Former Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane File picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/ANA Pictures
Hundreds of aspiring artisans failed by the Department of Water and Sanitation - under its former minister Nomvula Mokonyane - fear they will leave the bungled skills project empty handed next month.

After three years in the R3billion War on Leaks programme, contracts for the youth languishing at home instead of doing practicals were due to lapse next month.

They are bracing themselves to leave the programme with nothing to show for it, while the programme was designed to turn them into qualified artisans.

Former president Jacob Zuma launched the project in 2015, saying it would produce 15000 qualified artisans over three years.

The young people poised to leave the programme with no qualifications are the so-called phase one trainees, who started in 2015.

They should have been placed for practicals at municipalities or private companies after completing their theoretical training in July 2016.

The recruits needed to proceed to 18 months' practical training before writing their trade test. Successful candidates were to graduate with a certificate from the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO).

But the department’s failure to secure placements saw the participants drawing their monthly stipends, ranging between R2000 and R2500, while languishing at home.

Figures the Water Department gave The Star in March indicated that 414 youths across the country hadn't been placed.

The youths have now asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene to “resuscitate the programme”.

In a memorandum handed to the Presidency’s Shonisani Mudau two weeks ago, the trainees asked Ramaphosa to direct the Department of Water to “extend the contracts of trainees who have never been placed and those placed a few months ago”.

They told Ramaphosa that the project’s failure was due to “poor planning, managing and implementation by the department, under the leadership of Minister Mokonyane”.

“We expect your positive response within seven days, or we will assume that you have adopted the same approach of ignoring us as the youth,” they told Ramaphosa.

Trainees who spoke to The Star said the writing was on the wall that they would be leaving empty handed.

“As I’m speaking to you, I’m sitting in my room,” a trainee from eMalahleni, Mpumalanga, said over the phone.

“I started in January at the placement that they got for me, but it doesn’t assist me because I go there only once a month.

“If the contract expires with us in this position we won’t be able to hold the department accountable.

"And they are refusing to extend it,” she said.

An unplaced trainee from KwaMhlanga, also in Mpumalanga, said the department should be compelled to extend their contracts.

“I believe these people are eager for our contracts to lapse, so that they no longer have anything to do with us,” he said.

“They should have communicated already if they were planning to extend our contracts, but they have done nothing,” the trainee added.

Sputnik Ratau, the spokesperson for the department, said the trainees' contracts were being considered for extension.

“The contracts are being considered, but each on its own merit, as the circumstances differ,” he pointed out.

Admitting that “not all phase one trainees were placed within the projected timelines”, Ratau said there were 106 trainees, most of them in Gauteng.

But it appears that the participants should not expect speedy assistance from Ramaphosa, as his spokesperson Khusela Diko said the president hadn't seen their memorandum.