JOHANNESBURG, South Africa-Former president Jacob Zuma’s R3-billion project to fix leaking taps and pipes, especially in the townships, is facing collapse.
Thousands of youths recruited for War on Leaks, a state project intended to produce 15000 artisans to curb water wastage, have not been paid their stipends for four months.
They now fear that the non-payment is an indication that the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation has quietly dumped the flopping programme.
Zuma launched the project in 2015, saying it would run until next year.
He announced that it would train 15000 artisans and plumbers to fix leaking taps and pipes that cost the economy R7bn annually.
Cracks started showing in the project in 2017 when reports emerged that trainees recruited for the first phase were paid while languishing at home.
After completing theory at colleges, trainees stayed at home because they could not be placed at companies as the project began to fall apart.
The department failed to recruit 5000 last phase trainees, which it should have done earlier this year.
Failure to pay the stipends was the latest and new problem to hit the project.
It mostly affected part of the 7000 trainees who were recruited for the second phase that was scheduled to run from 2016 to 2019.
Trainees, who received R2500 monthly and were now owed R10000, have been left in the dark about the non-payment. The department has ignored their queries, they said.
Departmental spokesperson Sputnik Ratau last week offered a brief response to the myriad problems faced by the project four weeks after The Star sent it questions seeking clarity.
“The matter is receiving attention at the highest level of government. Once a decision is taken a formal communique will be issued,” Ratau said.
Frustrated trainees have been receiving updates from Rand Water, which acted as a third-party facilitator.
Rand Water has repeatedly informed the trainees that the department was yet to transfer funds.
The last update said: “Kindly be advised that Rand Water has been engaging with the department and has not received funds in order to process the June, July, August and September 2019 payments to trainees.
“We are cognisant of the negative impact that this poses and sincerely apologise for the serious inconvenience and frustration that this has brought to all trainees.”
The update ends by directing the trainees to contact the department’s acting chief financial officer, Frans Moatshe, for more information.
“But when we call Moatshe’s office, we’re told to go back to Rand Water. There’s no one at the department that wants to answer us,” said a Gauteng trainee, who asked for anonymity.
He revealed that trainees from Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Limpopo were planning a march to the department’s Pretoria offices to demand answers.
They were also planning to approach the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
“We fear that they have dumped the project, but they are not telling us. That is why we want to march to the department and ventilate our frustrations,” he said.
Another trainee in Mpumalanga confirmed that he last received his stipend in May. “The project has failed.”
While the project limps from problem to problem, water leaks continue to cost the country billions of rand.
A report that the department handed over to the National Assembly in February said 36.8% of the country’s water was lost due to leaks, translating to R7.2bn.
“Municipalities in the country experience high water losses,” the report said.