Saturday, 23 October 2010

Is there water in Dixie?


Recently there has been a great deal of confusion about whether or not there is any water flowing in Dixie, whether or not the viewers were given credit for their donations and efforts in raising money for the 'water for Dixie' project on Bush Warriors Blog in a July 2010 article, how much money was left over after the purchase and installation of the pump earlier this year and where that money was being kept. This Blog is an attempt to try and clarify all of this ...

Before I begin I want to state that WE, and Emily and I (Graham Wallington) in particular, did not handle any of this well. We first did two simple, quick and visual projects where we raised a little money. WE took the kids from Dixie to a film in Nelspruit and recorded the whole experience. Then we raised a little more money and gave all the kids Christmas presents and gave the whole village a Christmas lunch which WE broadcast LIVE. These projects were highly successful in every way, and this success made us quite confident ... maybe a bit over confident.

So we decided to take on the much larger project of providing the whole village (about 300 homes) with fresh running water. As many of you know, this village does not have the kind of reticulated water service to the home that we all take for granted. They are forced to make do with a few 'stand pipes' in the village which are unreliable at best. WE entered the Amazee race and came second and third which entitled us to a $5,000 donation. The effort by our audience to get as many members of our Amazee project as possible was nothing short of miraculous. People all over the world worked tirelessly around the night to get their friends and families to join the project. Although we did not win first prize it was an amazing achievement.

In addition some $1,130 was donated directly by the audience. Now while this is not an insignificant amount of money it is far from enough to supply fresh running water to every home in Dixie. We always knew this, and set about trying to raise much more money, knowing that it could not come from our audience. A large NGO was approached, who 'do' these kind of projects, and they indicated that they would be able to raise the necessary funds fairly easily after we had done two things: (1) gotten permission from all the stakeholders, and (2) a thorough and accurate costing of the project. They also made it clear that they would not get involved in any project that any element of corruption involved. So if we needed to bribe anybody to get the permissions then they could not be involved. Very understandable, I think.

Well of course it was not difficult to get permission from the Dixie community (represented by the Dixie Community Forum), after all they are the people who need the water project to happen. The municipality, while not very well organized, have no reason to withhold permission and after all this project should really be their responsibility. However, the chief, a Mr. Hosni Mnisi, of the area under which Dixie finds itself, simply does not provide his all important permission to any project unless there is 'something in it for him'. There is actually far more to this story, which is the subject on an entire book about the traditional leadership of South Africa.

In any event we now found ourselves in a quandary. We spent some months trying to negotiate our way around this problem, but it could not be done. Not only because he wants his 'share', but also because he hates Rexon with a passion, because Rexon successfully won a high court case several years before preventing this man from disposing of Dixie land for his own benefit. So our association with Rexon, by virtue of the fact that he worked for us, made it even harder.

So we had no choice but to find somebody else to try and get this permission. We turned to the Buffelshoek Trust. With whom, it was agreed, we would work if they were (a) able to get the necessary permissions that we could not, and (b) chose to involve themselves with this project. Some 6 months or so after our initial meeting they sent through a letter from the Dixie Community Forum granting permission to the 'water for Dixie' project. Of course this permission was 'not enough' and although I have not spoken to the Buffelshoek Trust recently, I can only assume that they have not been able to get the chiefs unconditional support.

Then the pump broke at Dixie!! This meant that there was no water at all. So the municipality began to send water bowzers (truckloads of water) to the village and promised to fix the pump. Those promises did not materialize and the bowzers were late and irregular. The people were suffering, and yet we had the $6,130 available specifically to provide water ... something had to be done. So Emily and Rex got to work. Please read Emily's Blog all about what happened, and how some of the money was spent.

Although no long term decisions were taken after the pump was put in and water was flowing in Dixie, we did kind of decide that the best use of this money was to just keep on maintaining the status quo while we tried to figure out how to get the full project back on track. In the meantime Rexon was fighting a complex and incredibly important battle to wrestle control of the land from the traditional leader (the chief) and into the hands of the people. This convoluted and complex story, which I still do not fully understand and is certainly a subject of a book, culminated in a constitutional court decision. It's possible, but by no means certain, that this decision could result in a constitutional amendment which would remove any power of the traditional leaders over the land. In turn this might mean that the only permission that is required to get the 'water for Dixie' project back on track would be the municipality and the Dixie community. We are awaiting clarity on this and will share that clarity when we have it.

There have been some rumors that the water was not flowing in Dixie at the moment. I can confirm that as of yesterday morning there was water at the few stand pipes in Dixie in which there has been water over the past few years. There are some broken pipes, which connect a few other stand pipes, but these pipes have been broken for some years now. However, the diesel necessary to run the pump, that we replaced earlier in the year, is unreliably supplied by the municipality. Therefore sometimes the pump does not run because there is no diesel to run it. (Yesterday there was 20 liters of diesel at the pump). At least part of the problem is that there is no safe place to store the diesel, to make sure that it is only used for the pump and not for any personal uses. There is a small concrete building where the diesel used to be stored, but the lock on this building has gone, and the door broken off. 

I have agreed with Rex that the remaining money will be used to try and keep the water flowing in Dixie, while we try to understand the implications of the recent constitutional court decision. In the short term we are going to replace the door and lock on the small 'diesel house', and then buy some diesel as and when the municipality don't deliver. There are some real risks here. One of which is committing to making sure that come what may we will make sure that there is always diesel in the house. You can imagine that a 'bottomless barrel of diesel' risks being abused, and soon the money would run out. And that money was meant to supply water to the people not diesel to individuals. So a careful approach to this is required.

The important thing is that the money raised for the 'water for Dixie' project will all be spent on keeping the water flowing in Dixie.

In summary I would like to say that I have made mistakes. I apologize to you, the donors, for not accounting better, both in terms of the finances and in terms of the progress of this project. I have also learned some lessons. Firstly, that WE are not an NGO. We do not know how to be an NGO, and cannot become one, but WE must help the communities that share the land WE all enjoy so much. Secondly, it is better to not hold back anything, no matter how sensitive you think that information is, because some people are suspicious when you do not share everything you know. This seems to be seriously worsened when there are private donors concerned, and I completely understand that.

Written by Graham Wallington

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