Africa: The Uthukela District Municipality residents have had low to no water supply since the beginning of the year. Further to this, the situation has been compounded by recent floods coupled with ageing infrastructure and also vandalism of infrastructure. This has prompted the leadership of the Uthukela District, led by Mayor Inkosi NB Shabalala, to summon a media briefing which was held at the main office in Murchison Street in Ladysmith.
In attendance were Speaker Cllr TY Nqubuka, Chairperson: Corporate Services Cllr F Zuma, Cllr L Qwabe, Chairperson: Water, Sanitation & Technical Services Cllr M Khoza, Municipal Manager Mr MB Mnguni, GM: Corporate S Mnguni, GM: Water Mr N Khuzwayo, Mr M Sibeko, Mr S Rambrose and Mrs S Hadebe.
According to the Mayor, in thirteen months since taking over the office as new leadership, they have inherited a municipality that has a backlog as far as the volume of water and sanitation is concerned.
This is characterized by the ageing infrastructure and its capacity that cannot cope with current and future demands. The Mayor attributed the water shortages in the district to power outages at some of the municipality’s reservoirs and ageing infrastructure, among other challenges.
Another thing is the municipal fleet which is very old, almost over ten years. The municipality that they are leading is operating under an unfunded budget, which makes it difficult to effectively provide sustainable services.
He went on to say the municipality owes creditors over R700 million, which includes over R51 million of litigation as well as court judgements. The Mayor also mentioned the combination of sabotage by disgruntled employees who were unduly benefitting from the overtime and standby allowances.
“We are also a municipality which is overwhelmed by maladministration, fraud and corruption, which had led to council commissioning forensic investigation which amongst other expenditures when the municipality was incurring more R 5 million monthly for fuel, oil, repairs and maintenance of our fleet’, said Mayor Shabalala.
He said the new administration noticed that within the municipality, there was a lot of maladministration and fraudulent activities going on, and they have subjected all of these to a forensic investigation which is currently underway. The Mayor also mentioned that they have noticed that there were projects implemented by the municipality which did not cater for the sod to turn, which is a proper kind of approach needed. Most of the projects were like white elephants as they did not produce any water.
“We were also affected by load shedding that is ravaging the entire country as it has a negative impact on supplying water sustainably to our communities. It also has a destructing effect on our water infrastructure such that in every turn when electricity supply is restored, it results in pipe bursts and also damages our pumps in the process”, explained the Mayor.
He also mentioned that the municipality is under an administration which makes it difficult for the senior management to apply consequence management against the alleged misbehaving employees, as they normally do as they wish.
Mayor Shabalala then outlined numerous projects that are currently underway where local people are getting temporary employment during the construction phase. He also mentioned a number of projects that are still in the pipeline, which it is envisaged that people will benefit a lot from.
Responding to some questions, the Municipal Manager, Mr Mnguni, also mentioned that UThukela District is grant-dependent, as our revenue collection leaves a lot to be desired. Consequently, therefore whatever activity the municipality does, is dependent mostly on grants.
“We cognizance of cost containment measures; hence this session has no financial bearing thus far. We are in this serious quandary in relation to budget issues. On the issue of vandalism, we may sound rhetoric, but it is a true reflection of what is happening on the ground”, Mr Mnguni elaborated.
He went on to say that if we were requested to provide some sort of evidence to corroborate our assertion in the form of pictures, we could actually be able to do so. He said a case in question that he could give reference to is one plant, the Winterton Water Treatment Works, which could have easily become state-of-the-art, but it has never because immediately after those pumps were installed, just before they were commissioned, they were stolen.
“There are buildings that were vandalized; we have records, we have picture proof. No, so long ago, we experienced a similar kind of pattern of behaviour where our plants were targeted for whatever good reason, I don’t know. But that is one of the issues that are putting us on a back foot”, he said.
On the issue of load shedding, Mr Mnguni said with the shoe-string budget that Uthukela District has, no matter how creative we would want to be but we won’t succeed on that. He said this is a transversal phenomenon which affects everyone. Some industries have completely collapsed due to persistent load shedding.
Mr Mnguni told the briefing that they have even engaged with service providers to see if it was feasible to install solar panels at the plants in the quest to circumvent the impact of load shedding. But the issue of safety is a concern as we cannot be able to hire security guards due to budget constraints.