The South African unjust past laws have left a large majority of citizens with inappropriate, unsafe services which have negatively impacted their health, well-being, dignity and integrity. Privacy is a right cherished by all, particularly when it comes to sanitation matters.
The Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation’s motto is ‘Water is life, Sanitation is dignity’. Everybody who has experienced the bucket system as a form of sanitation will know that it is a form that certainly does not ensure users dignity and integrity. The users of this system loathed it since its inception and had hoped to see a fundamental change in the dawn of democracy. However, this has not materialised for many but where this has happened, jubilation from beneficiaries is immeasurable.
By September 2014, there were 282 000 households still using the bucket system (Internet Article by Hon. Minister Mokonyane). This means government has worked hard to restore peoples’ dignity, such as in the Sol Plaaitjie Local Municipality and specifically in Kimberly in the wards of Frazer Moleketi and Motswedimosa.
Sedibeng Water appointed The Mvula Trust in August 2014 to provide social facilitation services to their Bucket Eradication project in Ritchie, Kimberly. This decision follows recognition by Sedibeng Water that some of the projects they have implemented lack community ownership, thus are likely to be unsustainable. Sedibeng Water appreciates The Mvula Trust’s community-based approach to development, hence they have chosen to appoint The Mvula Trust to facilitate services that would ensure that the new and upgraded infrastructure in the above mentioned wards would be properly operated and well maintained by the beneficiaries.
Sedibeng Water, through its appointed Engineer, Makone Consulting Engineers cc, is implementing three infrastructure related projects via:
- Prefabricated toilet structure in Frazer Moleketi ward
- Prefabricated toilet structure in Motswedimosa ward
- Water reticulation system in Frazer Moleketi ward
The fundamental principles of a community-based approach are participation and inclusion. In ensuring these principles, The Mvula Trust involved local leadership at the outset of the project. The Mvula Trust’s facilitators briefed both councillors of the organisation’s appointment and scope of work and its approach to it. This was to ensure that local leadership’s place is assured and their integrity and dignity respected. After the consultative meetings with local leadership, The Mvula Trust facilitators moved to processes that ensure community inclusion and participation of the broader community. This was in the form of community meetings whereby the project was introduced by The Mvula Trust as a social facilitator for the project. The project introductory meeting to the community spoke of fears and suspicions about who the ‘’strangers” are and their business in the community. In other words, the first blocks of trust were built in this way. The meeting also provided the community with an opportunity to share their feelings, doubts and concerns about the project based on either past (often bad) experiences or anxieties about the unknown.
The community-based approach recognises communities as being resourceful and capable of seeking and finding solutions to their developmental challenges. To affirm this principle, The Mvula Trust’s facilitators called the community meetings in both wards to introduce the appointed contractors to the community. This meeting proved very useful for all parties concerned because the communities would be able to recognise contractors living in their midst during implementation, and it was also an opportunity for the community to raise their concerns about the projects and contractors. For communities who have been without services for as long as the Frazer Moleketi and Motswedimosa wards have, it is understandable that the community members had doubts and suspicions about whether the project would get underway and if quality services would be provided.
The community meeting also provided an opportunity to the contractors to present an implementation plan and hear first-hand what the needs and desires of the communities are with regards to the implementation of the project. The meeting also provided an opportunity for transparency and accountability because contractors were able to be honest about their planned social responsibility investments and contain high expectations that the contractors would leave behind big legacy projects as part of their social responsibility.
This involvement of the community at the outset of the project leaves communities with a feeling of being valued and their views being important enough to be considered and included in the project planning and implementation. The project introductory meeting to the community also acts as a platform for soliciting support for the project and contractors from the community.
The community members are able to remind one another about project details like the implementation duration, the type of technology to be used and even act against any criminality regarding project materials or contractors and their properties. This sense of involvement is the beginning of community ownership of the project which would ensure that the services and infrastructure provided last way beyond project implementation.
