“Lack of willingness and a sense of urgency” puts City of Mbombela in dire water crisis

DRIP DRIP: The capital city of Mpumalanga is facing the prospect of stifled economic growth due to lack of water sources. PICTURE BY Twitter

Heads are called to roll amongst those who refuse to use people’s resources for the public good and in the people’s interest.

One of South Africa’s fastest growing cities is fast getting hogged in a dire water crisis due to what critics say is nothing than lack of willingness and a sense of urgency to plan the future.

Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane in her 2020’s State of the Province Address announced her government would embark on major human settlement projects in the City “going forward into the future”, which will see thousands and thousands of housing units being built in the City, adding a burden on the already insufficient water source systems.

She announced that the approved Nkosi City project, Dingwell Township project and the Matsafeni Precinct – all of which will consist of thousands and thousands of houses, various schools, training centers and a provincial hospital – had been prioritised for the 2020/21 financial year.

But a looming water crisis due to Mbombela having insufficient water sources such as a dams of its own is threatening the prospect of these developments as well as the City’s envisioned economic growth.

Sources said developers are currently unable to proceed with the approved developments worth billions and billions of rands in Mbombela because of insufficient water sources.

City officials Friday 22 January 2021 asked for sufficient time to comment about the municipality’s water planning agenda.

"Lack of willingness and a sense of urgency" puts City of Mbombela in dire water crisis
Barberton residents toy-toy for water in February 2020. Lowvelder

Last year the department of water affairs announced there were plans to build a dam for the fast growing city but critics say  it’s all a “fable” as the City doesn’t really have the suitable space to begin the construction.

Departmental spokesman Sputnik Ratau told the media how the department was busy planning for a proper water source for Mbombela.

Mbombela’s main sources of water are the Inyaka dam in Bushbuckridge, the Kwena dam in Lydenburg and the Lomati dam in Barberton – which the City’s vision 2030 agrees “that the municipality is faced with severe water service backlog” and which will constrain its planned economic prospects.

Municipal documents say the problems are mainly due to lack of rainfall and as the municipality they had embarked on a journey to opt for boreholes and JoJo tanks.

But critics say the municipality in fact doesn’t have the water which it needs to fill the JoJo tanks.

The Inyaka dam is situated over 140km away from Mbombela, Kwena dam over 100km and the Lomati dam is about 45km and supplying the already water-starved town of Barberton – leaving Mbombela without a dam of its own.

“Two of these water sources are located in other municipality which themselves are faced with the problems of water shortages. For example, Kwena is in the Thaba Chweu local municipality and this particular municipality doesn’t have the rights to get water from a dam built in their own municipality,” one of the officials privy to the water problems in Mbombela told the 013NEWS reporter Thursday 21 January 2021.

“Then Inyaka dam is for the Bushbuckridge municipality,” the official who cannot be named because he is not a spokesperson said.

The EFF on Saturday said for many years the Mbombela municipality has been “putting up a face that seeks to deny that there is a water crisis in the City”.

“We have been raising these issues in council, in council committees and public debates but what we have been getting from the municipality were empty promises.

“The main problem here is that money is used without the realisation of value of money. Water projects are done to spend the budget more than to alleviate the water crisis in the City,” councillor Lucky Maseko said Saturday evening.

Maseko said one example of the lack of political will to service the people is the Hoxane scheme in Bushbuckridge, which he said can supply 30 million litres a day to about 400 000 families in the Northern and Southern region of Mbombela. 

“But the mayor Sibusiso Mathonsi promised that the scheme will be up and running by June 2020.

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“But up to today, the scheme is not working. Strange enough the scheme was built with help from the provincial and national government for Bushbuckridge and Mbombela. Bushbuckridge is using their part of the scheme while Mbombela is putting a budget to the scheme every financial year without any progress being made for the scheme to supply water to Mbombela,” he said, adding that the scheme is currently being vandalised as it lies idle.

