Infrastructure needs urgent attention

THERE was relief around Nemato this week when residents found they could turn on their taps again and water came out.

But the pressure is very low, according to some residents. Still, water at a trickle is better than none at all.

The municipality did not, however, leave residents to die of thirst, but carted in water in tankers and filled rainwater tanks in central locations from which residents could fetch water in buckets and bottles.

It was obviously a major inconvenience to haul water like this, and it was only enough for drinking and a little washing up per household, but at least people had water.

The water crisis was more serious than originally believed, as some parts of Nemato have had irregular water supply for a month – either no water at all, or for a few hours at night.

One of the most damning admissions to come out of this is that of Ndlambe infrastructural development director Xolani Masiza, who said in the seven years he had worked for the municipality, “I have never seen any attempt made to replace pipes or rebuild the infrastructure”.

It is flabbergasting that this admission comes from the very director in charge of such infrastructure, and therefore the one who should plan and budget for necessary upgrades.

It is as though he has been standing on the side as an observer rather than a key member of the municipality responsible for critical decision-making!

Ironically, when Masiza made this statement, it was in the context of his assertion that the water crisis was not due to a lack of maintenance (as some might have suspected), but rather an “ageing infrastructure”, as though that somehow absolved him and the municipality.

It was the infrastructure’s fault for not lasting longer, is what our highly-paid director seems to be saying. He is not alone in his thinking. Around South Africa, municipalities have let the infrastructure rot, applying band aids to gaping wounds. This is true of water, sewerage and roads.

The pattern has been to let service delivery get so bad and neglect decaying infrastructure to the point or crisis, and only then respond, with much hand-wringing about having no budget to deal with the problems.

This was the way Ndlambe dealt with the sewerage issue. After years of sewage spills in town and ongoing pollution of the Kowie River, the Port Alfred sewage treatment ponds had to become virtually non-functional before the municipality did anything.

At the same time the treatment works was collapsing, the municipality connected hundreds more homes to waterborne sewerage, exacerbating the problem. We have reported before in this newspaper how four years ago the ANC caucus, led by former mayor Vukile Balura, diverted a crucial R3-million grant from Cacadu intended for upgrading the sewerage works and spent it on residential sewerage connections instead.

This may have served the ANC’s political purposes, as it was seen to be providing a service, but it did more damage to the oversubscribed system and ultimately the long-delayed upgrade to the sewerage works is going to cost a lot more.

Last year the municipality announced it was going to receive a R23-million grant for this purpose. We hope it is enough, and that it is used well.

We are going to need more grant money to fix our water infrastructure, and it will also cost a lot more now than it would have done years ago, when a man in Masiza’s position should have had the strategic foresight to know the ageing infrastructure would need to be replaced – before a crisis took place.

But no, thanks to our political masters, we are stuck in the cycle of lurching from one crisis to the next.

– Jon Houzet

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