Rustenburg Petition; Warrenton Petition; with Deputy Ministers

Water and Sanitation

05 September 2023
Chairperson: Mr M Mashego (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


Petition from Rustenburg Communities (not published due to POPIA)

Two petitions asking for government assistance to resolve water and sanitation challenges, were presented to the Committee in a virtual meeting.

Ms C Phillips (DA) presented a petition on behalf of the residents of Rustenburg, where reservoirs were not sufficiently filled and therefore could not supply certain areas with water. The lack of sufficient water supply to the residents was due to a combination of bad maintenance, insufficient or no tools and equipment, lack of staff, lack of expertise within the staff component, and an outdated manual system. This had resulted in insufficient water in the reservoirs and continuous breakdowns.

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) presented a petition on behalf of the Warrenton community, which had gone without water for months, and, in some places, for years. Incomplete infrastructure projects and a subsequent flood in the area had caused a lack of water supply to the area. Political favouritism and a lack of response to the community’s pleas had left them in dire straits.

The Committee agreed to refer both petitions to the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation and the Department of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs for their response. After this, a joint meeting with the departments and petitioners would be called. Both matters would be expedited, as it was a human right to have access to water.

Meeting report

The Chairperson informed the Committee that the oversight visit scheduled for 9 September would no longer take place, as per the direction of the Chairperson of Committees.

Ms R Mohlala (EFF) raised her concern regarding extra costs that would be incurred due to this postponement. The Chairperson said this question would have to be answered by the Chairperson of Committees.

An apology was received for Mr N Myburg (DA).

Rustenburg petition

Ms C Phillips (DA) asked the Committee to consider a petition from the residents of the northern and north-eastern suburbs of Rustenburg, calling on the Assembly to investigate a water-supply crisis in the area.

Mr David Mhlobo, Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, requested that the presentation on the matter be led by the Department's Director General, Dr Sean Phillips. However, Dr Phillips was not present in the meeting, and Ms Phillips was afforded an opportunity to present the petition.

Ms Phillips said the ordinary people were suffering due to the lack of water in Rustenburg. Fathers and mothers trying to make a living could not do basic things like washing clothes, cooking, and cleaning for their families.

She raised a serious concern about the state of the municipal administration, pointing out that there was no municipal manager, and that most of the directors in the municipality were acting in their positions.

Rustenburg had been one of the fastest-growing municipalities in 2015, but the water situation had never kept up. Today, it is one of the most dangerous municipalities in the country.

The most serious problems highlighted by Ms Phillips were the lack of treated water, the lack of spares and the manual operation of the water supply system.

She reiterated that it was not the lack of water that was the problem, but the lack of treated water available to fill the reservoirs that was the problem. The fact that no extra pumps were available, or even the necessary spares to fix pumps, was highly problematic and one of the key reasons why reservoirs ran out of water to supply residents. The inadequate maintenance had resulted in major leaks in the system, resulting in water losses that could not be afforded as the availability of water was already insufficient.

The lack of sufficient and properly trained staff that were currently operating a manual system, where pumps had to be switched on and off, added to the already dire water supply situation.

She requested the urgent intervention of Parliament to ensure that the water supply to the residents of Rustenburg was restored, as it impacted on the honour and dignity of residents.

She requested that the necessary training, staff and availability of equipment be addressed in the matter.

Mr L Basson (DA), as a resident of that area, confirmed the situation and the struggles with water supply in the Rustenburg municipality. He proposed that the petition, with all the detailed information, be sent to the Department, and that they be asked to come back with a detailed action plan.

Ms M Matuba (ANC) agreed with the proposal that the petition be sent to the Department for a response. She further requested that a timeframe be added for the response from the Department, and that it presented the Committee with a sustainable solution to the problem.

Mr S Moore (DA) indicated that as much as the situation in Rustenburg was concerning, it was not an isolated situation. One of the concerns in the case of Rustenburg was that three different entities managed the water supply. He added that Rustenburg was a critical city, and the problem had to be addressed urgently.

Ms Mohlala said that water was a broad issue and problematic in a number of municipalities. This problem started before 1994, when black people had water issues. She also questioned why the National Assembly had referred the matter to the Water and Sanitation Committee, when it should have been referred to a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta). She added she was of the opinion that the matter reached further into intergovernmental issues between local and district municipalities. Treasury should put reporting systems around grant spending in place. The current situation shows disrespect for the people.

The Chairperson asked that the matter be addressed as an issue affecting society, not by pointing fingers at specific political parties. It was not a problem of a shortage of water, but a supply problem. He agreed to arrange a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Cogta.

Ms Phillips confirmed that she would provide the Committee a copy of the presentation. She also indicated that one of the biggest issues was the lack of water in the reservoirs. She appreciated the suggestion that the PC on Cogta be added to the discussions, and was committed to working with all role players to resolve the problem.

