Rural pipe dreams become a reality

2012-04-07 15:16

Across the 14 800km2² of the Zululand District Municipality, there’s an almost desperate sense of energy as contractors play catch-up to provide water to its nearly 145 000 households.

The district – a massive expanse of game reserves and semi-arable land around the towns of Ulundi, Nongoma, Vryheid, Pongola and Paulpietersburg – has an insignificant rates base as most economic activity is located in the five local municipalities.

The terrain, long distances, a lack of funding and poor roads make water provision difficult, and 52 000 households remain without it.

Add to this ageing infrastructure in the five towns – most of which are replacing asbestos cement pipes section by section as they collapse, as well as political tensions among three competing parties in six councils – and water provision suddenly seems to be an enormous task.

But dams are being built and water taps turned on throughout arid Zululand, where more than R3.2 billion has been allocated for water provision over the next five years.

There are 10 major water projects under way, with a larger number of smaller initiatives filling massive gaps.

Of these, the three largest concern pumping stations at Usuthu near King Goodwill Zwelithini’s Enyokeni Palace at Nongoma, and Mandlakazi, which will pump water from the Jozini Dam to Nongoma, and the reservoirs at Nkonjeni.

All are expected to have started pumping by the end of April.

Solly Khumalo, the district engineer responsible for water projects, says the overall strategy is about improving supply to areas plagued by frequent water outages and extending the piped water network to accessible communities.

It’s also about drilling boreholes with pumps, which cost R20 000 each, to areas where water can’t be piped because of the geography and low population density. With water provision will come sanitation.

Residents of densely populated areas will receive flushing toilets and those in far-flung, sparsely populated areas will receive 10-metre longdrops with a 20-year lifespan.

In the meantime, water is being trucked to areas where projects will only begin later as part of the five-year programme set out in the district’s integrated development plan.

During City Press’s visit last week, there were still serious interruptions in the water supply at Ulundi and Nongoma, as was the case during our visits last October and May.

Construction had been completed on several rural water projects, among them three dams at Mcongweni near Ulundi, an area which has never had a water supply.

In November, Idlebe was a hive of activity as Pongola-based contractor Jan Steenkamp and his team worked hard to meet the deadline for building three desperately-needed reservoirs for the area.

They had been given six months from conception to the opening of the first taps for the three reservoirs, which were meant to provide residents of three villages with more than 400 000 litres of water.

Delays in getting through the red tape made the job even harder, and Steenkamp and his crew live on site Monday to Saturday to save travelling time.

They worked all three reservoirs at once, laying the bases and setting the steel to guide the concrete for the reservoir walls.

It was hard work but Steenkamp and his 65-member team – including only eight skilled workers with the rest drawn from local communities – were adamant they’d make it.

Steenkamp’s attitude was refreshing: “We’re here to do the job and we’ll make sure we meet the deadline – we don’t have a choice.” They made it.

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