Change on the horizon

2013-06-02 14:00

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Paddy Harper visits the Zululand District Municipality to monitor progress in service­ delivery in the fifth series of our Tatane Project. Next week, we visit Balfour in Mpumalanga.

When the communal taps were turned on for the first time in Okhozaneni village, outside Ulundi, in December, S’phamandla Mahlaba’s life changed forever.

Mahlaba’s family and about 150 others are all beneficiaries of the Okhozaneni Water-Reticulation Project, known across the Zululand District Municipality as “Zanele’s water”.

The project, which residents have informally named in honour of the district mayor, Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, was completed by her district municipality as part of its programme to roll out piped water to residents within its 14?000km² boundary.

The municipality spent nearly R280?million on supplying water and sewage facilities in the 2011/12 financial year, and increased this to R300?million for the current financial year.

“This pipe means my life has changed completely,” a grinning Mahlaba (19) told City Press during a visit to Okhozaneni last week.

Standing next to it, he proudly points out a piece of land he had meticulously cleared by hand. The village has received 10 standpipes, each of which serves about 15 families, as part of the R1.3?million project.

“Now I have enough water every day so that I can start a garden. I can use my time when I’m not studying to grow food to help my family,” he said.

“Before the pipes were brought in, it was very difficult to grow anything here. It is dry and we are high up, very far from the river where we got water from. It’s more than 15 minutes walk there and twice that coming back.”

Mahlaba’s health has also benefited from having running water, which is chlorinated in a reservoir in the hillside above his village.

Water is pumped into the reservoir from two bigger water facilities that draw from tributaries which run into the Umfolozi River.

“I’m much healthier now. I can wash my clothes and my body properly, and the water is very good to drink,” he said.

“We had problems with running stomachs and skin problems before. Now, there’s nothing caused by bad water any more.”

Mahlaba’s aunt, Makhosazana Mahlaba, has lived in Okhozaneni for more than 40 years.

During that time, she has survived on river water or rainwater caught in tanks.

The municipality’s water tankers, which supply homes in areas off the water grid, could not reach the village because the roads are impassable.

It’s like this even in the dry winter season when the local rivers dry up.

“This is beautiful. I’m a very happy woman. This is a small thing to people in town, but for us, it is everything,” said Makhosazana.

“We got electricity a few years ago, now we have water. All that we need here now is a road.”

Her neighbour, Nosimphiwe Zungu, a community health caregiver, agrees.

“We are very happy about this. This is taking us out of living in the past.

“Before, we had no water at all for all these years. Electricity is in. We are now short of only one thing, a proper road.

“When it rains now, we can’t get to town. The road is terrible and is full of potholes. There are no taxis or buses that can drive here. Everything has to come in and out by bakkie or by foot. It’s very hard.”

The Okhozaneni community’s wait for a road may be a long one, particularly with the bureaucratic obstacles involved and KwaZulu-Natal’s massive backlog in rural road provision.

The Zululand District Municipality, which governs the rural areas around Ulundi, Nongoma, eDumbe, Vryheid and Pongola, is responsible for providing water and sewage.

The Ulundi Local Municipality provides electricity in conjunction with power utility Eskom.

Roads are the responsibility of the provincial ministry of transport.

Other villages in the district have not fared so well.

At Silver, a village on the banks of the Black Umfolozi River where the ANC, the IFP and the National Freedom Party were all campaigning ahead of the 2011 municipal elections, residents are still living on muddy water drawn from the river.

Last week, City Press found five-year-old Nosipho Qoma filling a tiny bucket with water, along with other children, for their families to drink and wash with.

Further along the river at Onyango, residents voiced the same complaints as those at Silver: no water, no toilets, no road and no electricity.

“There’s nothing here for us,” said Celimpilo Mbona (18), a Grade 11 pupil at KwaMusi High School. “I’m not gonna vote. There’s no electricity.

No taps. No road. No toilet.

“We drink water that cows and goats s**t and p**s in. There are dogs running in it. This water makes us sick, but we have to drink it.

“I was born here. It’s bad. Life is not good here. I want a proper life. I want to be like other people and drink from a tap and use a proper toilet, and read with electricity at night.”

Meet Zululand’s unofficial mayor

The Zululand District Municipality is large. It stretches across 14?000km² and is made up of five towns – Ulundi, Nongoma, eDumbe, Pongola and Vryheid.

It is too big a job for just one mayor to keep an eye on. So City Press is looking for citizens in each of the five towns to keep an eye on service delivery.

Our first unofficial mayor in the district is Vryheid resident Doug Grewar, a self-proclaimed “geriatric terrorist”.

He, along with his residents association’s 400-odd members, spends much of his time lobbying the council to fix potholes and street lights, and clear verges.

Grewar, a former construction contractor from Zambia who worked in Swaziland before ­moving to Vryheid 15 years ago, says most of his town’s problems stem from the fact that the IFP ran a “one-party state” for 18 years ­until it was ousted by an ANC-National Freedom ­Party coalition in 2011.

The 73-year-old believes the new hung council is more responsive to citizens’ needs because it doesn’t have the comfort zone that comes with a political majority.

Grewar and members of the Vryheid Ratepayers’ Association have prioritised water, ­rubbish, potholes, vending bylaws and massive overtime bills as key issues for action.

»?If you live in Ulundi, Nongoma, eDumbe or Pongola and would like to volunteer as the unofficial mayor, email or SMS him on 082?775?7406. For your trouble, you get a BlackBerry smartphone with which to record service-delivery triumphs and disasters in your town.

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