The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) notes with concern and expresses its deepest sympathy to the family of Nsuku Mhlongo, a six-year-old boy from Giyani who lost his life after falling into a trench that was left open allegedly by a company that was handling the R3-billion bulk water project in the area.
It is unfortunate that issues linked to poor service delivery have resulted in the death of yet another child in Limpopo. In 2014, Michael Komape, a five-year-old boy died when he fell into a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary. Controversy surrounded the primary school as school principal and Grade R teacher Maphalane Malothane, in her defence, reportedly said she had appealed for toilet upgrades from the Department of Education, which were ignored by the department. Last year, three-year-old Monono Omari lost his life after falling into a pit latrine while visiting a relative’s house across the street from where he lives in Moletjie Ditenteng. Evident in all these 3 cases are the delays in meting out proper service delivery, particularly proper water and sanitation to the most impoverished communities in the country, over two decades into a new South Africa.
More specifically, the tragic death of Nsuku Mhlongo on the site of the Giyani water project is in large measure the result of a failure to follow proper processes to appoint competent and responsible organisations to execute and supervise construction contracts. Commenting on the matter SAICE Acting CEO, Steven Kaplan, said “The deaths of these children are an indictment of a society that fails its most vulnerable, time and time again, without a sense of either accountability or a commitment to do better”.
SAICE would like to once again emphasise the need to appoint competent, responsible contractors to undertake major construction works and to ensure that they are supervised by diligent, reputable and independent consultants. Amongst the important goals on any major construction project is the need to ensure the safety of both workers and members of surrounding communities.
In this instance, that has regrettably not been the case. The tawdry details of the way in which the Giyani contracts were entered into are in the public domain and are the subject of a number of criminal, administrative and civil investigations. SAICE would also like to highlight the obvious conflict of interest that arises where the control of the supervising consultants is shared with the control of the contractors, as in this case.
Sound procurement processes would ensure that the supervising consultants were independent of the contractor precisely to ensure that good practice, such as the maintenance of safety standards, was enforced. If that had been applied in this case, risky situations such as that which led to the unfortunate death of young Nsuku Mhlongo would not have arisen.
This case is thus one more example of the need to rebuild the capacity of the state, to ensure that proper procedures are followed in the procurement and implementation of professional services.
“The work that needs to be done to alleviate skills shortage, a symptom of all struggling municipalities, has never been more urgent”, said Kaplan, “A lot is broken and will remain so, with ever accumulating and compounding cost to the country and the youngest, most vulnerable in our society”.
SAICE again reiterates its availability to be of service to government and municipalities to assist in alleviating these capacitation and technical issues.