Saving human lives is government’s priority

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Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane File picture: Phill Magakoe/ANA Pictures
Our democratic government has many success stories to be proud of and they include that more than 1.1 million households have received access to decent sanitation since 2014.

Also, more than four million houses have been built since 1994, more than 331000 delivered since 2014; and more than 17million beneficiaries are receiving social grants.

Sadly, our democracy also has its tragedies, notably the many people who died because of HIV/Aids when antiretroviral drugs were not made available in the early 2000s and the Marikana and Life Esidimeni deaths.

It is sad that the tragedies are well known, but not the many times the government has intervened and prevented loss of lives is forgotten.

One such incident is the emergency intervention in Giyani in response to the historic lack of water infrastructure in Limpopo’s Mopani District Municipality.

In 2009, concerns mounted about a rising number of incidences of water-borne diseases in the Mopani District in Giyani in particular.

A protracted legal battle ensued, with the high court in Johannesburg making adverse findings against the municipality for its handling of water projects.

The Supreme Court of Appeal also indicated displeasure about the municipality’s conduct by making a punitive costs order against it in 2014.

In August of the same year, a few weeks after taking office as the new minister of water and sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, became aware of the humanitarian crisis in the Mopani district.

Babies and the elderly were dying while cholera and other water-borne diseases were rampant.

And vital units at the Nkhensani Hospital in Giyani were closing down as a result of contaminated water and the inadequate supply.

The Supreme Court of Appeal, having taken into consideration Mopani District Municipality’s problems in resolving the water issues, gave an order authorising the Department of Water and Sanitation to take over the Nandoni to Giyani Pipe Project from the municipality.

At the time, I was employed elsewhere and I only found out about the developments in Mopani District through media reports.

Lepelle Northern Water, an entity of the Department of Water and Sanitation, was appointed as the implementing agent and it urgently provided the necessary resources to ensure the speedy implementation of water projects in Mopani.

In particular, Giyani Water Works was given a completion deadline for the end of September 2014.

Lepelle Northern Water successfully met the deadline.

The emergency intervention continues.

Unlike an emergency intervention by the police, which may take a day or two at most to resolve, an intervention in infrastructure projects can take many years to solve the problems.

The drought that ravaged South Africa since 2013 is another example of a natural disaster that saw our government intervening.

No lives were lost, despite it being the worst drought that had hit South Africa in more than 80 years.

When taps ran dry in 2014, South Africans wanted water from the government and the Department of Water and Sanitation responded by sending water tanks to hundreds of communities across the country.

The drought humanitarian relief included large water augmentation projects that saw water re-routed from Lesotho in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State.

The Giyani crises and the drought placed the problems of the historic disparities in infrastructure, inadequate and ageing water and sanitation infrastructure as well as the capacity of our municipalities under a magnifying glass.

Yet despite all these challenges, no lives were lost, because this government saw fit to ensure that emergency interventions were done in the interest of communities.

This week, I reported to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on irregular expenditure by the department.

Some of the irregular expenditure includes historic debt that dates back as far as 2009.

But most of it relates to interventions in the interest of saving lives, such as the emergency interventions in Mopani District in Giyani.

The media reporting painted a different picture for South Africans.

The picture was of maladministration and financial mismanagement, despite the fact that no public funds were stolen.

The media reports did not tell the stories of the many black entrepreneurs and black professionals who ensured access
to water services.

The reports certainly did not highlight that government is progressively realising the Constitutional right of access to water, despite migration and in-migration.

It did not report on the human tragedies that were prevented in many rural communities across South Africa.

Our government is not boastful about its achievements, often it
does not tell its stories of preventing humanitarian disasters and it certainly does not take enough credit for its tireless work in bringing equity, dignity and security back to our communities.

I therefore wish to remind South Africa that today, more than 3.7 million people living with HIV have access to life-long antiretroviral therapy.

I can also proudly report that of the 55 villages that were set to benefit from the Giyani Water Works Intervention all have consistent bulk supplies.

Another 13 villages are receiving erratic supplies of water.

Nkhensani Hospital’s six boreholes have been refurbished and are all working.

A 10 000 litre water tank was replaced and the internal pipe reticulation system of the hospital, leaking taps and toilets have been fixed.

Despite all the negativity that taints the image of our democratic government, I proudly stand in its service knowing that I work for a responsive government that intervenes in the interests of our people.

I work for a government that makes human lives a priority.

* Mkhize is acting director-general of the Department of Water and Sanitation.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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