Phase One of the much-awaited Umzimvubu Water Project has resumed at Ntabelanga in Tsolo in the Eastern Cape. The project, which includes the construction of Ntabelanga, Laleni and Mbokazi dams is set to supply water to thousands of households in OR Tambo, Joe Gqabi and Alfred Nzo districts. This will improve water supply to rural areas of the province.

A project that has been in the pipeline since 1962 is now finally off the ground. This comes as a huge relief for rural communities that still fetch water from rivers. About 24% of households in the province use unclean water sources. Some residents like Nomzi Ngxiti have to travel long distances to fetch water from the river.

“The scarcity of water here is a huge problem. We are forced to go to the Tsitsa River which is a bit far. I am old now and I cannot go to the river, so I pay someone to fetch it for me. Others even buy it in town.”

The water project is set to create thousands of jobs. However, Bhanile Nomanqina is sceptical, citing empty promises as a cause for his scepticism.

“We don’t trust these people. We know that when it’s time for elections they make these promises. We hope that they will continue with the dam. We are really struggling here. As young people, we are not employed. Our only hope now is that we will get jobs during the construction of the dam.”

The Laleni Dam will be built along the Titsa River and will assist in hydroelectric power, household use and irrigation schemes. But farmers want the dams to be built simultaneously. Chairperson of OR Tambo Farmers Association, Bandile Gqwetha says this may hinder the process of construction.

“From what we heard from the designers and water engineers, the Ntabelanga and Laleni Dams are twins. We have hoped that the dams will be built at the same time; however, we are happy as farmers that the project has started because it will help us as we are facing water scarcity in the region.”

A number of households will have to be relocated to make way for the construction of the Ntabelanga Dam. Although traditional leaders are pleased about Phase One of the project, they want the construction of the Ntabelanga and Laleni Dams to commence at the same time.

“We were told that from our area about 65 households will be removed but they don’t give us a clear picture of what exactly will happen and residents want to know what they will get in return.”

“We are shocked that they are building the Ntabelanga Dam. We were never told. We want the two dams to be built at the same time. What they are doing at Ntabelanga, they must also do here in Laleni.”

Government has called on residents to be patient. Water and Sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau says more funds are needed.

“At the moment the idea is that two of the dams will be built, one at Ntabelanga and another at Laleni but it would be incorrect to create an impression that it will be possible to build both dams at the same time. Construction work doesn’t work that way, and also it’s important to emphasize that for as long as we in this process of looking for funding it depends on how much funding we are able to access in order to determine which work we can be able to do.”

Twenty jobs have been created in Phase One of the project.  This entails the construction of an access road to the site office at Siqhungqwini Village as well as the fixing of river crossings.