SA at work: De Hoop, Limpopo’s great water hope

2014-02-24 08:00

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At South Africa’s 13th-biggest dam, the work is nearly done.

Only two construction cranes are still towering alongside the De Hoop Dam’s 1.5km-long concrete wall (it stands 88m high, one of the few dams in South Africa where more than 1?million cubic metres of concrete was used). Workers are scattered around putting the finishing touches to their work and engineers are in the control rooms beavering away at valves and pumps.

Johannes Segafa, community liaison officer for the project, says De Hoop is “99% complete”.

“The dam is ready to supply water. The dam itself is as good as complete, but we still have another project under way for laying bulk pipes connected from the dam and that should take a few months,” he said during a site tour.

The dam lies hidden between rolling mountains along the R555 in an area rich in platinum reserves.

A catchment was built strategically at the foot of the mountains on the Steelpoort River. It took large-scale engineering work to widen, deepen and build a high, thick concrete wall with deep foundations to create a modern dam.

De Hoop, with a capacity of 347?million cubic metres and located between Steelpoort and Stoffberg close to Jane Furse in the Sekhukhune district, has been punted as the answer to Limpopo’s water problems.

During a Water Week event in Sekhukhune in 2012, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said De Hoop “will help to transform the lives of the people” in the region.

She said then: “With the construction of the dam nearing completion, we are closer to our goal of being able to provide water to communities that have struggled for a long time to have access to a safe and reliable source of water.”

Among the areas that will benefit when the work is finally completed are Burgersfort, Mokopane and Lebowakgomo. To make this plan work requires the joint operation of the De Hoop Dam on the Steelpoort River, a tributary of the Olifants River, and the existing Flag Boshielo Dam on the Olifants River. In addition, a bulk supply pipe needs to be constructed to link the Flag Boshielo Dam and Mokopane.

De Hoop was mentioned in President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address last week when he discussed the government’s infrastructure investments.

“By the end of March this year, starting from 2009, government will have spent about R860 billion on infrastructure,” Zuma told Parliament.

“The construction of the bulk water distribution system for the De Hoop Dam began in October 2012 to supply water to the Greater Sekhukhune, Waterberg and Capricorn district municipalities,” he said.

The project started in mid-2007. The bulk supply pipes that Segafa refers to will draw water directly from the dam to municipal purification plants and mines, which will then process the water and move it on to “end-users”.

Job creation has been important to the project. Segafa said more than 2?000 jobs were created for local communities.

“At least 600 people worked on the road project, 450 on the building of houses and other structures on site and 1?250 worked on the actual dam project,” he said.

He said at least 11 mines in Steelpoort, Burgersfort and Mogalakwena are also due to get their water supply in the area to help them enhance their operations and create more jobs.

However, the main beneficiaries of the dam appeared to be local cattle.

City Press spotted cows drinking directly from the dam although Segafa said this would stop when the dam was completely fenced in “soon”.

“The dam is still pouring water into the river on which it was built. We will never allow the river to dry up, so cattle can continue drinking from their old source of water.”

The project has not been without its problems and controversies.

Opposition parties and a few communities argued that mining companies would benefit the most from the De Hoop Dam.

In nearby communities, residents are adopting a “wait-and-see” attitude.

In Kutung village, about 3km from the dam, residents said they were glad some of them had found jobs during the construction phase, but that their work was now done.

A young resident, Lucas Leshaba, said: “The last time we had water coming from taps here was late last year. Now all we see are big [bulk supply] pipes being laid past our village. We ask ourselves why the water is now going towards Steelpoort mining areas.

“We have become used to fetching water from the nearby river and people get sick from that water. Until we see regular water supply, we remain without much hope,” he added.

But government insists that this is not the case. Communities and mines will gain enormously from De Hoop, it says. De Hoop’s water will soon reach local households, but the construction is first focused on laying the big pipelines to finish the bulk distribution system.

Infrastructure spending

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