By ‘Odidi Matai-Sigudla
In response to the joint student-community protest over water shedding in May, the finding of E.coli in the water supply and the recent boil water alerts issued by the municipality, Parliament’s Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Portfolio Committee held a virtual meeting on 7 June to discuss the water provision challenges that Makhanda faces.
It was a joint presentation by the Makana Municipality, Amatola Water Board, and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), hosted by ANC MP and COGTA portfolio committee chair Fikile Devilliers Xasa, and mediated by Judith Nemadzinga-Tshabalala, Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation.
Portia Makhanya, acting chief executive officer at Amatola Water, spoke about the inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, the effects the prolonged drought had on supply systems, the impacts of load-shedding, the shortage of chlorine for purifying the water, and the flooding at James Kleynhans Water Works.
“The town has two water treatment plants to meet the current demand of 18 Ml/d (megalitres or million litres per day) – Waainek (WTW) or Western system to provide 8 Ml\d, and James Kleynhans (JKWTW) or Eastern system for 10Ml\d,” said Makhanya. However, the flooding at JKWTW saw pumps being sent for repairs. “The cause of flooding still unclear, but process controller negligence is suspected. Further investigations are underway,” Makhanya said.
The meeting discussed the upgrade to JKWTW that, once completed, will allow the plant to pump out 20 million litres of water per day – giving the town water every day. The R102 million upgrade was supposed to be completed by December 2017, with Amatola Water as the implementing agent, but delays occurred and the contractor, Mamlambo Construction Company, was liquidated in June 2022.
Last year the municipality announced that the new contractor, Water and Wastewater Technology SA would be able to finish the job by December 2023.
The DWS Director of Regulation in the Eastern Cape, Andrew Lucas, said the department was chasing up the wasted money. “Our lawyers are still following up on the liquidation (of Mamlambo). We have a project manager, and we are confident that it will be finished on the planned date,” assured Lucas.
The municipality said it expected that between the 16 and 30 of June, most pumps, if not all, will be operational. This will provide the 10 Ml/d needed to restore water to a one day on, one day off system. “We are working very hard to make sure that by the time of the National Arts Festival [22 June], we will be able to provide for the community,” said Makana’s Ward Five councillor, Gcobisa Mene of the ANC.
Asanda Gidana, Director of Engineering and Infrastructural Services at Makana Municipality added that the municipality and Amatola Water continuously visit the site. “There is a meeting scheduled on the 19 June with Amatola Water to discuss the project. The staff that we have employed meet the requirements and have the qualifications,” stated Gidana.
But members of the committee were displeased with the presentation. EFF MP and portfolio committee member Khanya Ceza asked, “What recovery plans does the municipality have to ensure that the money is recovered? The money you are given, the money you are using, the contractors leaving (before completing the job). Service delayed is a service denied. It is clear that the people who will suffer is the community. This is frustrating the community because this 30 June is another target that will not be met.”
Agreeing with Ceza, ANC MP Gordon Gcinikhaya Mpumza said “There needs to be consequence management for the contractors that failed to deliver.”
DA MP Jacques Smalle said: “We are not supplying enough water, and we are not supplying quality water, while DA MP Gizella Opperman added “It’s a serious health risk if water safety can not be guaranteed.”
Discussing the recent E.coli results, the municipality assured the portfolio committee that gas chlorine had since been delivered and inserted into the water supply, and hotspots are being closely monitored for any incidents. “The boil water notices will only be put down once we are satisfied,” said the municipality.
However, DA MP Eleanore Rochelle Jacquelene Spies insisted ”We are being taken for a ride by the presenters, and that is unacceptable. I believe that an audit should be done of the people who are responsible for the water management in the municipality. We need to know that the people are qualified. Ever since the municipality took over, there has been pump after pump issue.”
The portfolio committee also saw the latest water results, which indicated that E.coli was present in the water at 11 of 17 testing sites in the town.
Risimati Mathye, DWS Deputy Director-General of Water Services Management, said he acknowledged the long delays in clean, running water that Makana residents were experiencing.
Although the municipal members gave assurances, residents of Makhanda who joined the online meeting voiced their opinions in the chat, remaining weary of listening to their ‘empty’ promises. “Given (their) long history of failure, why should we believe this now?” said community activist and academic Philip Machanick. “E.coli arose from Makana running out of chlorine gas and using swimming pool chemicals as a substitute for three weeks. This is criminal negligence. What are the consequences?”
Machanick added that some residents had already been trying to involve DWS for one year in solving the municipal water problems but had “zero response… the problems just get worse and worse.”