The country is in the grips of a serious water shortage catastrophe. In Limpopo the situation is already at dire levels and with the project to raise the Tzaneen Dam wall seemingly at a standstill, it doesn’t bode well for the next rainy season.
The dam is at less than 12% as you read this article.
The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) is still reeling from the large scale corruption which has left it crippled. This corruption was ushered in by the former minister Nomvula Mokonyane who caused the irregular expenditure to shoot up from R13 million when she took office in 2009, to R4 billion by the end of her tenure in 2017.
Thankfully she stepped out of politics shortly after the May elections this year. The DWS has also since merged with the Department of Human Settlements.
Added to this are allegations that the DWS still owe contractors in the region of R1.5 billion.
The funds for this and other payments will have to be garnered by innovative ulterior means as even their overdraft facility at the Reserve Bank (R2.5 billion) has been maxed.
The new minister, Lindiwe Sisulu now has to somehow recover this money while also trying to find a way to complete all the unfinished projects which have been left standing as a result of the corruption.
Enter Tzaneen’s dam wall. This project was viewed as the first phase of the R2 billion Great Letaba River Water Development Project, aimed at addressing the long-term water and sanitation needs of the area. It is expected to raise the Tzaneen Dam wall spillway by three metres, increasing its storage capacity by nearly 25% (203 million cubic litres).
The second phase of this project was to have been the construction of Nwamitwa dam in October 2017.
Lepelle Northern Water handled the first phase which was the demolition work to lower the wall before the second phase which is the construction segment to raise it by four metres. Blackhead Construction was appointed to handle the project.
Early in 2018 this phase of the project was completed and Blackhead stepped away.
Nothing further happened at the site and the wall, to this day, stands incomplete.
What was said in 2018
In December 2018 a meeting was called at the showgrounds in Tzaneen. At this meeting it was said that R20.6 million (according to Chief Engineer at the DID and project manager for the raising of the wall, Thabo Hloele) had already been paid to the contractor who did demolitions on the wall and that R209 million had been budgeted for the 2019/2020 fiscal year to complete the project.
He also said that a further R800 million was expected to be spent to complete this project which will now no longer be worked on by private contractors, but will be completed by the DWS Construction North Team. He stated firmly that the project would have commenced in March or April this year.
It is now three months past this new deadline and there is no new progress. Nobody was surprised by this and so when another meeting was scheduled for this week, only a handful of people attended.
What was said this week
The meeting at the showgrounds on Tuesday (the 16th of July) this week started off with the chief director of infrastructure development at the DWS, Steven Arumugam requesting all in attendance to “forget about the past meetings as this is a new start with a new team that will focus on the status of the Tzaneen Dam Wall project only.”
According to him the DWS Construction North team was appointed as the contractor for the project on the 20th of June. Tender processes will now be followed to appoint the sub-contractors and procurement procedures will have to be implemented as per National Treasury protocol. It is expected that the procurement processes will be finalised by December this year and that construction will officially start in January 2020.
The supply chain procedure dictates that any equipment or material needed that exceeds the cost of R500 000, has to be procured through a tender process. This, ironically, is to avoid tender irregularities.
The DWS claimed at the meeting that they have tried in vain to acquire an acceleration request from Treasury (which is special permission obtainable from Treasury to change the procurement limit from R500 000 to eg R3 million in order to avoid the tender process and speed up delivery).
“If all goes according to plan and there are no hiccups, we will kick-off in January next year. I have told my guys that this Tzaneen Dam Wall project is not a major complicated project and we can do this easily. I have worked on bigger dam construction projects and we will be able to be done in 18 months,” Arumugam claimed.
What else will happen now?
Well, the engineers and the councillors present claimed that they will establish a project management office which will house a scale model of the construction site and will be open to the public to visit and gain insights on the progress of the project. Apparently this will be an amazing place situated somewhere in the vicinity of the CBD. No date was provided for when this would happen.
It was also proclaimed that representatives of the DWS would conduct visits to the various areas of Tzaneen to explain the progress of the project to the residents. Furthermore, a steering committee will be elected from representatives from all the areas in and around Tzaneen who will act as representatives for their specific ward. This Project Steering Committee (PSC) will have regular meetings and provide feedback to their respective communities.
Jacques Kruger of the Letaba Water Users Association was elected into the PSC during the meeting on Tuesday. The next meeting is scheduled for the 24th of July (next week Wednesday) at the GTM Council Chambers for residents of Aqua Park, Tzangeni, Riverside and Golden Acres to elect their representative.
Is the dam safe at the moment?
“The spillway has been increased so actually, at the moment, the dam is safer than it has ever been in the past,” said Thabo Hloele, the chief engineer responsible for this project. “Should an unforeseen flood hit us, it will not affect the properties bordering the dam.”
Jacques Kruger of the Letaba Water Users Association also dismissed rumours of a broken sluice at the dam wall. According to him the water that is being released daily is a legal obligation as set aside by the National Water Act.
“Structurally this dam is extremely strong,” explained Arumugam. “In fact initially we were not going to use explosives for the demolition but it took us by surprise how well this dam was constructed and we could not use the jackhammers so we employed explosives. There is no danger of this wall collapsing.”
Let’s talk money
So far a total of R109 million has been spent on the project and it is estimated that the total cost will be R600 million. “Enough funds have been made available for the project and the securities and insurances are in place.”
This week the new budget for the DWS was delivered in parliament and it seems as though the next five years are going to be tight. In an effort to save the sinking DWS ship the overdraft on the main account has been increased from R199 million to R896 million while the overdraft on the trading account stands R1.2 billion.
The DWS still needs to settle more than R4 billion on accruals, overdrafts and unbudgeted commitments out of the current financial year which makes the decision to only start work on phase 2 of the Tzaneen project in January 2020, make sense.
About that license to build
But the engineers at the meeting insisted that there is enough money available for them to start the construction, they only need to obtain their license to construct. Yes, you heard that right. The DWS has applied for a license to expand and raise the spillway and wall. Confusingly, the DWS owns the asset (the Tzaneen dam).
The panel explained that the first phase of the project, the lowering of the wall through demolition, was a project on its own under the Lepelle Northern water board. All the necessary impact studies and research on rainfall patterns etcetera had been conducted over a ten year horizon. This information was then used as motivation during their application process for a license to demolish the wall.
“That phase is now done and the water board has stepped away. We have now handed in our own impact studies and observations as motivation and we now await the approval of our license to construct.”
Not surprisingly the meeting ended with the attendees feeling dumbstruck and hopeless. As Barry Williams, a local farmer expressed in his address to the panel, “you all sit here and tell me the same stories I have been hearing every year since the start of this project. Each year I come back here and the same stories are told but nothing happens.
What you do not understand is that, as a farmer, that dam is my bank and it is running empty. The orchards are shrinking and I have to leave this meeting and go and tell my workers that they need to be prepared for the possibility that they may have no jobs soon. I have to do that, not you. You will earn your salaries every month. I will be the farmer who takes bread of the plates of my people.”