Soldiers deployed to assist with water provision in North West


The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has not shied away from its Constitutional mandate of assisting South Africans when disaster, usually in the form of exceptional weather events, strikes.

This task, it appears, has now been extended to include “disasters” apparently caused by human error or oversight.

As of yesterday a contingent of soldiers moved into the Brits area of North West to assist with water provision to residents of Mothutlung.

They, along with the Department of Water Affairs, have been charged under the auspices of Operation Chariot, as support to government, to provide humanitarian assistance. The deployment follows months of problems with the water purification and supply system managed by the Madibeng municipality.

Matters came to a head when three local residents were killed, allegedly by police during protests against the lack of potable water. This saw a high-powered delegation including Water and Environment Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa; Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and national police commissioner Riah Phigeya descend on the area.

While talks and investigations into the reasons behind the lack of water continue residents, according to the Mail & Guardian, are “placated rather than heard” after the visit.

The failure to provide water has been laid at the door of a lack of maintenance of pumps and pumping equipment as well poor management by the local authority.
“The aim of the deployment is to render humanitarian assistance to affected townships near Brits,” said Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton.

This saw the first of 14 water tankers, escorted by military police, move into Mothutlung with the remaining 13 water tankers due to be in position today. The water provision tasking has been allocated to a temporary operational base set up in Brits under the command of the SANDF’s Joint Operations Division.
“The operation will continue until the local municipality repairs the water supply to the affected areas,” he said.

As far as can be ascertained this is the first time the SANDF has been asked to assist with service provision at local government level following protests by residents dissatisfied with, among others, water and electricity services.

Other examples of humanitarian assistance provided internally include the SA Air Force (SAAF) after flooding in Limpopo and Mpumalanga two years ago. The same year also saw the Ladysmith-based infantry battalion of the SA Army help motorists and truckers stranded on Van Reenen’s Pass in the aftermath of a snowstorm.

In other humanitarian work the SA Army’s Engineer Formation has built bridges to link communities with infrastructure and services.