By Tebatso Mabilisa

This was one the general statements permanent delegates of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) heard today as part of the Provincial Week in the Free State province. The theme for the week is “Assessing state capacity to respond to the needs of communities.” 

In the Free State, the focus is on the provision of water and sanitation infrastructure, the state of water and sanitation projects including water reticulation sites and special economic zones. The NCOP is assessing the state of services delivery to residents in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, Kopanong and Masilonyana Local Municipalities and Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

Mr Itumeleng Ntsube, Provincial Whip and leader of the delegation, said during his opening remarks that, “We host NCOP Provincial Week in a very important month in our calendar where we observe and commemorate Human Rights.” He encouraged all “to defend Human Rights whenever and wherever they are violated. “

Ms Ntombizanele Bulem, Speaker of the Free State Legislature, also echoed Mr Ntsube’s words that “The NCOP ensures people’s rights are protected and are entitled to receive services meant for them as enshrined in the constitution.” She stressed that clean water must be available for all citizens irrespective of who they are or where they live.

According to Mr Mxolisi Dukwana, Member of Executive Council (MEC) for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) municipalities in the Free State faced many problems including old and leaking asbestos pipes that needed urgent replacement as these also caused ground to become “very unstable.”  

Provincial Director of Operations at the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), spoke about the challenges of water provision by municipalities and the eradication of the bucket system. She also raised the alarm of not filling vacancies within municipalities which she claimed would lead to further disruptions to water supplies. She insisted that filling vacancies and improving capacity leaders through training would lead to improved municipal oversight and financial management.

The two provincial water boards, namely Bloemwater and Sedibeng Water, both spoke about how the old pipes often lead to water leaks and unplanned maintenance. They further informed the NCOP that they are owed billions in revenue by the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, Kopanong and Masilonyana Local Municipalities.

During the question and answer session, NCOP permanent delegates Mr Michiel De Bruyn, Ms. Lydia Moji Mashodi and Mr Itumeleng Ntsube, raised serious concerns regarding the shocking state of infrastructure in Dewetsdorp, water being mixed with diesel in the Mafube region and the tendency of having too many acting municipal managers.

In responding to the questions raised both municipal and provincial representatives answered that there were plans to fix the infrastructure in Dewetsdorp within this financial year, that no diesel was found in the water, and that the vacancy rate would be addressed in order to address the various service delivery challenges.

The Mangaung Metro’s Executive Mayor, Mr Mxolisi Siyonzana said they “had serious water problems aggravated by bursting pipes.” Adding that “this all happened during water month.”

Other problems raised were the blocked water pipes and the need for waste dumping site in the Kopanong Local Municipality. Asbestos pipes also needed replacing while a water purification project will be initiated.

Kopanong Municipality Mayor, Mr Xolile Tseletsele, exposed the depth of the crisis his municipality was in. He confirmed that the wage bill had doubled to R14m from R6m, that the municipality faced total collapse and that it was unable to pay water boards and other services. “Our communities do not have access to water and had to use wheelbarrows to fetch water,” he added. 

The Botshabelo Special Economic Zone comprises of tenants in the textile, poultry and plastic industries. Dr Thabo Lebelo, the Chief Executive Officer of the Free State Development Corporation (FDC), informed that NCOP delegates that 8000 jobs will be created while only 5500 people are currently employed.

Mr Ntsube thanked all stakeholders and noted that they now had a clearer picture of what was happening in the municipalities. “The mayor of Kopanong Municipality has referred to the situation as a mess” he said.