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Many roads in the rural Eastern Cape are riddled with potholes and inaccessible. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE/THE HERALD
Many roads in the rural Eastern Cape are riddled with potholes and inaccessible. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE/THE HERALD

Depending on where you reside and work in SA, there are places that are plagued by corruption and by social services so broken that people in those areas can be forgiven for feeling they are living in a failed or failing state.

Pothole-ridden roads, crumbling schools, high unemployment, rampant crime, and unreliable electricity and water supplies are the hallmarks of these places, not to mention infrastructure projects that are started, but inexplicably go nowhere or are abandoned halfway.

This problem is worsened by provincial government and municipal officials who are shamelessly unaccountable, and residents who are unwilling to punish officials at the ballot box for corruption and gross incompetence.

There are four incomplete projects that I have noticed in the Mnquma Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape, which lead me to believe that its 247,000 residents could be experiencing conditions symptomatic of living in a failed state. ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba has even gone as far as suggesting the Eastern Cape was better off during the apartheid era than under ANC governance.

Mnquma is a predominantly rural municipality, part of the Amathole District Municipality, which is a conglomeration of three towns: Centane, Ngqamakhwe and Butterworth. The latter was once a fledgling industrial town when it was part of the Transkei homeland before the advent of democracy in 1994.

The four incomplete projects are the resealing of the pothole-riddled 31km R409 road between Butterworth and Centane; the Mnqumashe Abattoir; the Ibika-Centane Bulk Water Supply project; and the 16,5km Tsomo-Butterworth water pipeline. In total, these projects are worth just over R1bn.

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba has even gone as far as suggesting the Eastern Cape was better off during the apartheid era than under ANC governance.
Andile Ntingi, founder of GetBiz. 

The delays or failure to complete these projects is compromising the quality of life of Mnquma’s residents and discouraging investment and economic development. In turn, this sets back the government’s objective of stimulating rural economies, which rely on tourism and resource-based activities such as agriculture, mining, fishing and forestry to generate employment and revenue.

To get a sense of what the projects entail, it is important to provide a brief overview:

Butterworth-Centane R409 road reseal project: Ahead of last year’s local government elections, the Eastern Cape government allocated R190m for the resealing of the 31km stretch of road between Centane and Butterworth. However, the project has stalled, and a contractor that was working on the road has inexplicably left, leaving residents up in arms. Some residents, frustrated by the hundreds of potholes in the road, have taken to social media to demand answers as to why the project has ground to a halt. This project, if completed, has the potential to open the Wild Coast beaches of Qolora and Mazeppa to tourism, if the tarred road from Centane can be extended to these beaches. 

Tsomo-Butterworth water pipeline: This is the largest of the four projects, which is also central to Mnquma’s economic survival. The pipeline project started in 2016 at the height of the drought that was gripping SA, which led to taps running dry in Butterworth. Frustration reached boiling point over water outages, and Butterworth residents protested in 2019 and 2020, burning tyres on the N2 highway and shutting down the town. Some businesses were forced to close, because of the lack of water and others had to relocate to bigger cities. The project, meant to eliminate water shortages in Butterworth, was supposed to be completed in 2018, but water & sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu said last year it will take three more years to complete. The project, which is estimated to cost R735m to construct, has three major components: a 16.5km pipeline; a reservoir; and an abstraction and water treatment works, which will be in the town of Tsomo in the Chris Hani District Municipality. The likelihood of another showdown between residents and government is high if the project is not completed and water shortages persist.

Mnqumashe Abattoir: The construction of the R70m beef and sheep abattoir has been abandoned, and there is no indication if the project will ever be resuscitated. According to a report in the Daily Dispatch in 2019, construction on the abattoir began in 2016 and work was supposed to be completed in September 2017. The project was started by the department of agriculture, land reform & rural development after it was approached by livestock farmers in Butterworth, who requested financial assistance to recapitalise a dilapidated old tannery and transform it into an abattoir. The department has already spent R35.15m on the project, which should now be considered wasteful and fruitless expenditure. This expenditure is over and above R3,16m that was spent in 2014 on a consulting company to advise on the project. The Daily Dispatch reported that the consulting fees were later revised upwards to R10,4m.

Ibika-Centane Bulk Water Supply: This R65m project has also been moving at a snail’s pace. It was conceived in 2003 when a feasibility study was conducted. Construction began in 2011 with the intention of providing potable water by means of bulk services and reticulation to about 32,574 people living in 6,451 homes. The delay or failure to complete these projects on time and on budget is halting or delaying economic development in Mnquma. This area has much potential for agriculture and tourism owing to its access to the majestic and beautiful Wild Coast, but poor infrastructure and an incapable state prevent it from thriving. I have zero confidence that Mnquma will ever reach its full economic potential, unless residents push for the election of competent and visionary leaders who can attract risk-taking entrepreneurs to invest in the area.

• Ntingi is founder of GetBiz.

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