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Residents’ raw deal – Power, water cuts after storm damage

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Dissatisfaction among residents of the city about the raw deal they are getting from local government as challenges with service delivery provision, in particular the lack of sustained availability of water and electricity, is seemingly escalating.
Challenges with service delivery issues were highlighted again this weekend after another heavy storm characterising the early days of 2019 hit the city on Saturday, causing water and electricity disruptions, fallen trees and flooding of streets.
Affecting parts of the city, the aftermath of the storm initially left scores of residents without electricity. As soon as they had recovered from the power cut that extended beyond 12 hours the water supply was, however, affected for another two days. At the same time storm damage halted trade at Savannah Mall a second time within a period of ten days.

Children take advantage of the high water level in Van Zyl Slabbert Street on Saturday afternoon.

Residents of the city interviewed on the matter raised the opinion that they are being robbed by Polokwane Municipality. “We have to pay basic levies for the privilege of having sustained services but are not refunded when the services are not available. Interruptions of services in the city have now become a norm and it is clear that the municipality does not have the will and manpower to promptly and effectively deal with the situation,” an affected resident reckoned and added that the response times of the municipality after disasters and disruptions also leaves much to be desired.
“The flooding of Savannah Mall resulting from apparent poor planning and the municipality’s failure to attend to the challenges speak of poor governance and a lack of contingency plans,” another resident added. Poor response time and ineffective remedial action was also cited as a matter of concern.

Communication blackout
As residents have been left to their own devices not being informed via the usual bulk text messaging system about alternative arrangements or resumption of services during the most recent incident, Polokwane Municipality was being accused of a communication blackout. Polokwane Municipality was requested to comment and to indicate what steps will be taken to avoid a recurrence of the incidents at the mall as well as the complaints on service delivery, but no response was forthcoming at time of going to print.
Polokwane Municipality earlier maintained the position that Lepelle Northern Water (LNW), as the bulk supplier of water to the city, has the obligation to ensure a sustainable supply of water to the city reservoirs, but could as yet not explain why the reservoir levels are never brought up to a stage where incidental interruptions of pumping from the sources at Olifantspoort and Ebenezer Dam could be ‘cushioned’ until pumping resumes. The municipality, however, introduced interim measures that included the activation of more than 200 boreholes to augment water supply from the sources. The replacement of the city’s ageing water reticulation system, costing more than R450 million, has minimised pipe bursts.
LNW, in return, rolled out medium and long-term projects in order to alleviate the problem, but indicated that time constraints and lack of funds will determine how and when the challenges will be resolved.
When contacted for comment at the time of going to press, LNW spokesperson Simon Mpamonyane confirmed that LNW’s plan is rolled-out accordingly and that the latest disruptions in water supply from the sources were as a result of poor water quality at the extraction point in the Olifants River as well as electricity supply challenges caused by fallen trees at Ebenezer Dam.

Cars were flooded in the Savannah Mall parking area.

Savannah Mall flooded for second time this month
Savannah Mall’s upper level parking area nearest to Ster Park was flooded and several vehicles were partly submerged when the storm water system could apparently not contain the storm water culminating from higher laying areas early Saturday afternoon. The storm water rose to the level of the entrance on the Thabo Mbeki Street side, flooding businesses on the upper as well as the lower levels which includes the banking mall.
Mopping up operations started after the storm subsided later in the afternoon and all the affected businesses that are usually open on Sundays resumed with business, with the exception of United Furniture Outlets (UFO) that is scheduled to re-open on Monday after all merchandise have been replaced.

Shopkeepers and labourers mop up water at Savannah Mall after the heavy rain storm of Saturday.

Tenants blame municipality for situation
Tenants of the mall interviewed on Tuesday said they were thankful for the assistance provided by mall management and other tenants to restore order and for assisting to get them back into business. Some have suffered considerable damage to turnover, merchandise and furniture, but indicated that they will lodge claims with their own insurers. “It is evident that the flooding was caused by the inability of the municipality’s storm water system to contain the water culminating from higher laying areas,” a tenant said in summarising the general opinion of tenants interviewed. The claim was substantiated by photos of overflowing storm water inlets and flooded vehicles in the parking area of the mall.
Lim EFF demands closure of mall
In a further development, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in Limpopo insisted that the mall be closed down until appropriate steps were taken to avoid a recurrence of the two recent incidents of flooding. The EFF claimed that lives were endangered and posed the question how such a life-threatening non-compliance escaped the municipality. In response to the EFF’s communication to mall management, Savannah Mall General Manager, Sané Honiball informed the party in the province that a meeting will be convened next week to discuss the EFF’s ultimatum.

Water gushes from an overflown storm water inlet in the parking area at Savannah Mall.

Savannah Mall management response
Honiball informed Polokwane Observer that the management of Savannah Mall in conjunction with professional experts and representatives of the municipality are investigating possible problems to determine if any alterations are necessary to prevent and minimise damage in the future. “We are grateful for the cooperation of the municipality to help to solve the problem,” Honiball added.
She further gave the assurance that at no stage during the events were any staff or member of the public’s life endangered.”

Story: BARRY VILJOEN
>>barryv.observer@gmail.com