Lessons in how to fix Ficksburg

2012-03-24 14:48

It’s a question often asked on the streets of Meqheleng. Why is it that the area is plagued by water ­shortages while the Mohokare runs on the outskirts of the ­township?

Mohokare is the Sesotho name for the Caledon river which meanders past the township and forms the international border with ­Lesotho.
Last year, at the funeral of slain activist Andries Tatane, Congress of the People president Mosiuoa Lekota received thunderous ­applause when he asked this ­question.

The unreliable water supply in Meqheleng was at the centre of service delivery protests led by the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens (MCC) group last year.

The dysfunctional sewerage system and blocked toilets were also high on their list of complaints.

Setsoto Municipality municipal manager Tshepiso Ramakarane, who was appointed this week, says: “The claim of poor service delivery was justifiable.

The situation is overwhelming. What has been done here is bad in terms of service delivery. It can’t be right that 17 years down the line we still have a bucket system.”

Ramakarane is one of a team of senior managers deployed to ­Setsoto by the provincial government to fix up the place. He arrived in the wake of a task team investigation into the poor implementation of ­municipal infrastructure grant projects, irregularly awarded contracts, and alleged nepotism, fraud, theft and maladministration.

In May, four senior officials – chief financial officer Cassius Mabuya, Fiona Viljoen of planning and ­infrastructure, Moleko Madihlare of technical services, and Thato Khoase of community ­economic development and ­corporate ­services – were suspended after the task team found they had “neglected their duties”. They have since resigned.

The municipality incorporates the towns of Clocolan, Senekal, Marquad and Ficksburg.

Ramakarane says the water shortages were caused by a valve system that simply didn’t have the pressure needed to pump water from the Caledon River into Meqheleng’s reservoir.

“The reservoir didn’t even reach 10% capacity. So as a result people didn’t have water in their taps,” he said. But now it looks like Meqheleng’s water woes may be a thing of the past.

The municipality has just completed a R40-million upgrade of the Ficksburg Water Treatment Works, which has doubled its capacity.

That cost included the R15 million spent on the construction of a dedicated pipeline to feed the Meqheleng reservoir.

The municipality has also begun the ambitious task of drilling a network of seven boreholes across Ficksburg to supplement water supply.

Setsoto municipality project management unit head Thobeka Zondi says a contractor will start linking the boreholes to the ­system at end of March.

Ramakarane says some of the projects begun by the municipality to provide better services include the tarring of a 2.3km stretch of road and storm water drainage at a cost of almost R10 million for Meqheleng. Similar projects are also under way in Clocolan ­­(R7.1 million), Senekal ­(R8.8 million) and Marquard (R7.5 million).

“The cost of phase one of the refurbishment of sewer reticulation in Meqheleng is approximately R16.5 million and we intend to ­deliver a portion of the work valued at R4.5 million by first week of April. The rest will be done after April into the new financial year,” he says.

Sam Motseare, spokesperson for Meqheleng Concerned ­Citizens, says they are not satisfied with the delivery pace.

One of their key demands is the scrapping of the residents’ rates and services bills, unpaid between 2006 and 2011 because the municipality did not deliver. The municipality is now owed an estimated ­R300 million.

Ramakarane hints that this simply cannot be done.

“The reality is that the financial situation of the municipality is far from being sound given the thin tax base. There are people who have faithfully paid their dues ­during the same period. To bring equity, do you credit their accounts and deepen the financial crisis of the municipality?”

Ficksburg DA councillor Ben du Toit says a steep rise in the population of Meqheleng has put strain on the infrastructure.

Du Toit, who sits on Setsoto ­municipality’s infrastructure ­committee, says the refusal of many to pay for services has also contributed to poor maintenance.

Ramakarane would not be drawn into discussing what action the municipality would take against the bad contractors and the officials who paid them.

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