Leader’s letter: Violent protest action continues to ravage Mpumalanga

By James Masango, MP:

Protest action has, for a long time, been used by communities across the country as a means to be heard.

While South Africans have achieved the freedom that we fought so hard for, the majority of those living in rural areas are yet to taste it. They are still experiencing the very same life they lived before the new dispensation. What makes matters worse is that promises were made, especially before elections, many of which have not been yet been fulfilled.

The South African Constitution guarantees everyone the right to protest however this action often turns violent and becomes marred by police brutality and destruction of property.

Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights also provides for access to basic services like water, shelter and healthcare facilities, but the current government fails to deliver to the people.

The very same constitution and the Water Act are explicit when it comes to the duty of government to provide water to people. South Africa is one of a few countries that enshrines access to water as a human right, yet this remains a big challenge for the government.

Mpumalanga is not exempt from protest action, violent or otherwise. Just last week, the community of eLukwatini in Albert Luthuli municipality embarked on a violent protest action, burning a police station, clinic and Home Affairs office in the process. Learning and teaching was also disrupted for almost two weeks.

Bushbuckridge municipality is another hotspot for protest action due to the government’s poor track record of service delivery throughout the municipality. Many communities have not had a drop of clean potable water in years and are forced to walk long distances to collect water from streams they share with animals.

Residents of Bushbuckridge regularly protest, block roads and march to the municipal offices yet they only ever come away with promises of Bulk Water Infrastructure, a promise that has been repeated for five years. Perhaps the government has become immune to the plight of Bushbuckridge residents.

The water crisis in many towns in Mpumalanga is just the symptom of a complex problem. This could be attributed to a lack of expertise, poor maintenance of infrastructure and an absence of political will to maintain existing systems.

Municipalities and the provincial government have always had plans to address the water crisis but the problem came in the implantation because of tender irregularities and shoddy contractors.

The department of Water and Sanitation and the Mpumalanga Provincial Government have allocated a budget of over R500 million to address the water challenges in the municipality. What remains to be seen is whether or not all these efforts will translate into clean potable water for the residents of Bushbuckridge.

It cannot be that 21 years into democracy and many protests later, water delivery in Bushbuckridge is essentially still in the planning phase while people share water with animals.

South Africa needs a government that listens and respects the people that elected it into power; a government that works for them and not the connected few.

The DA will embark on a water delivery assessment tour in Bushbuckridge in the coming weeks to assess the extent of the water crisis. We will then liaise with the community and various stakeholders to come up with alternative ways that affected communities can access potable water.

James Masango MP

082 891 0717