Water dept under fire as Gift of the Givers withdraws from drought-hit Makhanda

Makhanda is suffering in a drought. Jojo tanks are dotted all around the townships and suburbs; people are trying to catch water. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Makhanda is suffering in a drought. Jojo tanks are dotted all around the townships and suburbs; people are trying to catch water. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

After providing assistance of R15-million over four months to drought-stricken Makana municipality in the Eastern Cape, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of non-governmental organisation Gift of the Givers Foundation has announced that the organisation will be withdrawing its trucks from the area.

“Our hearts are with the people of Makhanda, the elderly, the women and children and everyone who waited so patiently for water, but as a matter of principle, we cannot continue,” Sooliman said in a statement.

Makhanda — formerly known as Grahamstown — is the largest town in the Makana local municipality, and is the seat of the municipal council.

Sooliman’s announcement comes after he revealed that the department of water and sanitation (DWS) advised that Gift of the Givers would not receive remuneration for its work providing drought relief since February 12, as only companies from Grahamstown can be paid for the drought intervention.

READ MORE: Makhanda’s thirst caused by inept officials and misrule

“The best part of all is that they’re going to give R7-million to a company for boreholes that we drilled,” Sooliman told Eusebius McKaiser on Radio 702 on Thursday morning, adding that the fact that it took the department thirteen weeks to respond to this crisis “shows a lack of concern.”

In his statement, Sooliman said that the aid organisation had brought in a specialist hydrologist, Dr Gideon Groenewald, to site and successfully drill 15 boreholes in an area where the geology is very difficult and finding water a big challenge.They also tested the water — at a huge cost — brought in special filtration systems that they designed, delivered bottled water, and water by truck, and did everything possible to assist the community “as that was the priority.”

Makhanda municipal manager Moppo Mene told McKaiser that Gift of the Givers’ withdrawal is an “unfortunate situation.”

READ MORE: The other water crisis: Eastern Cape is in serious danger

According to Mene, the department had allocated the municipality R12-million for “issues of underground water study,” and R1.3-million of that money was paid to a Port Elizabeth-based consultancy which studied the underground waters in the area.

Mene declined to answer whether the NGO would be given anything from the R10.7-million, calling McKaiser “unfair” when he probed. He said that the municipality was engaging with the chief financial officer of Gift of the Givers.

The municipality also issued a statement on Thursday, expressing that “some elements of [Gift of the Givers] communication need correction.”

“DWS has informed us, and we agree, that in terms of the relevant legislation and standard government processes, proper regulations must be followed in considering any funding to Gift of the Givers. We need to follow these processes so that we do not flout supply chain regulations and give rise to audit queries,” their statement said.

“We will continue to engage with Gift of the Givers to find a path through the current impasse. Meetings have been held with them this week, and it is our hope that they will continue to be held in good faith while we find a solution within the rules and guidelines of national treasury.”

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Sooliman told McKaiser that since the announcement, he has received many calls of support. He added that representatives from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office had informed him that a special task team has been assembled to deal with the matter as soon as possible.

Aaisha Dadi Patel

Aaisha Dadi Patel

Aaisha Dadi Patel cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in 2014, and now works in a freelance capacity. She's written about everything from politics to polar bears, with particular interests in gender and Islam. She holds an MA in Media Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand. Read more from Aaisha Dadi Patel

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