The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) briefed the Committee on the problems arising from the construction of the Nandoni Dam in the Vhembe district of Limpopo, and particularly the concerns that had been raised by residents who were resettled, and the Nkuzi Development Association concerns. Although the DWS stated that it had tried to work on the principle that people should not be left worse off after a project than they were before, the Members were not happy with the presentation nor what had been done. A brief history of the project and disagreement was given. The construction of the Nandoni Dam started in 1998 and was completed in 2005. The Department claimed that consultations were held throughout the process of pre-construction and construction. The development and implementation of the Relocation Action Plan had included representatives from the Department, contractors BKS (Pty) Ltd, and the Community Resolution Committee (CRC), consisting of affected individuals and communities from 33 villages in the Vhembe district in Limpopo, municipality and traditional leaders. Other consultations had involved agricultural experts, the Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET), SANParks, Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and government departments. Substantial discussions were held on compensation for loss of land, property, natural resources and medicinal plats, graves and other issues. Communities, feeling dissatisfied, had approached the Public Protector and lodged complaints on issues that they claimed were unresolved, and the Public Protector held public hearings and facilitated meetings between the communities and the Joint Task Team. The DWS said that some of the allegations made by the CRC were unfounded, and the CRC later accused the Public Protector of bias. The CRC withdrew from the task team in December 2012 although the Public Protector held more public meetings to try to ascertain the reasons behind that decision.
Further correspondence ensued, to the previous Committee, this Committee and the former and current Ministers. A report was compiled by the Public Protector. DWS said that it had conducted a water safety awareness campaign, set up patrol boats, and that SAN Parks and LEDET were responsible for the control of animals. The DWS said that in regard to the compensation claimed, the reality was that there was not enough land available, as some of that was also subject to land claims. There was a dispute on the value of fruit farms, and the Agricultural Research Council had recommended that the current value of the citrus farms would not justify compensation of more than R10 000 per hectare. Money had been paid into three trust funds controlled by traditional leaders. More visits were needed to ascertain the extent of flooding of orchards and fields. It was noted that some fraudulent claims had been lodged. Certain issues fell outside the mandate of the DWS and complaints on these were re-directed elsewhere. Some houses had been repaired, but the DWS recommended strongly that communities must now take responsibility for their houses and crop maintenance. It was recommended that political intervention was needed, as well as partnerships with municipalities.
Members expressed their dissatisfaction with the presentation and did not think that it was worth while to listen to answers from questions raised. The Nkuzi Development Association had disputed some of the statements from the DWS, especially around ownership of land and the claims, on which the DWS could not give any more specific information. Members commented that the houses to which people were re-settled were sub-standard, and suggested that it would be an insult if all the land was administered by traditional leaders. Overall, the Committee suggested that the process had been flawed and wanted the DWS to go back and start new negotiations with all affected stakeholders, commenting that it was unfair for the DWS now to try to distance itself from meeting real needs. The DWS wanted to explain that many of the problems stemmed from the fact that original documentation on the project could not be found, including contracts with the communities, which raised the problem that the compensation may not have been fair. The Committee decided that an oversight visit would be warranted, probably coupled with public hearings in the area, after the DWS had given an indication of the timelines and information from the Public Protector, and reiterated that the DWS must return to negotiations with all affected stakeholders.
Nandoni Dam resettlement: Nkuzi Development Association concerns: Department of Water and Sanitation briefing
Ms Zandile Mathe, Deputy Director-General (National Water Research Institute) Department of Water and Sanitation, enlightened the Committee about the implementation of and principles underlying the project involving the construction of Nandoni Dam.
The construction of the dam started in 1998 and was completed in 2005. Consultations were held throughout the process of pre-construction and construction. The development and implementation of the Relocation Action Plan comprised representatives from the Department, BKS (Pty) Ltd, and the Community Resolution Committee (CRC), consisting of affected individuals and communities involving 33 villages in the Vhembe district in Limpopo, municipality and traditional leaders.
Other stakeholders consulted were agricultural experts, Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET), SANParks, Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and government departments. One of the underlying principles was that people should not be left worse-off than they were before the construction of the dam. Compensation revolved around loss of rights, land, natural resources, graves and medicinal plants, amongst other things. She stressed that all these activities happened pre-construction, and during the implementation phase.
Along the way, communities approached the Office of the Public Protector (OPP) and lodged complaints that certain issues remained unresolved during the implementation phase. The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS - as it is now known) and the OPP held public hearings with the communities and facilitated meetings between the affected communities and the Joint Task Team, which was appointed by former Minister responsible for water affairs, Edna Molewa.
From this process, it was discovered that the CRC made unfounded allegations that were not supported by any evidence. Members of the CRC claimed that the Department took unilateral decisions without consulting them. The CRC also accused the chairperson of the Office of the Public Protector of being biased against them and had rebuked them regarding their wishes and what was resolved.
On 4 December 2012, the CRC sent an e-mail to the OPP and DWS that it was withdrawing from the Joint Task Team, and it said that its complaints would be referred to Lawyers for Human Rights. In response to this, the OPP conducted two public hearings with the communities and traditional leaders to ascertain the decision for the withdrawal from the Joint Task Team. The community confirmed the withdrawal.
It came to the attention of the Committee that correspondence, dated 12 February 2013 and 5 September 2013, had been sent to former Minister Molewa. A letter by the Nkuzi Development Association was also sent to the Portfolio Committee and another was recently received by the present Minister. All the letters addressed the same issue.
