Signs of change

2013-05-26 14:00

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Athandiwe Saba visits Ficksburg to monitor service-delivery progress at the start of the fifth series of our Tatane Project. Next week, we go to Zululand District Municipality

For slain community activist Andries Tatane and Setsoto municipal manager Tshepiso Ramakarane, the issues were and are the same.

Water was the reason Tatane protested on April 13 2011 when he was killed by police.

And the man who took over the troubled Ficksburg-based municipality just more than a year ago has made water his council’s main priority.

Ramakarane took City Press on a tour of his municipality, which includes not only Ficksburg and the neighbouring township of Meqheleng, but the towns of Clocolan, Marquard and Senekal too.

Tatane’s home town of Meqheleng, with its newly paved roads, piped water and sewerage system, is streets ahead of Clocolan – a dust bowl where human waste runs in the streets and the residents are beholden to the bucket system.

It is reminiscent of the Meqheleng that was.

While en route to a massive R18.6 million reservoir construction project, which he hopes will see the end of the entire area’s supply woes, Ramakarane said: “I don’t condone looting and all the other issues that accompany demonstrations, but I understand why the people of Meqheleng took to the streets.

“Their concerns were legitimate. They wanted and have a right to clean water. That’s what we have been working towards.”

Just outside Ficksburg is a massive hole. Steel pipes protrude from the ground and two vast circular cement structures lie next to it.

This is for the 10 megalitre reservoir that is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Ramakarane hopes that this, as well as the other two reservoirs they have, which together hold 4 megalitres of water, will ensure everyone gets access to enough of the life-giving liquid.

An anxious-looking site manager, Thys Nolte, says his crew, in their blue overalls and safety hats, are toiling to catch up with a tight deadline, as rain has set them back a few days.

The next stop on Ramakarane’s tour is the Ficksburg water-treatment plant, which is being extensively reburbished to the tune of R40 million to enable it to provide cleaner water and supply it to more areas.

The plant, situated on the Caledon River, the border between South Africa and Lesotho, feeds water through a new pipeline to Meqheleng’s reservoir, the money for which was provided by the department of water affairs.

When driving into Meqheleng, it’s hard to miss the construction under way. The old sports field has been dug up and the site is abuzz with hydraulic excavators, loaders and diggers.

All this is for the Meqheleng sports complex, which will include an athletics track, spectators’ pavilions, netball courts and a youth centre that has already been completed.

Construction of the R63 million centre began in the wake of Tatane’s killing, when then MEC for cooperative governance Mamikie Qabathe held a meeting with residents to ask what they wanted.

Ramakarane envisions a facility which could, after it is finished in 2015, host a Premier Soccer League (PSL) game.

“But that will also depend on when we can get the funds for the accessories. Right now, we are looking for further funding to turn this into a stadium that can host PSL matches so it can be self-sufficient,” he said.

Despite the obvious gains in Meqheleng, much still needs to be done – and undone.

An amount of R197 million was budgeted to ensure the bucket system was eradicated, but the companies contracted to do the work simply dug trenches for sanitation pipes and filled them up again – then made off with the money.

As a result, the bucket system persists in much of Meqheleng and Clocolan.

Ramakarane says he has laid criminal charges against the eight companies involved. But thanks to escalating prices, solving the sanitation problem will now cost Setsoto more than R500 million, money it doesn’t have.

“The people involved in signing off payment authorisation for this shoddy work have since died and you know what they say: A dead man tells no tales,” he said.

“But after going through the forensic report, I decided to press charges against the companies and people involved. No one has been arrested yet. The police are still investigating.”

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