Big plan to plug SA’s leaks now just a pipe dream
Trainee plumbers paid to sit at home after colleges turned them away because they have not been paid by the government
The Department of Water Affairs has spent at least half-a-billion rand on stipends to students it was supposed to train as plumbers, but it seems the money has just gone down the drain.
The War on Leaks programme – launched by then president Jacob Zuma in 2015 and meant to end in 2019 – was set to create jobs by training young people to fix ailing water infrastructure, which would save R7-billion believed to be lost annually through water leaks.
But the programme, which aimed to train 15,000 students but has taken on only 10,000, is grinding to a halt as the technical colleges are owed millions and have barred students from entry, or are shutting down completely.
This means that after three years students can’t get training in order to pass their September qualifying exams.In addition, many students have been let down by the programme because they never received the internships needed.
Students received theoretical training from technical colleges for six months in 2016, but then needed more than a years’ work experience to qualify as artisans. But two years later, some don’t have that experience.
According to Rand Water documents, students waiting for an internship placement have been receiving their R2,500 monthly stipend since July 2016, despite sitting at home.
Those who did receive internships now can’t write their September exams because colleges won’t give them their theoretical training, according to a Rand Water letter written to the Department of Water Affairs.
The programme aims to train at least 15,000 students.The colleges wrote a letter to parliament in May saying they were owed millions. It read: “The War on Leaks programme is a Presidential Flagship Project launched in August 2015 as an intervention to reduce water losses in the country. In order to mitigate the challenge of water losses, government, through the Department of Water and Sanitation, committed to train 15,000 artisans and plumbers who will fix leaking taps in their local communities.“We request payment is made urgently before the situation gets out of control.”
The funding was supposed to come from the Department of Water and Sanitation and paid to Rand Water and the Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority (Ewseta), who would then transfer it to colleges and students.
No payment since July 2017
In May, Rand Water chairperson Matshidiso Hashatse wrote to the Water and Sanitation Department asking for the money.
“Rand Water wishes to inform the acting director-general of Water and Sanitation that Rand Water has been approached by principals of various colleges and learning institutions who have complained about lack of payment from the Ewseta. Some of the colleges have not been paid since July 2017 and have indicated their refusal to service bad debt,” Hashatse wrote.
Zinhle Yende, a 30-year-old trainee plumber from Vosloroos, said students who were “sitting at home” from July 2016 waiting for an internship have continued to be paid. Based on 10,000 students receiving R2,500 per month, R25-million a month had been spent on stipends, whether the student was in an internship or not.
Yende has managed to learn many practical skills by getting a job at the Kempton Park college she trained at, but at least 50 of her classmates have been at home for two years, unable to receive the practical part of the training.She cannot write her test in September because colleges will no longer train students.
“I know I will fail and then I will have wasted three years,” she said.
Yende, who is also the student representative for the War on Leaks programme, said she has asked where the money has gone but got no answers.
“We keep asking,” she added.
In a document posted on the War on Leaks Facebook page, Rand Water explains that students awaiting internship placement still receive monthly stipends. It said they did not get deductions for absenteeism in the same way trainees do because sitting at home waiting for placement is not absenteeism.
The Facebook page also informed students in May that more than 7,000 students were receiving stipends, although they were frequently paid late.
‘Asking for war’
Another student called the whole project a scam.
Collinsmash Mashau wrote on the War on Leaks Facebook page: “This thing was a scam and a corruption method. We as learners have spent a lot of time in this program. [Do you] you think we didn’t have anything better to do,,, please let’s stop wasting other people’s future and deliver what you promised ... I thought maybe you were building the nation but now it seems as you are asking for war.” (sic)
The principal of the Durnacol Skills Innovation Hubin rural KwaZulu-Natal, Alice Pool, said her college has been paid to date, but has just received a letter saying there will be no further payment for the last 18 months of the programme.
She and Rand Water were meeting on Friday.Democratic Alliance education spokesperson Professor Belinda Bozzoli said that since colleges were no longer training students their exams would have to be postponed, meaning students would need the monthly stipends for an even longer period, costing the programme even more.
She wrote to the director-general in the Department of Higher Education, saying: “10,000 students are still in the process of completing their training from the first two batches of students. Colleges, where they can, have assisted the students; Rand Water and Ewseta have, I understand, borrowed money to keep the scheme going but a point has been reached now where my informant estimates that some 50% of the colleges are considering closing down, as they are not receiving any funding, which would be a massive loss to the education system. Some colleges have in fact already closed down. This would also leave the students high and dry and bring to a halt what seems to have been a worthwhile programme.”
No room at the Colliery
Last month, student December Ngcobo, who began training in 2016, said he could not write his final trade test in September to qualify as an artisan.
“I was at the Colliery Training Centre in Witbank today to book for the final preparation of trade test. Mr Johan Venter, the manager, told me and 100 other War on Leaks trainees that CTC cannot accept any more trainees from Rand Water because Rand Water owes CTC R2,000,000.”
Venter did not respond to e-mail queries from Times Select.
The Department of Water Affairs did not respond to a number of requests for comment, with spokesperson Sputnik Ratau only saying on the phone that the department had “no money”.Bozzoli told Times Select that having no money “must be rejected as an excuse”.
“They should find the money. If they can’t find it in this department then they need to bring it to the attention of Treasury and cabinet to see where else the funds can be found.
“They promised that these young people would be funded. The colleges that have paid out thousands to train them need to be reimbursed. The students are abandoned.”
The Department of Higher Education declined to comment, saying the Department of Water Affairs needed to do so.
Rand Water did not respond. The Ewseta phone lines were not working because it was moving offices.