Pretoria - The City of Tshwane’s special council sitting for tabling a budget for the 2023/24 financial year was yesterday marred by chaos, walkouts and delays that caused the meeting to start five hours late.
The meeting was scheduled for 10am at Tshwane House council chambers, but it got off to a dramatic start with EFF councillors demanding that mayor Cilliers Brink must drink dirty water “from Hammanskraal” they had brought in a 2-litre bottle.
Many people in the township have since May 15 been admitted to Jubilee District Hospital after they fell ill due to diarrhoeal disease or gastrointestinal infection, said to be caused by the consumption of contaminated water.
According to the Gauteng Department of Health and Wellness, by yesterday at least 17 people had died from the disease.
Cholera: EFF regional leader in Tshwane Obakeng Ramabodu addresses a council sitting amid disruptions caused by party councillors protesting in solidarity with Hammanskraal residents to have access to clean water. @CityTshwane @GautengHealth #choleraoutbreak pic.twitter.com/07b6x3XQvV— Pretoria News (@pretorianews) May 24, 2023
The fatalities were recorded amid a cholera outbreak that was officially declared in the area by the government on Monday.
Inside the council chambers, EFF councillors also wielded placards bearing messages condemning the quality of water in Hammanskraal.
They approached council speaker, Mncedi Ndzwanana, who stopped short of talking and looked on as EFF regional leader Obakeng Ramabodu poured dirty and brownish water from a bottle into a glass.
Addressing the House, Ramabodu said: “We have brought water from Hammanskraal. Brink must drink the water because you are busy parading tests here; you are saying that there is no cholera. Drink it and let’s see if you are going to wake up in the morning.”
He vowed that the council sitting was not going to proceed, especially after the party had on Tuesday written a letter to the council speaker, asking for a postponement of the meeting to allow the municipality to deal with the plight of the Hammanskraal residents.
Speaking to journalists, Brink said: “It is very unfortunate that the EFF has pulled a political stunt here trying to politicise this matter, trying to score cheap points and trying to stop the MMC for Finance from delivering the budget speech. I have asked my team to release the budget to let the people see it.”
The mayor also spoke up against what he termed a “tactic of the ANC”, which he said manifested when some ANC members masqueraded as community members and blocked him from visiting Jubilee District Hospital on Monday.
Tshwane mayor Cilliers Brink speaks at Tshwane House on the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal and the problems surrounding it. Video: Jacques Naude (ANA) @CityTshwane @GautengHealth #CholeraOutbreak #Cholera pic.twitter.com/etCpYHZv0R— Pretoria News (@pretorianews) May 24, 2023
Inside the council chamber when the meeting resumed after a five-hour delay, the EFF staged a walkout after it surfaced that the budget speech had already been distributed to members of the public.
The ANC demanded an apology from Finance MMC Peter Sutton for making the budget public before it could be tabled and passed in council.
Sutton apologised profusely after he had initially refused to do so.
The ANC’s other demand was that the budget speech must be delivered by Brink, who objected to acceding to it. As a result, the ANC also abandoned the meeting.
In media interviews, Brink said the City has committed to spend R450 million on the refurbishment of the Rooiwal wastewater treatment plant over the next three years to improve the quality of water supplied to people in Hammanskraal and the surrounding areas.
He, however, cautioned that the budget allocation was not enough to finish the whole project as the metro needed a staggering R2.5 billion for the second phase of the plant upgrades.
Brink also said the municipality would put water tankers out of business after it had solved the Rooiwal water problem.
He addressed allegations made by community members that they were being sold water by contractors hired to distribute clean water to them.
“We want the people who get water from those water tankers to note the number plates from those trucks,” Brink said.
“If there are instances of abuse of those water tankers we will have to end them immediately,” he said.
Regarding the budget, he said: “We are committing R450m over the next three years, R150m in each of the year’s budget. That is not enough to solve the problem and we have said that over and over again. The resources of the City of Tshwane are simply too limited to do upgrades there. We also have
serious supply chain management issues with irregular tenders having been approved by this City in the past, which we have to be honest about.”
He said the City lacked the resources and expertise for the Rooiwal project, saying it would need partnerships.
While the R450m budget was a bold step to solving the problem, he conceded that the metro needed other spheres of government on board.
“We are talking to the Development Bank of Southern Africa and we will talk to other possible financiers to make up that gap.
“The second upgrade of Rooiwal will cost us R2.4bn, which we emphasised is the entire capital budget of the City in one financial year,” he said.
Brink would tomorrow meet the Minister of Water and Sanitation to discuss possible solutions to the Rooiwal water problem.
Sutton was eventually allowed to deliver the budget, reiterating the R450m budget for Rooiwal, among other financial allocations.