The Amathole District Municipality Executive Mayor has moved to allay the community’s fears that service delivery will be compromised due to the looming non-payment of workers.
Mayor Khanyile Maneli says the municipality has entered into an agreement with the Amatola Water Board to ensure that there is no disruption in services in areas the municipality is servicing.
He says the workers’ strike that was suspended recently has cost the municipality R19 million.
“This was for additional capacity in an effort to ensure continuity in terms of rendering services to our communities, whilst some was directed to the deliberate infrastructure sabotage that was on the rise during the strike,” he says.
Maneli says they are continuing lobbying for intervention from both the provincial and national governments.
Talks between the municipality and labour are also in progress.
On Friday, the municipality raised the ire of workers’ union, Samwu, after announcing that it won’t be paying workers workers for February, April, May and June due to financial constraints.
The municipality cites an inflated organogram, low revenue collection and a R50 million debt to the Department of Water and Sanitation as some of the reasons for this dire financial situation.
However, Samwu believes that the municipality’s problems are not necessarily financial but systematic.
“In essence, the municipal management is conceding to the fact that they have failed to govern the District. They have no financial systems and plans in place to ensure the financial sustainability of the institution. Furthermore, they have no interest in service delivery to the residents.
Samwu therefore calls on the Eastern Cape Provincial government to immediately place the Amathole District Municipality under administration in terms of Section 139 (1) (b) of the country’s constitution. We further demand that the Municipal Manager be recused of his duties as he has shown that he cannot competently run the institution,” the union says.
The union also demands that the Provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) institute a forensic audit of the municipal accounts from 2014.
“We are convinced that the financial irregularities which will be uncovered are the root cause of the situation which the municipality finds itself in today,” says the union.
Samwu is threatening mass action to push for the axing of the municipal manager, Thandekile Mnyimba, and the municipality placed under administration.
The municipality also faces a legal action from coalition of community activists and civil society organisations, who have given it until Friday to give them emergency and long-term water provision plans for communities of ward 28 in Centane.
The Amathole District Municipality says it will meet the January 15 deadline for it to present a water supply plan for communities of ward 28 in Centane, in the Eastern Cape.
On December 9, a coalition of community activists and civil society organisations working in the province wrote a final letter of demand to the Amathole and Mnquma municipalities as well as the Amatola Water Board demanding emergency and long-term water provision plans.
The group includes Coastal Links’ Harvey Ntsoko, the Masifundisane Trust, Afesis Corplan and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).
It has threatened to take the municipalities and the water board to court should they fail to present an emergency and long-term plan for the Centane residents, whom they say are still unable to access water – more than nine months a national state of disaster was declared due the COVID-19 outbreak.
The activists say while there are acute water access problems in communities across the country, the situation in parts of the Eastern Cape has reached crisis proportions.
“In the area of Centane in the Eastern Cape, the situation has been worsened by an ongoing drought, with the sick and the elderly bearing the brunt of a water, health and environmental crisis, all exacerbated by a breakdown in local governance. Moreover, the province is now in the grips of a second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they say.
While acknowledging the problems, the Amathole District Municipality Spokesperson, Nonceba Madikizela-Vuso says they are doing their best to mitigate the situation.
“Our immediate intervention is water carting. We are continuing with borehole exploration in the area as part of short term interventions,” she says.
“It is noteworthy to indicate that the area is part of our calytic projects on sustainable water solutions as long term solution. In this regard, we are investigating alternative water sources, including sea water desalination,” Madikizela-Vuso adds.
The municipality says it hopes the implementation of its Vision 2058 strategic document will address some of the challenges the province has had to contend with over the years in its bid to provide water to its rural communities. These include the delay of water deliveries to communities that rely on portable water due to frequent truck breakdowns, which the municipality attributes to bad terrain.
While some South Africans are spending a lot more time in pools and open waters this festive season, access to water remains a struggle for residents of Amathole District Municipality.
Some areas in the district have been without water for months now.
The municipality says while efforts to fully restore water supply are underway – it will take time for the system to recover.
The municipality is partly blaming an illegal workers’ strike for the water problem.
“ADM is currently fixing all the vandalised infrastructure which also plays a huge role in intermittent water supply. We unreservedly apologies to our communities for this unfortunate incident which has compromised their constitutional right of access to basic services. With the same breath ADM would like to thank all our communities for their patience during the disruption of services,” it says.
On Monday, the municipality also issued a statement, urging communities to boil their water before consumption. It attributed this to pipe bursts, which the municipality said were caused by the alleged water infrastructure sabotage.
In October, the Amathole also grounded water tankers for security reasons in various drought-stricken communities around Butterworth.
While acknowledging the authorities’ assertions that vandalism has played a role in communities not having water, a Centane community activist who was arrested during the hard lockdown for holding a public meeting over the water challenges, Harvey Ntshoko, has said they had the crisis even before the sabotage of infrastructure.
Some activists, including Ntshoko, and civil society organisations in Eastern Cape have threatened to take the Amathole District Municipality, the Amatola Water Board and the Mnquma Local Municipality to court in January should they fail to present a detailed plan for emergency water provision to communities in ward 28 in Centane.
While all the implicated parties have missed the initial December 15 deadline, the Centre for Environmental Rights’ Leanne Govindsamy says they will decide on a way forward after a second deadline expires on January 15.
The water problems in the Eastern Cape persist amid the provincial government’s battle to slow down the resurgence of COVID-19 infections.
While there has been a decline in the number of cases in hotspots like the Nelson Mandela Bay and the Sarah Baartman districts, a more than 20% spike in cases has been reported in at least four districts, including Alfred Nzo and OR Tambo.
One of the ways to curb the spread of the pandemic is regular washing of hands with soap and/or sanitising. However, buying sanitisers is a luxury for most of the Amathole District community members, who mostly live in abject poverty.
According to Stats SA, the Eastern Cape remains one of the provinces with the highest adult headcount of adult poverty of 67.3%.