The Unemployed Peoples’ Movement (UPM) convened a public debate on Wednesday 24 November, 2010 at Noluthando Hall at 17:00. The meeting was about the current water crisis in Makana Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape. Many communities in the area have been without water for many months. The reason for convening the meeting was to get some clarity regarding the causes of the crisis and the municipality’s response to the crisis. For this purpose, UPM invited the following officials from Makana Municipality to participate in the event: Mr Dabulo Njilo (Director of Technical and Infrastructural Services), Mr Mongezi Mabece (Assistant Director for Water Services), and Ms Ntombi Baart (Municipal Manager). In addition, UPM also invited a water activist from the Vukani community, Ms Liziwe Gqotolo, and Professor Denis Hughes, a Hydrologist and Director of the Institute for Water Research at Rhodes University. UPM also invited affected community members from Alicedale, also part of the Makana Greater Municipality. The event was widely publicized and it was well attended.
All invited panelist came, except officials from the Municipality, who declined the opportunity to engage the community and enlighten them about their pressing water problems. Their emails explained their decisions not to attend on the grounds that proper procedures were not being followed, suggesting that officials are not truly aware of the tragic urgency of the situation, which clearly requires swift, immediate and decisive action. The Makana Municipality has not been able to explain why it is that there is frequently no water in a significant portion of the poorer areas of the Makana Greater Municipality, while most parts of the same Municipality are not affected by such shortages. It is understood that some parts of the Municipality have been recently affected by the lack of supply to the Waainek treatment works caused by the drying up of the local dams. However, it is not clear to many sections of the community why this has almost exclusively affected Grahamstown East, which is closest to the storage reservoir supplied by the Fish River scheme, and not supplied by the local system of dams.
Unfortunately, the meeting was interrupted by people who identified themselves as members of the ANC Youth League and, as a consequence of the intimidation and constant harassment, the meeting had to be called off. Many of the local residents left disappointed because the meeting was in chaos. Just before the meeting was terminated, Prof. Hughes was accused of being a DA funded AWB member. Prof. Pedro Alexis Tabensky, who was at the meeting, was accused of personally funding the Chairperson of UPM, Mr Ayanda Kota, to the tune of 15 million Rand. Mr Kota was also accused of being an AWB member. Ms Gqotolo was accused of lying. Mr Jai Clifford-Holmes, Chairperson of Galela Amanzi — a politically independent student driven non-profit water organization — was told that the meeting was orchestrated and funded by the DA and Rhodes University in order to destabilize the township ahead of local elections next year. In addition to these most peculiar accusations, the police were called by members of UPM on several occasions when things threatened to turn violent, but a senior local member of the ANC Youth League, Mr Mabhuti Matyumza, was seen turning them away.
Every meeting that UPM has thus far convened has in one way or another been sabotaged, and one may quite legitimately wonder why this may be the case, especially seeing that the UPM is a grassroots social movement that has no party political ambition. Its fundamental aim is the upliftment of the poor. It tried on this occasion and on others to create a forum where genuine issues could be debated and those who disrupted the event could have asked questions in question time. Instead, they opted to sabotage the event, and one must ask why this is their chosen path of action. This is one example of many occurring across the country where initiatives by independent grassroots organizations are being sabotaged. This pattern suggests that in local government force is being privileged over reason.
Contact: Xola Mali (0722995253)