DA requests urgent Legislature debate on Grahamstown water supply

Dacre Haddon MPL

Shadow MEC for Local Government

Regular water outages in Grahamstown are being caused by systemic infrastructure failure due to the lack of maintenance by the Makana Municipality.

The DA has requested the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature to hold an urgent debate to resolve the on-going unreliable water supply in Grahamstown. The Makana municipality is withholding the basic human right of access to water and of a healthy environment from all the people of Grahamstown.

The latest incident in which parts of Grahamtown, including Rhodes University has been without water for the past nine days is just the latest in a perennial problem with the town’s water supply.  A lack of water is not the problem.  The town suffers from systemic infrastructure failure due to the lack of maintenance of the archaic pipeline network.  The health hazard caused by this situation is unacceptable.

The Constitution states in Section 24 that “Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.  In terms of Section 27 “Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water.  It affirms that “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realization of each of these rights”.

In addition to my request for a debate in the Legislature at its next sitting on 27 August, I have submitted questions for written reply to the MEC for Local Government as to what plans his department have put in place to sort out Grahamstown’s water supply problems.

If the MEC does not act, the DA will be left with no choice but to take legal action against the municipality for failing to fulfil its mandate in terms of the Constitution.   It is obvious that this municipality is in a state of chaos and that it cannot meet its Constitutional obligations to provide potable water to its citizens.

The DA’s councillors in Makana have informed me that developments in terms of housing and expansion of the university and town have taken place over the last 20 years without any significant investment in infrastructure. Development in the higher lying areas has been the biggest challenge, as those areas were not taken into consideration in the planning of reservoirs and header reservoirs 20-50 years ago.

Pumps and pipelines on the west system, fed from Howiesons Poort (Settlers Dam) and the eastern system from the Fish River are old and subject to regular breakages in the lines.

In 2011 the Municipality asked the Development Bank of South Africa for R50m to install a new pipeline, header reservoirs and other critical water provision infrastructure.  The work is in progress but when the new Director joined last year, the council was informed that the full cost would R150m not R50m.

The problems are exacerbated by a lack of high level technical staff.  There are no civil, electrical or mechanical engineers employed.  Staff are ill-disciplined due to a lack of political will and leadership and reluctance to take disciplinary action.   As a result capital expenditure has suffered.  Only R46 million of the technical budget of R120 million was spent in 2012/13.  This is criminal in this particular instance.

The DA gives credit to the Rhodes University staff and students for undertaking their protest march to the Makana City Hall yesterday.  However, Grahamstown is a precious place of learning where our future leaders are being groomed.  They should not be spending their time protesting for their basic human rights.

The impact on Rhodes University has highlighted this major issue, but the long term effect on the quality of life in the townships of Grahamstown is far more serious.

All the people of Makana deserve better.  I have received confirmation from The Human Rights Commission that it has finalised an investigation into the lack of water supply and sanitation in informal settlements in the province, for which I cited Zolani and Phapamani settlements in Makana as examples where the majority of residents use pit toilets and dig trenches and furrows as make-shift sanitation contraptions to wash away the sewage.  The report, with findings and recommendations, will be released to me once it has been signed by the SAHRC Commissioners.

Communities are increasingly rebelling against the slow pace of service delivery. A DA-led government will ensure that our citizen’s basic rights are respected.