“The Hoxane Scheme is but one example of the poor or lack of planning on water and sanitation issues in the municipality,” Maseko said Saturday.

DA councillor Rowan Torr said that in the town of White River, Mbombela the water disruptions to communities “are a regular occurrence”.

He said the White River town relies on the Witklip dam, Klippie dam, Longmere dam and a limited supply from the Sandspruit pump station to the White River Water treatment plant.

He said the Klippie dam and Longmere dam are privately owned while Witklip belongs to the municipality.

Torr said the “vastly populated area” of Msholozi township and Phumlani informal settlement also depend on these water sources. 

“For the months of October to November 2019 every Monday morning there would be meetings with the councillors, the general manager of the municipal department of water and sanitation, supervisors and all city plumbers to discuss the water issue.

“But the meetings were not adequately attended to. This was an extreme measure that had to be taken,” Torr said when he spoke to the 013NEWS reporter.

Last year finance minister Tito Mboweni wrote a letter to the City’s manager Wiseman Khumalo and threatened to no longer allocate a budget to the municipality if the municipality continues to have an unrealistic budget projections, where they continue to draft projections that are either too high or too ambitious to be realistic on the actual ground.

Treasury deputy director-general Malijeng Ngqaleni wrote to Khumalo on 4 November 2020 about how the municipality was offered an opportunity “to correct this position” before 30 September 2020.

“Furthermore, the municipality’s latest municipal financial management act’s section 71 report reveals that the municipality is in breach of one or more criteria as set out in Sections 138 and 140 of the MFMA in combination or separately,” Ngqaleni said to Khumalo.

Section 138 and 140 of the municipal financial management act speak about “a serious financial problem” at a municipal level when the municipality “has defaulted on financial obligations for financial reasons” and when “a municipality is in serious material breach of its obligations to meet its financial commitments”.

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“If a municipality, as a result of a crisis in its financial affairs, is in serious or persistent material breach of its obligations to provide basic services or to meet its financial commitments, or admits that it is unable to meet its obligations or financial commitments, the provincial executive must promptly request the Municipal Financial Recovery Service to determine the reasons for the crisis in its financial affairs and to assess the municipality’s financial state,” the piece of law quoted by Ngqaleni reads in part.

Ngqaleni said the “transgression” further indicates that Khumalo – the municipal manager and institution’s “accounting officer” – “who is responsible for the management of expenditure of the municipality is not taking reasonable steps to ensure that all money owed by the municipality be paid within 30 days of receiving the relevant invoice or statement’,”.

“Your municipality was offered an opportunity to correct this position through the special adjustments budget that should be approved by council by 30 September 2020 but has once more failed to rectify the situation,” writes Ngqaleni to Khumalo.

Mbombela mayor Sibusiso Mathonsi is copied in the treasury letter as well as financial management account co-ordinator Bassie Strauss and auditor-general Sbongile Lubambo and is titled “Failure to Comply With Municipal Finance Management Act, 2003”.

A source said that Mtshweni-Tsipane should in fact intervene as the current leadership at the municipality doesn’t have “the sense of urgency to commit to proper human settlement and economic planning as they are engaged in factional squabbles which require the use of the public purse to fight  political battles, in most cases for reasons of personal benefit.

“This will compromise her legacy if she is serious about cementing a legacy of clean governance in Mpumalanga,” the source.

“We are calling on the Premier to report this matter to the Hawks in order for the municipal manager to be arrested with immediate effect because the information shows they have rendered the municipality a cash cow for themselves,” the source, a Barberton resident who has been one of residents complaining about water and for Barberton to be demerged from Mbombela as resources no longer come to them.

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Another source said they are also calling on Mpumalanga ANC acting chairman Mandla Ndlovu to intervene in this matter “because during the local government election the issue of bad governance will compromise the ANC as people are now fed up about the negligence of those they had entrusted with their votes,” 38-year-old Mickey Mlambo said in Msholozi township.

(edited by ZK)

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