Mr President, please intervene before Giyani’s water issues turn deadly

Residents of Ndabula and sorrounding villages outside Thohoyandou have to travel long distances to get water. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla
Residents of Ndabula and sorrounding villages outside Thohoyandou have to travel long distances to get water. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa, your ANC government’s hands are dripping with fresh blood from the Esidimeni tragedy.

Your police ministry is bloodstained following the murder of innocent miners in Marikana in 2012.

The Department of Water and Sanitation will join this list quite soon if you don’t force it to address the water issues in Giyani.

I urge you to ask the South African Human Rights Commission to urgently investigate the Department of Water and Sanitation in connection with the gross violation of the people of Giyani’s right to access potable water.

According to the Constitution, access to clean water is an inalienable basic right that is not subject to the whims of your colleagues in the ANC.

But the bankrupt Department of Water and Sanitation has failed to live up to its Constitutional obligation to install bulk infrastructure to ensure the continuous supply of water to Giyani and about 55 surrounding villages.

The failure to deliver infrastructure is attributable to the crash of the department under the weight of corruption, poor financial management and the total collapse of governance systems.

Much of the mess flows from former minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s ruinous leadership.

But laying all the blame at Mama Action’s door is grossly unfair to her.

Her predecessors, the late Edna Molewa and Buyelwa Sonjica presided over the department during the early years of the scandal.

In the early 2000s Giyani’s water infrastructure – such as the town’s waste water treatment plant, reservoir, purification plant and the Nsami Dam – reached their lifespan.

The infrastructure started taking strain due to a combination of factors, including neglect, lack of maintenance and general population growth in the region.

To address the problem, in 2009 the then Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, under the political leadership of Sonjica, who has since disappeared into the political sunset, took a decision to install a 52km pipeline to ferry water from the Nandoni Dam in Thohoyandou in Venda to supplement the Nsami Dam.

The pipeline would offer a permanent solution to Giyani’s water woes which were also exacerbated by periodic droughts in the region.

Following the decision to install the pipeline, in 2010 the department, under the political leadership of Molewa, appointed the Mopani District Municipality to implement the project.

Mopani appointed a joint venture comprising Tlo Re Yeng Trading – a politically connected company owned by Selby Manthata’s sister, Constance Motlatso – and Base Major Trading to deliver the pipeline for upwards of R250 million.

Manthata is a one-time friend and business partner of Cassel Mathale, who was Limpopo’s premier at the time.

Shortly after the tender was awarded, two losing bidders – Esorfranki and Cycad Pipelines – individually launched urgent applications to review and set aside the district municipality’s decision to award the tender to the joint venture.

They argued that the two companies in the joint venture didn’t have the Construction Industry Development Board grading necessary to handle the project.

The Mopani District Municipality agreed to set aside the tender and re-adjudicate it. The agreement was made an order of court.

Mopani re-adjudicated the tender, but in February 2011, the council inexplicably re-awarded the contract to the Tlo Re Yeng Trading and Base Major joint venture.

Esorfranki and Cycad Pipelines were not happy with the outcome. Once more, they hurried to the North Gauteng High Court, asking judges to review and set aside Mopani’s decision re-award the tender to the joint venture.

Eventually, the district council lost the case at the Supreme Court of Appeal in March 2014.

In January 2016, Mokonyane, who had been at the helm of the Department Of Water and Sanitation for a little under two years, appointed Vharanani Properties, through Lepelle Northern Water, to install the pipeline, whose costs had shot to over R550 million.

Not only will the department now fork out R550 million to install the 52km pipeline from Nandoni Dam to Nsami Dam, but it has also lost over R200 million which it had already paid for pipes which it had purchased for the project back in 2010.

The pipes, which had been lying along the R524 between Thohoyandou and Giyani had degraded and were no longer usable when the project resumed in 2016.

Read: R200m in taxpayers' money down the drain

Shortly after her appointment to the ministry in 2014, Mokonyane forced Lepelle Northern Water to appoint LTE, a firm of consulting engineers, to deliver a R100 million “turnkey” project to refurbish Giyani’s wastewater treatment plant, purification plant, and a few boreholes.

LTE was appointed directly without a public tender. At the insistence of Mokonyane, and without public tenders, Lepelle Northern Water later piled more bulk water infrastructure projects onto LTE.

Read: How Mokonyane paved the way for a consulting firm to earn billions

This brought the total value of the contracts to north of R3 billion.

Since LTE boss Thulani Majola had no capacity to do any of the work, he ceded the contracts to South Zambezi and Khato Civils, both owned by his one-time friend, Simbi Phiri.

South Zambezi carried the engineering work while Khato Civils handled the construction of major pipeline and water valves.

Read: R170m and still no water

Last month Khato Civils – which has laid about 300km of the 325km water pipelines – deserted the site after the department allegedly failed to pay the company for over nine months.

The debt owed to Phiri is a staggering R300 million and he said he will not return to the site to finish the remaining 25km pipeline until the department pays up.

But Mr President, even if Phiri finishes his portion of the work tomorrow, the people of Giyani will still sit without water because in order for the infrastructure to be of any use, water needs to flow from the Nandoni Dam to Nsami Dam, and from Nsami, through Khato’s infrastructure, to Giyani and the surrounding 55 villages.

And the municipality around these villages still has to do the reticulation.

The Nandoni Nsami pipeline has also incurred fresh delays of not less than 18 months.

Last year Vharanani stopped work on the project for more than eight months after the department failed to pay the company.

Khato Civils has retrenched over 1000 workers as a result of being forced to withdraw from the site due to the department’s failure to pay.

The spectre of the non-payment stretches far beyond the construction firm’s retrenched employees.

The department’s failure to pay Khato Civils the R300 million means the construction firm is also unable to pay a handful of black subcontractors, placing their businesses, employees, livelihoods and entire existence in serious jeopardy.

As a result of a series of reports by City Press, your predecessor Jacob Zuma had asked the Special Investigating Unit to investigate how LTE had received the contracts and if there was corruption. Please make the report public, Mr President.

Read: How R502m grew to R2.7bn in a year

Serious questions of how Lepelle Northern Water awarded such contracts to LTE without public tenders remain unanswered.

Lepelle Northern’s chief executive Phineas Legodi has claimed that Mokonyane placed him under duress to appoint LTE.

The Auditor General has declared the monies paid for that contract as irregular expenditure.

Even by the Department of Water and Sanitation and the relevant parliamentary portfolio committee’s own admissions, South Zambezi, Khato Civils and LTE “have done a pretty good job”, installing some 300km of water pipeline in less than three years.

But the people of Giyani don’t want to hear rhetoric about a “pretty good job” when they have no water.

This mess, which has been coming for over a decade, could easily escalate into a deadly crisis.

Mr President, you have the power to intervene. Please do so. Urgently.

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