When people are corrupt, other people die. This is not how politicians and companies like to talk. Instead, words such as “chowing” have evolved to make theft seem less damaging than it is. But when you steal money and inflate prices without delivering basic services, people die.
That areas of Giyani, in Limpopo, still don’t have water is a case in point. Last week, a child drowned in a trench that had allegedly been left open by the contractor, Khato Civils. This is after the company retrenched about 1 000 workers and stopped work, saying it hadn’t been paid.
In 2018, the auditor general reported huge price hikes in the Giyani Bulk Water Project, implemented by the Lepelle Northern Water Board, in a more general report on the woes of the department of water and sanitation.
Giyani was declared a disaster area a decade ago, after a drought left people struggling to survive. Prior corruption played a role there, and water pipelines burst shortly after being installed in 2007 because a contractor had stolen money and installed the wrong pipes.
More than R3-billion has since been spent in Giyani. The area has become a focal point of politicians, and both presidents Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa promised fixes in their State of the Nation addresses.
In November, the Special Investigating Unit issued a summons to Khato Civils and two other companies involved in the Giyani water project to return the R2.2-billion they had been paid by the state. The unit also filed papers asking the court to declare their contracts unlawful and invalid, thus rendering them null and void.
Giyani is drawing attention, but the case is not unique. About 20-million people don’t have regular clean water even though the government has spent enough money to ensure that 95% of the population have access to water. Those 20-million don’t have water because of theft and mismanagement.
When people don’t have clean water, or working basic services, they die. Children drown in shit in school toilets. Babies get diarrhoea from polluted water and die. And politicians, well, they just go on doing their best to live up to even the most fantastic caricatures of themselves.
When Ramaphosa launched the ANC’s campaign last week, he mentioned the people of Giyani, recalling that they are indeed still waiting for drinkable water. “I think of people in Giyani who are still waiting for water to flow through their taps; that we’ll do. This we’ll do as we grow the economy of our country,” he said.
The Giyani water project was meant to supply 55 villages with clean drinking water. In August last year, the project had a shortfall of R4.5-billion for completion, four years after the project was first launched by former minister Nomvula Mokonyane. And, while the ANC plays musical chairs with the likes of Mokonyane, shifting her to the department of communications, the gall of the president to even remark on Giyani when the government he was a part of failed those same people so dismally is remarkable.
Then, not to be outdone, the Democratic Alliance launched a billboard in Johannesburg this week, on which Mmusi Maimane reads out the names of victims who lost their lives in the Marikana massacre, the Life Esidimeni shambles and children who died after falling down pit toilets. The DA’s point about the ANC’s failings in government leading to catastrophe cannot be disputed, but the act of reducing people who have died, people with families, with their own histories, to marketing collateral for votes is breathtaking.
We must be clear, the DA often talks a lot of sense and they have done a great deal to hold government accountable. Former president Jacob Zuma, for example, would not be facing corruption charges again if it was not for the DA’s dogged determination to chase him through the courts.
But when we hear how the Guptas, Bosasa and who knows who else have carved out entire pieces of the state for themselves, then we have to ask questions about the efficacy of our opposition parties. How is it that so much that the DA says, which could be particularly useful to the South African people, is lost by the party’s inability to actually envisage a society beyond itself.
The DA is much like the Chinese woman who woke up the other day, quite unable to hear male voices — something about the pitch and tone. (Who would blame her anyway?) The DA, you see, appears to have a hearing impediment that restricts its listening ability to just its own voice.
And that leaves the rest of us, and a state that appears best poised to serve the ever-hungry snouts of elites such as the Guptas of Oakbay et al and the Watsons & Co of Bosasa.
While the elites make merry, real people go unheard, without water, electricity or a chance of a job.