The NMB water crisis and the crisis of political priorities

by Jul 13, 2022Amandla Issue 82, Articles

THE WATER CRISIS IN NELSON Mandela Bay is getting worse. Already, Churchill Dam has reached 0%. Meanwhile, the council is fighting over who should be the City Manager and is using rate payers’ money for lawsuits. They debate who should run the city and lead the coalition government. But there is no debate about the water crisis. This has led to a delay in the passing of the adjustment budget to deal with the problem.

Where the water should be in Mpofu dam. Churchill dam has now reached 0%. This is a situation that could have been avoided seven years ago if the money allocated by Treasury to fix the ailing infrastructure had been put to good use.

Because of this, the council voted in favour of the intervention of the Department of Water Affairs to mitigate the worsening situation in the Metro. The Minister implemented this takeover, using his interpretation of Section 63(2) of the Water Services Act. The corrupt Amatola Water was accepted to be implementing agent for the intervention of the minister and his department.

But there is no mention of the corruption of the Water Boards. Their bureaucratic process in taking key decisions has led to serious water problems in Makhanda. In 1903, when the Rand Water Board was founded, their focus was to secure enough water for mining and commercial agriculture, and the growing manufacturing sector. This is not what we need at the moment – citizens must come first. Government must themselves carry out these tasks with their own technical personnel.

Hypocrisy, lies and accountability
The Water Crisis Committee has also been writing in press statements about the hypocrisy of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. They say on live television that the situation is under control and they are handling it very well. Yet they have failed to honour an invitation from residents to assure them of this claim. Meanwhile, people are getting sick from the water, dams are running dry, and most reservoirs are getting to 0%.

This is a situation that could have been avoided seven years ago, if the money allocated by Treasury to fix the ailing infrastructure had been put to good use. Now, children are dying, and people are getting sick from the E.Coli in the water. And there is no plan to review and look into this.

They are bragging that they have been peer-reviewed by Cape Town. Meanwhile, they ignore the calls from residents to account. The municipality must allow residents who are directly affected by this water situation to peer review them. This shows the elitist character of this NMB government.

Too late and too expensive
We are expecting Day Zero in June. But boreholes will only be installed in August. After seven years. This shows the inept bungling and unpreparedness of this municipality in dealing with this water crisis.

And there is little word from them about how they will deal with the issue of contractors that inflate prices for tenders. This will hinder installation of the boreholes in August and the completion of the Orange River pipeline. And anyway, the Orange River pipeline will not fix the dirty water coming from the dams. There might be more circulation of water in the system, but it will put the same or greater burden on water treatment plants.

Leaks
On 13th May, the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (MPAC) received a report on water loss that could fill about two dams. 34 % of these are physical losses that include water leaks that are not attended to. How is this under control? Residents complain every day about how it takes weeks for the municipality to attend to them.

But they say they are fixing leaks. Maybe 1,000 leaks a week. They are simply dealing with a crisis they cannot manage on their own. They are in over their heads. And this crisis will not be fixed even if they could handle all the leaks in a timely manner. The entire water system needs to be overhauled.

Residents complain that municipal trucks go past water leaks if they are not reported to the municipality and do not have a case number. In the midst of a water crisis, imagine.

Water apartheid
What is happening on the ground is what we call water apartheid. White middle-class areas have communal taps. On the other side, black working-class areas have to queue for water tankers. And the water tankers bring dirty and rusty water with sand in it.

Siyabulela Mama is a co-researcher at the Centre for Post-School Education and Training and an activist in the Assembly of the Unemployed.

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