeting to investigate the appointment of the CLO and sub-contractors, and it seemed like at least someone was doing something. But then he delayed his meeting, then failed to take any action. Now there are suspicions, and some community members say we don’t have a chief.
Contracts flow to relatives and friends of ANC councillors
Other regions near me have had the same experience. Contracts flow to relatives and friends.
Another resident claims that an ANC councillor in the neighbouring village of Ndindani used his details as a service provider in the community to bid for a tender — the service provider was surprised to find that he wasn’t given the contract at all, and his name had just been used as cover. Then the same councillor called his daughter home from Johannesburg to work on the project alongside other friends and family.
Instead of being leaders who alleviate hunger, unemployment, food shortages, violence, corruption and crime, our local ANC leaders have become the sources of these ills. The ANC national leadership clearly thinks we count for so little that we will continue voting for them, no matter the corruption and the lack of services — services they are obliged to provide us according to our Constitution. And around election time, they will come here trying to scare old and vulnerable people that voting for anyone else will mean the end of the Sassa grants.
For 14 years, since the project was first announced, we have been living on rainwater and promises. Among the only voices that have spoken up in recent years is ActionSA, whose leader Herman Mashaba and their Limpopo provincial chairperson, have both conducted interviews on it.
The EFF have asked questions in parliament, and the DA have released press statements. But very few have come to Giyani and the surrounding villages to see for themselves how we live — how we collect rainwater in buckets from our rooftops. Or scrape together money to buy water from those who sell from their boreholes, walking 10km — during heat waves — to fetch it in wheelbarrows. Or wait for water tankers requested from the municipality… and wait, because our requests are ignored.
We are grateful for anyone who raises the issues of corruption and nepotism in the water project that was meant to give us life. We are hopeful that, now that the SIU report is out, there will be consequences for the wrongdoers.
But who is presenting an alternative to the ANC? We would like to see you in Giyani.
Maybe there’s a chance, in the 2024 elections, to vote out corruption and nepotism. DM
Israel Nkuna is a ward committee representative at Ward 19, community activist, human rights, social grants activist and writer at Mahlathi Village in Limpopo, Giyani. Israel will be writing monthly articles about election 2024 painting pictures in his villages and the entire Giyani. You may also contact him to: [email protected]