By Geoff Embling
Howiesons Poort pump station was flooded on 21 November 2023. There was no operator on standby when a joint on the pump’s suction valve pushed out, causing the flooding. Over the past three years, Makana has experienced three pump station flooding incidents, two at James Kleynhans and one at Howiesons Poort. It is an extremely rare occurrence for a whole pump station to flood, but Makana municipality, widely known to be “gifted” for breaking infrastructure, is managing to make an annual habit of it.
About seven years ago, Makana’s water management was handed over to MBB Consulting Engineers, and after MBB’s contract expired, Makana had three working pump sets (pumps plus their corresponding motors) at Howiesons Poort pump station. When Makana took back the reins, the pumps were not maintained, and care was not taken when pumping muddy water during the drought period. In April 2021, Howiesons Poort pump station was left with one working pump set (pump and motor), plus a spare motor. For the past two years, opposition councillors have strongly urged Makana to install a second water pump at Howiesons Poort.
In 2023, Makana entered into a dubious deal with its service provider, Manco, to supply an additional pump to Howiesons Poort, which resulted in the suspension of Makana’s Director of Infrastructure. Whilst Makana was undergoing a legal dispute with Manco, council was assured by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), working in conjunction with the Amatola Water Board, that a pump would be sourced for Howiesons Poort by October 2023. This pledge has not materialised.
Three recent incidents relating to Howiesons Poort (the rising main pipe and two water “blockages” at the dam wall, requiring divers) are still fresh in the minds of Grahamstownians. When there is no water from Howiesons Poort, Grahamstown West relies on water from James Kleynhans, which is pumped via a transfer line to low-level, intermediate-level, and high-level reservoirs. This caused all kinds of issues, which residents will recall from April to June 2023. High-level reservoir struggled to fill up, high-lying areas went without water, and airlocks got into the system. It was a disaster, and several township areas went dry for months due to water being diverted to reservoirs on the western side.
Makana Municipality requires 18 megaliters (ML) of water per day, and the Department of Water and Sanitation assured council and the public that James Kleynhans would be upgraded from 12 to 20 ML per day by the third quarter of 2023. However, the new filter beds are not yet operational due to the non-completion of the filter building, which limits James Kleynhans’ output to 12 ML per day. To date, the building does not have a roof, which is necessary to protect the control panels and electrical equipment. The upgrades are unlikely to be completed before Feb 2024, and there are allegations of friction between Makana, who wants Amatola Water to train local staff, and Amatola, who wants to get the job done.
Repeated financial losses, unspent infrastructure grants, and infrastructure failures in Makana municipality have pushed the residents of Grahamstown over the limit. Makana has not adhered to its financial obligations, and Kevin Mileham, DA member of parliament representing the local caucus, has called upon the Eastern Cape Provincial Executive to place Makana municipality under administration.
Council has failed to do the necessary oversight relating to finance and infrastructure, and it should, therefore, be dissolved.