February 27, 2004

Dispute between ANC and UDM over water in Eastern Cape

Control of water services has emerged as a focal point for the Eastern Cape's most-populous region. The ANC-dominated O R Tambo District Municipality has for the past six months been disputing with the UDM-run King Sabata Dalindyebo council over the delivery of water supply to Umtata and surrounding areas.

The O R Tambo municipality comprises seven councils and has about 1.7 million residents - about a third of the province's population. The municipality is seated in Umtata, the province's former capital. It has seven local municipalities, six of which are controlled by the ANC. The only municipality in the country that the UDM controls is King Sabata, who governs Umtata and surrounding areas, and includes former President Nelson Mandela's birthplace, Qunu. It has the lion's share of the district's residents. The 2001 census put the population at 429.413.

The UDM is accusing the ANC of using its authority in the province and district to undermine its own. The conflict started last September when the district municipality announced it was taking over water supply from local municipalities. King Sabata Mayor Dowa Mgudlwa took the matter to the High Court, claiming the move was a veiled attempt to deprive his cash-strapped municipality of a source of revenue. The six ANC-controlled local municipalities did not challenge the move. District municipality officials claim Mgudlwa is failing to provide a reliable water service to the city and is not rolling out supplies to rural areas under his jurisdiction. They also say the law allows them to take over the supply of services when local municipalities fail to deliver.

The province's MEC for Local Government, Gugile Nkwinti, intervened this week in an attempt to get the two municipalities to settle out of court, but the talks have not yielded much. A court ruling is expected next month. With a national election on the horizon, provincial and district governments are launching infrastructure and economic development projects in the O R Tambo District, including in Umtata. The projects include a railway between Umtata and East London, and a hospital and produce market in Umtata.
The ANC's provincial election co-ordinator, Mahlubandile Qwase, said that the ANC would focus on issues such as skills development, agrarian reform and "massive food production". ANC provincial executive member Phumulo Masualle said the party would not respond directly to UDM concerns, but would instead remind people of how the ANC had improved their lives over the past 10 years. (Sunday Times, Johannesburg)

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