Warrenton petition

Ms M Sukers (ACDP) asked for consideration of a petition from the residents of Warrenton, calling on the Assembly to investigate the water supply crisis in the town. She said that Warrenton was a proud community. The town was located on the banks of the Vaal River, with access to both the N12 and R18, and therefore geographically well placed for economic development. The impact of chronic service delivery failures, specifically water and sanitation, contributed to the snail's pace of development.

Poor political leadership had resulted in a breakdown of trust between residents and the municipality, and social unrest had resulted in legal action by the municipality and a despondent community. The municipality wanted their votes, but they did not care about the community.

Water and sanitation have been a historic problem since 2018. Some areas had been without water for years, and sewage ran down the streets. A water treatment upgrade project initiated in 2018, with a completion date set for June 2021 and a funding allocation of R90 million, was still incomplete and at a standstill. The estimated cost to date was approximately R94 million, according to the contractor on site.

A bulk water supply pipeline, with a budget of R18 million and also with a completion date of 2021, was still incomplete. The new internal water reticulation project, valued at R22.8 million, was also still under construction.

Due to the February floods, challenges were exacerbated due to the incompletion of projects and poor operational infrastructure maintenance. Communities were without water for seven months, with water restored only during the last week of August, while significant leakages and interruptions were still ongoing.

Ms Sukers informed the Committee that due to the inconsistent supply of water owing to breakdowns, water tankers to the value of R1 980 500 were allocated to the area. However, political favouritism was evident in the supply, and the poor and most vulnerable had been forced to use water from the river. Community members were also forced to buy water per litre.

Emergency interim restoration of the pipeline after the floods was set for completion in May, but this had been delayed, with no explanation to the community.

Concerns raised by the community included the lack of transparency in procurement and contract management, the lack of implementation of audit plans and corrective measures, and the incomplete projects that impeded service delivery to the communities of Magareng.

A lack of technical capacity and expertise also resulted in poor operational maintenance. The community was also of the view that the infrastructure was past the design lifespan, which could have contributed to the flood damage to the water supply.

Ms Sukers indicated that the community had raised the following questions:

  • What had happened to the funding of the water treatment plant upgrade, and when would it be completed?
  • What happened to the pipeline funding to connect Ikutseng households to the water supply?
  • What was the full breakdown of cost for the emergency water distribution over the seven-month period, including the interim pipeline project to restore the water supply?
  • What had been the cause of the delay in completing work on the interim and permanent pipelines to restore the water supply – how many contractors had worked on the project?
  • Could there be oversight by both the Departments of Water and Sanitation and Cogta, with a visit to the municipality to improve accountability?

Mr G Hendricks (Al Jama-ah) agreed with the plight of the residents, and said that the national government should take full responsibility for the situation, as nearly every municipality in the country was failing its residents.

Mr Moore requested that a copy of the petition could be forwarded to Committee Members to ensure that they were aware of the details of the petition. He commented that there seemed to be a common theme in petitions to the Committee that blurred the line between the Department of Water and Sanitation and Cogta. He requested that Cogta be included in discussions from the start, and not only from time to time.

Ms Mohlala said she had done site visits to these areas and had contacted both the Director General and the Municipal Manager. She was shocked to have received a letter from the Municipal Manager informing her that there was no water crisis in the municipality.

She supported the previous speaker, and appealed to the National Assembly table to refer petitions to the correct committee, as this matter should have been referred to a joint committee. Warrenton was a town in crisis, and not referring the matter to the correct committee was wasting time.

Ms Matuba proposed that proper procedures be followed, and that the petition be referred to the department for a response with clear timeframes.

She also indicated that the Committee needed urgent follow-up meetings on the status of water and sanitation in the country. She agreed that a joint meeting should be held to determine and facilitate a process to fast track the resolution to this crisis, together with a skills check.

Ms G Tseke (ANC) said that this must be treated as a matter of urgency, as numerous challenges formed part of this situation. She asked that it not be politicised, as it was a human rights matter. She urged that both the Departments of Water and Sanitation and Cogta should respond.

The Chairperson said that the matter could not be declared a crisis. People close to the communities needed to manage and be part of the discussion and decision-making. The Committee must also look at municipal accountability.

He said the petition would be referred to the Departments of Water and Sanitation and Cogta for a response within 14 days. He urged the Department to respond to the specific questions posed by the community. The Committee would also arrange an oversight visit to the area.

Ms Mohlala requested that the oversight visit to the Northern Cape be fast-tracked.

Ms Sukers thanked the Committee on behalf of the community, and reiterated her request for a forensic audit as outlined in her presentation.

Committee minutes

The minutes of the meeting held on 13 June were adopted.

The minutes of the meeting held on 29 August were adopted, with the correction of the spelling of Ms Matuba’s name.

The meeting was adjourned.

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