President Jacob Zuma’s dream of bringing water to the drought-affected Limpopo is likely to remain a dream.
Three service providers, contracted to the multibillion-rand Giyani water project, ditched the project following a protracted payment tussle with Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.
In August last year, Vharanani Properties, owned by construction mogul David Mabilu, abandoned the emergency water project after the department could not pay the company R80 million.
Vharanani Properties was contracted by the Lepelle Northern Water, an agent for the national department of water and sanitation, to install a pipeline that would draw water from Nandoni Dam to the arid town of Giyani.
Three weeks ago, another company contracted to the project, South Zambezi, also abandoned the R2.7 billion project after Lepelle failed to pay the company a service fee of R40 million.
South Zambezi was contracted to supervise the Giyani project. The company is run and owned by Midrand businessperson Simbi Phiri.
Khato Civils, also owned by Phiri and the company responsible for construction in Giyani, also downed tools two weeks ago amid similar financial squabbles.
“Yes, we have moved out of the construction site, because our constant pleas for payment always fell on deaf ears,” said Mabilu.
“We took the department and Lepelle Northern Water to court in June, after they dismally failed to pay us. The court ruled in our favour and forced the department to pay us. But three months later, we are still waiting,” the owner of Vharanani Properties said.
“In July, the department paid us R51 million and promised to settle the remainder before the end of July. After failing to pay us, we then decided to move our plant out of the construction site.”
A visit by The Citizen to Giyani confirmed that South Zambezi and Khato Civils were no longer on site. And residents in Dzumeri, Mphagane, Homu, Ngovhe and Muyexe still queue in their hundreds to fetch water from a communal tap.
“We have taken a decision to down tools until the department honours its payment. Khato Civils could not do anything when there is an inadequate supply of the engineering and project management personnel on site,” said the company’s chief executive Mongezi Mnyani.
South Zambezi director of projects Makoko Makgonye said the company abandoned the project, because the department failed to pay them R40 million.
The project was launched by Zuma in 2014, and was initially valued at R502 million – but this figure ballooned to R2.7 billion as contracts were given to various companies.
In April, the Democratic Alliance told the portfolio committee on water and sanitation that most of the department’s water projects would stall because the department owed water boards countrywide more than R48 billion.
This week, Lepelle Northern Water confirmed there was still a payment backlog to Vharanani Properties, saying the matter was receiving attention.
Water and sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said the department was aware of the problems involving water supply projects in Nandoni and Giyani.
Ratau said the plight of South Zambezi was receiving attention from the department and Lepelle Northern Water.
“We will, however, not dwell on payment and other contractual matters between Lepelle and its clients,” he said. – firstname.lastname@example.org