It’s time to put an end to Mpumalanga’s water woes

By James Masango, MPL:

A couple of weeks ago, residents of Pienaar Township in Mbombela local municipality took to the streets to protest over the lack of water delivery. The community had not seen a drop of clean water come from their taps in months. This was followed by protest action in Kanyamazane Township and its neighbouring communities.

Mbombela has become a hotspot for service delivery protests, particularly over the delivery of water. Bushbuckridge local municipality is not doing any better, communities protest and march over the non-delivery of water on a regular basis, but still, their taps run dry.

On a recent visit to Nkomazi local municipality under the Legislature’s taking Legislature to the People (TLP) programme, we found that even Nkomazi was faced with the same water shortage problems prevalent in Mbombela and Bushbuckridge municipalities.

However, what made Nkomazi a little different from its dry neighbours was the fact that water delivery projects has started to alleviate the pressure on communities. While many people still fetched water from streams, they were hopeful that the projects would be completed soon, allowing them access to clean potable water in the near future.

Water shortages aren’t confined to Mpumalanga; South Africa is listed as one of the 30 driest countries in the world. This coupled with the government’s inability to deliver to outlying areas and the cycle of poverty that traps many of our rural communities is a recipe for disaster.

With over 30 recorded protests, Ehlanzeni District municipality is the district with the highest number of service deliver protests in the province. According to the department of Co-Operative Governance’s Section 47 report for the 2013/14 financial year, 13 protests were recorded in Bushbuckridge, 9 in Mbombela and 8 in Nkomazi. Gert Sibande district municipality recorded 11 protests while Nkangala district municipality recorded 9 protests.

It is worth noting that at over 44 000 households, Ehlanzeni district municipality has the highest number living below the basic level of access to sanitation and once again, Mbombela, Bushbuckridge and Nkomazi are the worst offenders. Ehlanzeni’s figure stands at 4 times to that of Gert Sibande and Nkangala district municipalities which have 11 830 and 11 810 households respectively.

The high number of households living below the basic level of access to sanitation is another indication of the serious shortage of water facing Mbombela, Bushbuckridge and Nkomazi municipalities.

Just by looking at these figures, one can understand the difficulties and frustrations experienced by communities, the frustration that forces Pienaar residents to burn tyres and block roads, the frustration that leads to communities destroying their own clinics and schools and libraries in a bid to be noticed by the government.

All three spheres of government need to prioritise water delivery by making it central to all development plans. It is vital for municipalities to be at the forefront of managing their own water delivery systems and not simply have the provincial government holding all the water delivery cards.

The DA supports the constitutional right to protest but not the violence and destruction of property that often comes with protests. With the upcoming local elections, the DA urges communities that have had enough of the dry taps, poor service delivery and maladministration to take their protest to the ballot paper and vote out this government that does not deliver.

Where the DA governs, services are delivered and life is better because the DA is the only party that puts people first.