Alex Japho Matlala
Community leader claims they drink contaminated water as a result.
A farmer accused of stealing water while nearly one million people compete for contaminated water with wild animals in streams and rivers has denied the allegations.
Phillip van Zyl of the ZZ2 farms in Mooketsi, outside Tzaneen, is accused by community members of illegally extracting water in a river upstream before the water reaches two big dams, Middle Letaba and Nsami.
Despite flash floods this year, Middle Letaba – which is adjacent to the farms – remained empty.
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ZZ2 is a farming enterprise operating in Limpopo, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and Namibia, with an annual turnover of more than R24 billion and 25 000 employees.
They farm tomatoes, avocados, mangoes, onions, dates, apples, pears and blue berries, among other crops.
According to recent statistics released by the department of water and sanitation, some of the dams in the region recorded over 100% water volumes, while Middle Letaba recorded 7.4%.
Nsami recorded 104.1%, Nandoni 104.5%, Tzaneen 102.3%, Flag Boshielo 106.5% and De Hoop 97%.
“We know he diverted water to his farms while our people go for months without a single drop of water,” Pat Mabandla, secretary for the Giyani Service Delivery Forum, claimed yesterday.
“We can’t have the whole community suffering just because of one man. He is raking in millions of rands from the very same water that is supposed to quench our thirst. Mr Van Zyl must just stop this illegal practice, or else we will make him stop.”
Mabandla said the community was forced to fetch contaminated water from streams which, he said, led to diseases. But Van Zyl said he was drawing water legally.
“I have a legit water licence and the department of water and sanitation can vouch for me. The water that I am extracting is as per the amount sanctioned by the department.”
The department’s spokesman, Sputnik Ratau, confirmed Van Zyl had a licence.
“Our investigations shows the main problem is not illegal water use as was widely perceived, but a limited water supply.
“The problem with Letaba catchment is due to a question of more demand than supply, as there are other water users upstream, other than Van Zyl,” he said.