As President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to deliver the State of the National Address (SONA) on Thursday, hundreds of villagers in the Eastern Cape will be eagerly waiting to hear his plans on the construction of the Mzimvubu Water Project.
The project includes three dams, Elaleni outside Qumbu, Ntabelanga and Mbokazi Dams near Lusikisiki. The multi-billion rand project became a bone of contention during the voter registration weekend, with residents of Elaleni Village outside Qumbu boycotting the registration process.
When Mzimvubu Water Project was launched by former President Jacob Zuma in April 2014, the hopes of communities at Joe Gqabi, Alfred Nzo and OR Tambo Districts were raised as they believed they stood to benefit from the project. They had hoped that the project will play a significant role in the fight against poverty.
Apart from creating job opportunities for locals, they said it would also improve water supply, electricity generation as well as irrigation schemes in their areas. However, after more than five years of waiting for the construction of the dam, the community of Elaleni claim Minister Nkwinti told them the dam will no longer be constructed in Elaleni.
The village is marred by poverty, and residents still use paraffin and gas stoves to cook as there’s no electricity. The road infrastructure in the area is also very poor. On voter registration weekend, the residents closed the entrance of Elaleni voting station, demanding answers about the relocation of the project.
Villagers Bhanile Nomanqina and Zameka Nombanda feel let down.
“We did not like the way Minister Nkwinti addressed us as residents. We heard that our dam is being moved, but we were never given reasons for that. We don’t even have electricity here. We still use candles in our homes,” Nomaqina explained.
“We were so happy when we were informed that R20 billion was set aside for the construction of Laleni and Ntabelanga dams. Our hopes were raised. Our children were hoping to be employed in the project. We are not going to register to vote until our dam is back,” says Nombanda.
However, Spokesperson for the Water and Sanitation department, Sputnik Ratau has refuted the residents’ claims saying that the project won’t be moved.
“The Laleni Dam obviously, it remains part of the project and people must understand that the project is a national project in the sense that the impact obviously is to the economy of the region in the first place. But ultimately, the economy of any region in the country has got an impact on the economy of the country as a whole.”
ANC NEC member Senzo Mchunu who was in the OR Tambo region on the voter registration weekend, promised to relay their concerns to the president.
“There’s now rumour that the dam may no longer be built here eLaleni; it may be taken to another place and they are requesting us humbly and with respect to take the matter up with the president. They want him to intervene and we have agreed that we are taking the matter to the president.”
Mchunu added that the Water and Sanitation Department would also be roped in.
“It’s a matter that is under the Department of Water and Sanitation, which will also mean that we’ll have to engage the relevant Minister Gugile Nkwinti on the matter and all the leadership of the Eastern Cape and of OR Tambo. There must be solution and there will be a solution that meets people once we have dealt with the matter accordingly but we also encourage the community to go and register.”
The Water and Sanitation Department says the construction of the Mzimvubu Water Project will resume in 2018 and take not less than five years to be completed.
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