Water infrastructure for economic development

Khato Civils' projects have brought piped water to more than 50 villages in Giyani. Subcontractor Nkhensani Shabangu is growing into the industry. (Photo: Chester Makana)

Khato Civils' projects have brought piped water to more than 50 villages in Giyani. Subcontractor Nkhensani Shabangu is growing into the industry. (Photo: Chester Makana)

The water pipe network laid in Giyani by Khato Civils that distributes water to more than 50 villages and key areas has unlocked opportunities for emerging contractors and provided relief for the unemployed.

Christopher Sithole never planned to work in construction; he saw the sector as an employer of professionals. He was working as a security officer, guarding business assets far from his home — Hlomane village, in the Mopani district — when his brother died.

He was home mourning that the second pillar to the family was no more, and that he alone had to take over the responsibility of looking after his seven siblings on a tiny salary, until Khato Civil management recruited him to take his brother’s place.

“I thought it was not true; initially I refused, but they persuaded me, and I joined the company.”

He joined a group of 966 workers tasked with the responsibility of ensuring Giyani’s taps release water for thirsty villagers. The area has been battling with water issues for decades; only the rich and the middle class had access to this basic need.

The poor had to buy water, and pensioners were forced to spend part of their salaries buying water from those who had drilled boreholes in their yards. Once they had exhausted their money, they had to wait for an interrupted supply, as the local council was struggling with aging pipes and leakages.

President Jacob Zuma was not impressed and ordered funds to be channeled to address water and sanitation issues in the area. Since Zuma’s intervention water distribution been restored for essential services such as hospitals, through the replacement of old asbestos pipes, and purification plants were also set up.

Locals said there is hope, and now believe that there will soon be water in their taps. “We had lost hope — even in town we use to suffer without water, but there is change,” said Tiyani Ngobeni. His sentiment was shared by other villagers in the area, who see the new trenches and pipes as positive signs for the future.

Khato Civils operation manager Hein Smit said their mandate is to install bulk water pipes from Nsami dam to the purification plants. “When we arrived Nkhensani Hospital had no water at all, the hospital had to be supplied with water, and that was addressed. The hospital’s water has been restored, the water is clean and all plants are operating,” said Smit.

Following that, all existing boreholes had to be refurbished, because the dam was just 6% full and was unable to provide water. The demand for water, which increased during peak hours, repeatedly put pressure on the aging asbestos pipes.

Khato Civils has deployed two teams to manage leakages; their mandate is to ensure that burst pipes are replaced within two hours. They operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week fixing any leaks, said Smit.

“We have actually restored water to some villages that have not see water for 18 to 20 years, so there is a huge difference.”

Replacing Asbestos

Khato Civils is installing top-of-the-range PVC pipes made of UPVC and OPVC, which have a lifespan of more than 50 years.

“The bulk lines should be finished this year, but a project splits into facets; the next facet will be reticulation for tanks and reservoir in the villages.”

A 35-megalitre reservoir is scheduled to be constructed to ensure water supply is sustained for decades.

Smit said reducing leakages and repairing boreholes and other infrastructure will boost feeding water into the bulk supply. “We are not only fixing the leaks, but our response time is within hours, and this stops bulk loss.”

Several emerging companies saw an opportunity to link up with Khato Civils, a heavyweight construction company which has already made its mark in the sector. Nkhensani Gladys Shabangu, a retired banker, is one of 20 local subcontractors hired by Khato Civils.

Shabangu and the other subcontractors are level one — entry level subcontractors who require guidance in the industry.

Skills Transfer

Smit said Khato Civils is now teaching the subcontractors how to deliver the desired ISO accredited final products.

“We do skills transfer programs as an ongoing mentorship. Every project manager has taught their subcontractors business logistics and business finance. We try to uplift them so that they can carry on [on their own],” said Smit.

Shabangu believes that since she started with the project, that besides making profits, her company has benefited from a wealth of experience.She is rising in different sectors of engineering, and she aspires for bigger mandates. Her company is now building reservoirs and supplies valves for houses along the pipelines.

She said Khato Civils don’t compromise on quality: “They will push you to get what they want; for me it is the best teaching, and I am happy to be part of this project.”

Development projects

Khato Civils has approached the local municipality to forward officials who can learn skills in the sector for future maintenance and for guarding infrastructure. The company has been imparting technical and business skills since its inception, providing support for members of the society it is mandated to serve.

Sithole’s story is one small example of how a company should become part of society. According to Sithole, his family was on verge of doom when his brother died; Khato Civils’ insistence that he replace his brother has turned their lives around.

“We are serving the people of Africa, and we strive to deliver what people need; water is definitely a commodity people need,” said Smit. Besides Giyani, Khato Civils has delivered water to residents of Hammaskraal and its industrial sites.

“If you start providing water on a residential level, you will uplift residents; if you provide it on an industrial level, you create sustainable jobs, and offer people a future,” said Smit.

Mopani rivers sewage-free

Khato Civils and its partners that are restoring water in Limpopo’s Mopani district have contained wastewater spillage into the local rivers.

The company was tasked to lay pipes and refurbish the aging water and sanitation infrastructure in Giyani, laying underground pipes from Nsami Dam.

The pipes enter from Giyani township from the east through Manombe Nature Reserve, then wind through other villages, connecting to main and supporting sources.

The trenching operation and laying of pipes will cover several kilometres and be completed within three years.

Mopani has suffered from water shortage for decades; residents repeatedly complained about sewage spillage on the streets. Engineers are working day and night to end the sewage nightmare and deliver clean water. Khato Civils and South Zambezi Projects aim to restore the hope the villagers have lost.

Hein Smit said the company is analysing the types of soil deployed in bedding to ensure that pipes are not pressurised or weakened by avoidable elements. “We repeatedly took soil samples in the trenches and analysed them, because not all soil can be used in the backfill process to the standards we set,” he said.

“The upgrading of the sewer treatment plant in Giyani involved the installation of new technology [that delivers] 1.5 megalitres a day. When we arrived in Giyani the main feeder to the sewer pipe was cut and flowing directly to the river,” said Smit.

“We have fixed that and installed new technology. It was part of the emergency project that included [supplying water to] Nkhensani Hospital.”

The company is satisfied that river and stream water will be saved from contamination and bacteria that could trigger waterborne sickness. “It’s a huge success we have brought to people of Giyani, seeing people for the first time getting water.”

Hein said the major mandate — the laying of pipes — is 82% complete, bringing hope that taps in the area will flow early in 2018.