The border town of Musina was turned into a war zone the past weekend when angry residents took to the streets because of a total shutdown in the water supply to this drough- stricken area. Vhembe District Municipality's spokesperson confirmed this week that the deliberate shutdown of an essential service was executed by staff members of the district municipality over a labour dispute. Photos supplied.
The busy border town of Musina resembled a war zone the past weekend when residents took to the streets in violent protest against a total lack of water.
Amidst an extreme drought in the area and soaring daytime temperatures, rumour had it that water and sanitation staff from the Vhembe District Municipality (VDM) had closed the water taps to Musina because of an employer/employee dispute. The dry taps left residents fuming amidst something that has by now become standard practice in South Africa, namely making the taxpayer pay for somebody else’s labour dispute.
In and around Musina, some streets were barricaded with rocks. The central business district, through which the N1 runs, resembled a rubbish dump, and in some places tyres and rubbish were set alight in public.
The Zoutpansberger first received reports of the interruption in the water supply to Musina on Saturday. At that stage, the town had allegedly been without water for two days already, and by Sunday, public outrage had boiled over into full-scale public unrest. A WhatsApp notice sent to residents, reading “URGENT NOTICE: After a fruitful meeting with Vhembe District Executive Mayor, local Mayor, union representatives, Vhembe and Musina Management teams and the affected workers, it was resolved that normal water supply will resume immediately. However, it might take some few hours for all areas to get water because the reservoirs are currently empty. Sincere apologies for the whole inconvenience” could not come at a better time. Yet, come Monday morning, the newspaper once again received news that Musina was without water, with people queuing up at watering points like animals at a drinking trough to quench their thirst.
So, who or what was really responsible for Musina’s being left without water for days on end?
VDM municipal spokesperson Mr Matodzi Ralushai confirmed on Tuesday that VDM staff were indeed responsible for shutting down the water supply to Musina. “Yes, it was district municipality water section staff,” he said in a written media response. He was also asked whether the VDM intended to act against these staff members who had deliberately sabotaged the water supply to a whole town. The question, however, remained unanswered by Ralushai.
Ralushai said that the protest action between water service employees, the VDM and Musina Local Municipality had indeed been suspended on Sunday, following a meeting between the parties. He was a bit vague in explaining exactly why the VDM staff had gone on strike, but one can safely say that the whole matter revolves around more money, seeing that December is bonus time. Ralushai said that the VDM workers were concerned about their “third party payments” and “leave accrual payments”. Regarding the “third party payments”, Ralushai stated that “It was resolved that payment to be paid by Tuesday, 27 November 2018, subject to [the] provision of information by [the] local municipality.” As for the “leave accrual payments”, Ralushai stated: “Musina municipality [is] to generate it and information [is] to be submitted to [the] executive mayor office on November 2018.” It was also decided during Sunday’s meeting that a progress meeting was to be held on 28 November for “resolution monitoring”.
Whether the meeting of 28 November took place is not certain. Several attempts to follow up on the story, specifically regarding an explanation as to what exactly “third party payments” and “leave accrual payments” entail, went unanswered by Ralushai at the time of our going to press.
Date:01 December 2018 - By: Andries van Zyl
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.