Helen Zille. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Helen Zille. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Western Cape premier Helen Zille said in a Daily Maverick article that Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane had told her that her department did not have the money to raise the Olifants River wall, despite R2bn set aside for the project nearly four years ago.

This is likely to raise concerns about the province’s ability to overcome its worst drought in a century. The national government’s interministerial task team has declared the Western Cape a national disaster area.

The provincial government said R2bn had been allocated to the project in the 2013-14 financial year. But the water department went on tender to raise the wall despite an internal unit being on site for the project

"The department decided to go out on tender instead of using its in-house construction capacity. Speculation was rife, at the height of the Zupta vice-grip on power, that a politically connected consortium had the project in its sights," wrote Zille.

Zille said that R100m may have been wasted as a result of the stalling of the project. "For almost four years, 53 departmental staff members have been twiddling their thumbs in Clanwilliam, waiting for construction to start," she said.

"The cost for their stay — for the month of February 2017 alone — according to a reply to a parliamentary question, was R2.5m. This means that over four years, more than R100m was being wasted, while the regional economy declined due to a shortage of water," she said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament in his maiden State of the Nation Address that the government would commit to supporting residents and industries hardest hit by the drought.

Ramaphosa said the drought in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape has been elevated to a national state of disaster.

"We are looking at activating the necessary extraordinary measures permitted under the legislation. I commend the people of Cape Town and the rest of the Western Cape for diligently observing water saving measures," he said.

Ramaphosa called on South Africans to continue using water sparingly "as we are a water-scarce country that relies on this vital resource to realise our development aspirations".