FACT CHECK: Did the premier lie about the Mpumalanga dam?

She claimed that government had taken a decision to build a dam in Mbombela in five years, but the province has no such authority, and the responsible national department says no such a decision has been taken

There is no dam planned for Mpumalanga province, despite Mpumalanga premier’s bold pronouncement during her state of the province address in June this year.

National spokesperson for the department of water and sanitation, Sputnik Ratau, revealed this to Ziwaphi – The New Era in an exclusive interview.

“At the moment, for this financial year, there is no dam that is planned for Mpumalanga. It takes quite a while. That is why when you put up a dam it will take anything between five and seven years before you actually see the final product,” said Ratau.

This revelation could mean that Mpumalanga premier, Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane, misled the people of the province when she promised to build a new dam in Mpumalanga province within five years.

Mtshweni-Tsipane received praises from farmers, business and ordinary folk when she promised to build the dam within five years during her state of the province address.

“Within the five year period of this Administration, as Government, we have taken a decision to construct a new dam along the Crocodile River in the City of Mbombela. This dam will augment the current supply of water to meet the demand of the growing population in Ehlanzeni,” she said without giving any further details.

The problem, however, is that the provincial government does not have the authority to “take a decision” to construct a dam.

When Ziwaphi brought this to the atCtention of Mtshweni-Tsipane’s spokes-

person, Sibongile Mkani-Mpolweni, she said this was a joint project with nation-

al government.

“The construction of dam around the Mbombela area is the initiative of the province and the national government,” she said in response to a media enquiry.

Ziwaphi – The New Era, had sent only three questions to Mtshweni-Tsi-

pane’s office:

  • Where is the site of the new dam?
  • How it will be financed? And
  • Is dam construction not a national competency?

Mkani-Mpolweni sidestepped the question about how the dam would be financed, because SOPA pronouncements are not supposed to be mere off-the-cuff conversations which are decided at the podium. They should stem from provincial departmental plans. If the project is from a national government department, then the relevant national minister will pronounce on it.

MEC for Co-operative governanceand traditional affairs (Cogta), Mandla Msibi, who’s department is believed to be “responsible” for the construction of the dam, also mentioned it in passing in his departmental policy and budget speech, but also gave no details.

Msibi, however, was more careful and non-committal. In fact he played the ball back into Mtshweni-Tsipane’s court.

“The 6th administration’s devotion and dedication in addressing the water crisis is witnessed in the premier’s State of the Province Address, where the Hon. Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane (sic) declared the implementation of three major water projects aimed at addressing the water challenge:

“Construction of a new dam in Mbombela that will augment the supply of water to meet the demand of the growing population at Ehlanzeni,” said Msibi without providing further details.

Notwithstanding his mentioning of the dam, it does not appear in the departmental five year plan, neither is it in the annual performance plan.

Ironically, the Five-Year Plan that appears in the department’s website still bears the picture and foreword of Mtshweni-Tsipane when she was the MEC for Cogta.

When Ziwaphi-The New Era brought to Mkani-Mpolweni’s attention that the national department of water and sanitation contradicted Mtsweni’s SOPA announcement, she forwarded a screen-grab of an article which had been published in a local newspaper on the


In the article, Ratau is quoted as having confirmed that there was a dam planned for Mpumalanga. This prompted Ziwaphi-The New Era to get more clarity from Ratau.

He stuck to his guns, albeit more subtle than in his initial response.

“The issue of the dam in Mbombela has been mooted for some time. If my memory serves me correctly I was impressing upon the fact that it is not happening as in now,” he said.

He further clarified his statement.

“It is true that the matter though ‘is in the planning process’, which includes reconciliation and feasibility studies, and all other related processes.

“As those processes are still underway, it’d be foolhardy to decide that based on the fact that the studies are being undertaken there will for a fact be a dam by whichever date. That’s putting the cart before the horse.

“The outcomes of the planning process will then inform the decision whether it’d be feasible to put up such infrastructure.

“The fact that there is planning underway does not necessarily mean there is already a final decision on the matter.”

Earlier, Ratau had also warned that the construction of a dam is not some-

thing that can just be implemented without careful consideration.

“It’s always a nice thing to have an idea to say we will want to have a dam, but do we have sufficient run-off that would justify such a thing, because you must understand that besides the fact that there must be sufficient water to justify having a (dam) that also impacts on the cost of putting such an infrastructure,” said Ratau.

He also said the location of a dam is immaterial. He said that some of the dams that supply water to Gauteng province are not located in that province.

“The rain that falls in Gauteng feeds into the Hartebeers Dam which is in the North West. You can’t control where water flows. Water follows the topography. So, in terms of whether there will be a dam or not, there will have to be studies to conduct from time to time. And those reconciliation studies will have to look collectively within an area, what the situation is and what it would be like going forward with our planning,” said Ratau.

It is not the first time that a politician in Mpumalanga makes a misleading statement during the state of the province address.

In 1999, former Mpumalanga premier, Ndaweni Mahlangu, said that there was nothing wrong with politicians lying.

In 2011, former Mpumalanga premier and now deputy president of the country, David Mabuza, also promised two major projects, the High-Altitude Training Centre and the Creative Industries and Cultural Hub. Seven years later, and after spending an estimated R400 million, none of the projects have materialised.

Mabuza suffered a further embarrassment when he also announced that Mpumalanga university would be constructed at White River, even before the minister of higher education, Blade Nzimande, had made the pronouncement.

Nzimande eventually announced Mbombela city as the site of the new university.

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