R200m water plant opened in Nkandla

The plant is part of a wider scheme to take water from the uThukela River to the Mhlathuze River. (Gallo)

The plant is part of a wider scheme to take water from the uThukela River to the Mhlathuze River. (Gallo)

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which runs the Nkandla local municipality, has criticised the opening of a new water treatment works 2km from President Jacob Zuma's mansion in KwaZulu-Natal.

The party said the project was "the latest instance of abuse of state resources by the ANC-led government". The plant would serve the ward where the R246-million home is located, while "tens of thousands of people in other Nkandla wards are without a reliable supply of clean water".

The upgrades were planned after the president took office in 2009, the party – which is the official opposition in the province – said. "The ANC's abuse of state resources should not be tolerated any further. The very notion of our democracy is at stake when our government is allowed to freely pillage the public purse with impunity."

The first phase of the R200-million plant was opened on Tuesday by Edna Molewa, the minister of water affairs, and several local government ministers and the Kwazulu-Natal premier. Molewa said the Middeldrift Water Treatment Works had been built to overcome a water backlog of 81% – this was when the district municipality was formed in 2001. She noted that this had happened in an IFP municipality; "It is therefore opportune for us to demonstrate that we are capable of working across the political divide in the interests of our people."

The plant is part of a wider scheme to take water from the uThukela River to the Mhlathuze River. In her speech Molewa said R3.8-billion was needed to eradicate the water backlog in the district. When the plant is finished – the capacity will be doubled in the future to 20 megalitres a day – it will serve 131 000 people around Nkandla, she said.

Taps
When Mail & Guardian visited the area in March, householders were quick to show the working taps in their yards. Each one had flowing water, despite the distances between houses and the hilly and rocky ground. The water department's statistics show that nationally 28% of South Africans have water in their yards, while 43% have it in their homes and 15% have to use a communal tap. But this is access, which does not mean the water flows.

In previous responses to M&G, the department said 10% of water systems "are at present totally dysfunctional". Most of these are in rural areas – which it says are the hardest to serve because of distances and the terrain. Of the remaining houses, 24% have regular interruptions. This means 18-million people out of a population of 51-million do not have water flowing out of their taps.

In a reply to a parliamentary question, the water minister said the Nkandla local municipality had a water supply backlog of 32% of households. Of the 25 700 households, 8 000 did not have access to water.

The Nkandla wastewater treatment works failed to get a Green Drop because it did not submit any information to the water department. The Green Drop is an annual report that sees how well the works are running, and how often the water they release is safe.

 
Sipho Kings

Sipho Kings

Sipho Kings is the person the Mail & Guardian sends to places when people’s environment is collapsing. This leads him from mine dumps to sewage flowing down streets – a hazardous task for his trusty pair of work shoes. Having followed his development-minded parents around Southern Africa his first port of call for reporting on the environment is people on the ground. When things go wrong – when harvests collapse and water dries up – they have limited resources to adapt, which people can never let politicians forget. For the rest of the time he tries to avoid the boggling extremes of corporations and environmental organisations, and rather looks for that fabled 'truth' thing. For Christmas he wants a global agreement where humanity accepts that sustainable development is the way forward. And maybe for all the vested interest to stop being so extreme. And world peace. And a sturdier pair of shoes. Read more from Sipho Kings

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