Nomvula ‘misled’ Zuma

2016-09-04 17:00
Nomvula Mokonyane

Nomvula Mokonyane

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Johannesburg - Confidential letters between President Jacob Zuma and his Mosotho counterpart, Pakalitha Mosisili, show how Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane allegedly misled both heads of state about South Africa’s water needs.

The letters also reveal why there has been a further delay in the implementation of phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which has already been set back by six years, exposing Gauteng to potential massive water shortages and days-long water cuts.

Running dry

By Monday this week, the Vaal Dam, which supplies water to Gauteng, was only 34% full, and severe water restrictions are most likely on the way.

Gauteng only has enough water to provide residents with an uninterrupted supply until 2019.

When she was in Lesotho as Zuma’s special envoy in October last year, Mokonyane met Mosisili and other senior officials from Lesotho and South Africa, and told them that this country’s water demands had increased substantially and that more water would be needed from the bi-national scheme.

Minutes of the meeting, which City Press has obtained, reveal that Mokonyane told the gathering: “With the advent of climate change and the El Niño phenomenon, four provinces are experiencing severe shortages: KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, North West and Limpopo.”

Mokonyane also told the meeting: “South Africa realises the need to tap into additional sources of water and therefore proposes that the two countries explore the feasibility of extracting more water from Lesotho. Feasibility studies, therefore, need to resume regarding this matter.”

But four senior former and current officials in the department of water and sanitation and the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority told City Press that South Africa had no more legitimate water demands to make, other than what was agreed upon by Maseru and Pretoria in the Lesotho Highlands Water Treaty of 1986 and the agreement of phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

Last month, City Press reported that Mokonyane, acting in concert with politicians in Maseru, deliberately delayed phase 2 of the project in an effort to “capture” the R26 billion project and secure a cut for her friends’ companies.

The letters

Following Mokonyane’s visit, Mosisili wrote to Zuma in February, telling him that she had hiked South Africa’s water requirements, and he asked for urgent clarification because she did not inform him of the details of the increase in demand.

Water is one of Lesotho’s biggest exports.

The letter – a copy of which City Press has obtained – reads: “Another new development which pleased us was the realisation that the water demand projections in South Africa are to be revised upwards, taking into account the new realities.

“With great respect, we urge your government to urgently inform us of the new projections because they form the cornerstone of the project.

“In the meantime, we request that, as per Honourable Mokonyane’s intimation, a written submission on the visit be urgently communicated to me so that the necessary and crucial actions are put in place.”

A source close to Mosisili said the prime minister’s anxiety stemmed from the fact that it would be pointless to continue building Polihali Dam if South Africa needed more water, because it was being designed according to specifications dictated by current demand projections.

After two months, with no response from Zuma’s office forthcoming, Mosisili sent a copy of the letter to the South African president on April 18.

Three months later, Zuma wrote a strongly worded letter to Mokonyane, instructing her to send the “new water demand projection” to Maseru

“I hereby request you to urgently provide us with a written submission on this matter for onward transmission to the prime minister.

“In addition, the government of Lesotho has requested the new water demand projections, which your department should provide.”

The same day, Zuma responded to Mosisili: “I wish to assure you that a submission to the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho on this matter will be sent to you in due course.”

No new water demands

Mike Muller, former water and sanitation director-general, said he had “been working with water demand since 1994” and “I can tell you that there is no new demand”.

“This is a false pretence meant to destabilise the process. These letters demonstrate that Mokonyane ‘misled’ Zuma and a head of state of another country, thereby putting the security of Gauteng, South Africa’s economic hub, at risk.”

A senior engineer working on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said many of his colleagues were shocked when they heard South Africa had increased its water demand projections.

“People who would know about demands are technocrats, not politicians. I am a technocrat and I can tell you that I don’t know anything about increased water demand. She [Mokonyane] misled both the prime minister and the president,” he said.

Another senior engineer from the water affairs and sanitation department said it “has a long-term bulk water resource strategy prepared in terms of the Water Act, which is updated every five years and has to be approved by Cabinet”.

“The document identifies demand analyses for each catchment area, where water could come from and how to fund it,” he said.

“Anyway, if there were new water demands, why wouldn’t she have sent them to Maseru in 10 months?”

Another senior official in the department, who has extensive knowledge of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, said: “The implications of an increased water demand projection are massive.

“It means a new feasibility study, which will cost hundreds of millions of rands and take no less than 18 months.

“It means phase 2 of the project will only start in around 2019.”

The department responds

Mokonyane’s spokesperson, Mlimandlela Ndamase, said: “We have advised that the minister will submit an update on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in line with the standard reporting processes within government.

“Communication between the minister and the president, including to the prime minister of Lesotho, is confidential and I am in no position to comment on
leaked documents that enjoy a confidential status.

“We remain confident that we will achieve completion of phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project by 2025.”

Ndamase said the department had “placed a number of interventions to secure the sustainable water future of Gauteng in the long term”, which includes processing acid mine drainage in the province.

“We are confident about our projections on growth and, looking at the system holistically, [we are confident] that our water future is secure,” he said.

Staring down a barrel

Muller said Gauteng’s water capacity was only sufficient to provide residents with an uninterrupted supply until 2019.

“This really is a very dangerous situation because, should we have a drought between 2019 and when phase 2 comes on stream, we will experience massive water shortages in Gauteng,” he said.

“Water is not like electricity in that you cannot switch it off for a few hours and then switch it on again. If you cut water, it would take a few days before supply is restored. It is extremely selfish for politicians to delay the projects because of their own selfish agendas.”

The Mosotho water engineer agreed with Muller. “South Africa is staring down the barrel of a gun. If a prolonged drought hits any time after 2019, there will be massive water restrictions.”

Read more on:    nomvula mokonyane  |  lesotho  |  drought

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