South African President Jacob Zuma officially launched the R12.5-billion Mzimvubu Water Project at Tsolo Junction near Mthatha in the Eastern Cape on Friday.


One the key projects in the government’s strategic infrastructure development programme, the Mzimvubu project will involve the construction of two dams, a hydropower plant, bulk water distribution infrastructure and infield irrigation developments.


The 490-million cubic metre Ntabelanga Dam, to be built in Ntabelanga on the Tsitsa River, a tributary of the Mzimvubu River, will be South Africa’s 10th largest dam once completed. It will help to meet the province’s domestic, agricultural and industrial water requirements, as well as possible supply the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and the Orange/Vaal River System in the longer term.


The second dam, the Laleni Dam, will be used for hydro power generation. The dam will be able to generate 35 megawatts (MW) of baseload power, or up to 180 MW of peaking power when operated jointly with the Ntabelanga Dam.


Zuma said the design work on the project was due to be completed by June, with construction scheduled to start in November and be completed by February 2018.


He said the project was expected to create about 6?700 jobs during the construction phase and 6?500 jobs during the operational phase.


“The development of this Mzimvubu catchment will indeed accelerate the social and economic upliftment of the communities in this region,” Zuma said, noting that the project would supply water to over 720?000 households in the OR Tambo, Alfred Nzo and Joe Gqabi districts.


“This is an important part of our efforts at equity and distribution, ensuring that we increase on the 95.2% [of South Africans] who now have access to clean water.


“A central water treatment works with a bulk distribution program will form the cornerstone of the water network in this area and will be used as a hub to develop much-needed skills in the region.”


In February, in a first-of-its-kind precursor to the construction of the dams, the government embarked on an extensive catchment rehabilitation programme, aimed at improving catchment land use and reducing soil erosion and sedimentation into the Ntabelanga and Laleni dams.


The programme, which includes the clearing of invasive alien plants and the restoration of eroded and denuded land, has already created jobs for 370 people in the area.


“Therefore a closer look at this dam project illustrates clearly that it has many multipliers for creating employment opportunities and other socio-economic benefits,” Zuma said.


“For example, this water value chain includes dam building, catchment rehabilitation and removal of alien plants, agricultural irrigation, hydro power generation, water treatment and water conveyance, all of which provide job opportunities and can spur more economic prospects.”