Another critical stage of social facilitation in a project is stakeholder mobilisation and inclusion. This aspect also needs to be accomplished at the outset of a project. The Mvula Trust introduced the projects to local civil society organisations like the community-based and non-governmental organisations. The aim was to forge cooperation and support for the projects and most importantly find synergies in the quest for development of the communities. The mobilisation of stakeholders ensures that there is buy-in and support for the project from those who are working and living within the targeted communities.
It is also an opportunity for civil society organisations to share their programmes in the targeted communities with the purpose of harmonising efforts and building synergies and linkages. The mobilisation also assists in minimising turf wars and creates opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. These efforts contribute to maximising on often limited resources and leveraging comparative advantage amongst civil society organisations.
The effectiveness of community participation and ownership rests on how well the communities understand project objectives. The understanding is built through strengthening local capacity in understanding the technical and social aspects of the project. In this project, The Mvula Trust is contracted for social facilitation services so therefore it is the organisation’s role to ensure that the communities understand the proper operation and maintenance of the provided services and infrastructure.
The Northern Cape Province is one of the driest provinces in South Africa, therefore it is important that the community knowledge and skills in conserving and managing their water resources are enhanced. The Mvula Trust will facilitate workshops focused on building communities’ understanding of the water cycle – from source to tap and the accompanying costs. This would ensure that the communities appreciate the costs associated with the delivery of water to their homes and do their best in minimising wastage. The proper use and looking after of the provided infrastructure knowledge and skills would also be facilitated in a form of workshops for the community. The main theme of such workshops will be vandalism and ways of curbing it. The communities will be empowered to understand the short and long term effects of vandalism and the impact it has on their development.
To ensure that capacity remains in the community, The Mvula Trust will train local unemployed youths in water conservation and demand management, prevention of vandalism and other important topics which ensures the project’s sustainability. This way of working contributes to local capacity building and ensures that the correct messages are delivered to the community. Apart from building local capacity, it has been proven that communities are most likely to receive messages if they are delivered by people they know who live amongst them, rather than from external agents who are strangers in the community.
Although the project is not yet concluded, there have been valuable lessons to be learned so far. The new working partnership with a water utility is one such lesson. It is new for The Mvula Trust to work with a “competitor”, particularly where such an organisation is contracted in as an Implementing Agent for the work that The Mvula Trust is accustomed to implementing such as construction of sanitation facilities. Witnessing the contractual arrangements at a community level has been new for The Mvula Trust. The Mvula Trust’s approach is to strengthen or support the establishment of a Project Steering Committee as custodians of the project at community level. Sedibeng Water’s approach is different. They employ a Community Liaison Officer (CLO) whose role is to harness the relationship between contractors and communities. Since this structure is much more linear, the CLO needs to be highly effective and responsive to communities’ concerns and remain independent (decision making and remuneration) of the contractor in order not to be compromised in an event which there are challenges about the contractors.
The model is desirable in terms of managing the costs associated with remuneration of several members of the PSC. However, it seems unmanageable in terms of workload for just one person. Also, it seems the expectation of one person possessing all the required skills might be unrealistic so it would be desirable if capacitation or support plans were to be developed for the incumbent at the start of the project.
The high unemployment rate in communities like Frazer Moleketi and Motswedimosa places huge pressure on contractors to absorb many people in the projects often at the risk of compromising the quality of work due to lack of experience and skills. The value of The Mvula Trust introducing the contractor to the community before the project could commence, and affording the contractor an opportunity to be frank about the areas that they would recruit locally for has been immeasurable. This approach seems to have managed the high political and community expectations about huge social investments to be made by contractors in the communities.
The political rivalry and competition cannot be undermined, especially given the impending local government elections in 2016. This, coupled with a long history of lack of services makes working in these two communities a challenge. It has been very important for The Mvula Trust facilitators to read and understand this atmosphere from the start and work sensitively with it throughout the project lifespan.
Lastly, the opportunity of reviving its operations in the Northern Cape Province is exciting for The Mvula Trust, and the opportunity to work under and learn from another Implementing Agent is most welcomed with the view of strengthening The Mvula Trust’s partnerships in the water services sector.