The report of the Public Protector indicated what were the complaints, and the responses on these. In regard to the matter of control of safe access and security around the dam, a Water Safety Awareness Campaign was done and two patrol boats were acquired to move around the dam. LEDET and SANParks were given the responsibility of controlling wild animals like crocodiles and hippos coming into contact with humans. It was not feasible to build a wall around the dam as that would have been costly and would have denied communities access to the dam.
In regard to issues around compensation for loss of land and offering of alternative land as a form of compensation, the realities were that there was no other land readily available. The land that was previously identified was subject to land claims. However, to mitigate for loss of land, communities were compensated with bigger stands than they previously had held, and substantial amounts were paid into three trust funds, controlled by traditional leaders, to mitigate for loss of earnings from food production as well. When it came to the review of the rate of payment for fruit farmers for loss of land rights, consultation with the Agricultural Research Council for tropical and sub-tropical crops indicated that the commercial citrus farms had zero value, and were not suitable for commercial value. There was no justification found to pay compensation in any amounts greater than R10 000 per hectare.
In regard to the issues around Mulendane Orchards, Ms Mathe noted that another visit was needed to verify whether parts of fields were indeed affected by the dam and were now submerged under water. It was recommended that the DWS Regional Office should consult with the Provincial Department of Agriculture to ascertain the extent of this, and whether there had been unjust errors on the amounts calculated and paid.
Some of the issues raised in the report of the Public Protector were about payment of compensation made to people who claimed for the same piece of land through extended family members, but who did not inform rightful owners. It was found that one person claimed on behalf of her grand-mother, without her knowledge.
With regard to other matters like the proper management of Trust Funds, extension of playground by seven metres and construction of a bridge, the Department indicated that such issues fell outside of its mandate and affected complainants should report the matter to the relevant Ombudsman, local municipality and Department of Sport and Recreation, Department of Transport and relevant local municipality respectively.
On the issue of the repair of 29 houses identified to have cracks and roofs leaking, and concerns regarding medicinal plants, Ms Mathe indicated that 28 of the 29 houses had been repaired by the Department. The owner of the 29th house had refused to grant access to the contractors employed by the Department. Medicinal plants were replaced, but the communities did not look after them.
The Department recommended that a political intervention be sought, at the level of Minister and Mayors in the district and local municipalities, and communities should be encouraged to look after their properties well and do regular maintenance to their own houses. It was also recommended that the Department partners with the district municipality to ensure that the reticulation of water in the area was expedited. It was recommended that the Department should pay compensation in deserving and confirmed outstanding cases, where the complaints were genuine and had been substantiated. Finally, as a last resort, where disputes still continued, the matter should be referred to a competent court for jurisdiction and adjudication.
Members asked the Department not to answer most of the questions, at this session, expressing unhappiness about the presentation, and saying that questions would be a waste of the Committee's time at this stage.
The Chairperson wanted to know about the owner of the land that is under discussion.
Ms Mathe said it was tribal land and so individual people did not have any title deeds. This was originally state land given to Tribal Authorities for people to use.
Mr Vasco Mabunda, Project Officer, Nkuzi Development Association, told the Committee the land was owned by the people, in the sense that they held Permission to Occupy (PTO) rights.
The Chairperson enquired what had happened to the land claims.
Advocate Mpelegeng Lebeloane, Legal Services, Department of Water and Sanitation, indicated she was not involved at the beginning of the project., and she was unfortunately not able to give any information about the land claim.
Mr Mabunda stated that the land claim was not part of the present discussion, but this had to do with land owned by white farmers in the areas.
Mr T Mokondo (ANC) remarked that it was demeaning for the Department to build sub-standard houses that cracked, for the relocated families, when they had constructed solid homes for themselves before they were moved. He further stated it was insulting to learn that black communities did not have land of their own, but the Traditional Leaders were administering it on behalf of the people.
Mr L Basson (DA) seconded Mr Makondo and suggested that the Department should go back and re-start the negotiations with all affected stakeholders.
Ms T Baker (DA) commented that the issue of land was an emotive one. She indicated her concern that a proper development analysis was not done before the start of the project, in order to take into account the many community needs. It was unfair for the Department now to distance itself from some of these needs, because this was its own project.
Ms J Maluleke (ANC) suggested that an oversight visit be held, during which public hearing could be held, so that the Committee could get first hand information. The DWS and Nkuzi Development Association were presenting conflicting statements.
Ms Z Balindlela (DA) supported the idea of an oversight visit and indicated it would be important to also hear from the Ministry, since it was consulting from its side.
Mr D Mnguni (ANC) suggested that affected stakeholders should try use their common sense in resolving the problems, and rely less on quoting legalities, because sometimes these did complicate matters. He also asked the Department to review the issue of the Trust Funds. Further, he told Nkuzi Development Association to encourage communities to take proper care of and maintain their new houses.
Ms Maluleke indicated it was not worthwhile for the Committee to listen to the answers of the Department to questions raised. The Department should rather advise the Committee on the time frames, so that when the oversight visits started in January, the Committee would be fully prepared to tackle issues that needed to be considered.
The Chairperson proposed that the Committee should study the report of the Public Protector, the contracts the Department entered into with the villagers, and access information on all the Trust Funds the DWS had dealt with. He also reiterated the call by other Members that the Department should go back to the negotiation table speaking with all affected stakeholders.
Ms Mathe, in her closing remarks, elaborated that the major challenge the Department was facing was that documents containing all the information on the groundwork done and agreements entered into had gone missing. She pointed out that although the Department had driven to the Vhembe District many times, making attempts to solve the problem, it had ended up talking to different people in each different consultation. She suggested that what was needed for the Department to execute the work was the assistance from an inter-government or departmental structure.
The Chairperson noted that since the Committee did not have a quorum, the adoption of minutes would have to stand over.
The meeting was adjourned.