Hundreds of young people who were meant to be trained through a R3 billion water project are languishing at home, thanks to an apparent bungling by the Department of Water and Sanitation under Nomvula Mokonyane, its former minister.

More than 2000 trainees are unable to complete their studies or find jobs, because of mismanagement.

Former president Jacob Zuma launched the project, which he called the War on Leaks, in 2015, saying it would produce 15 000 qualified artisans over three years.

At the time of the launch in Port Elizabeth, Zuma said the graduates would help seal water leaks that cost the country R7bn annually. More than 20% of the country’s water is said to be lost through leaks.

Rand Water was appointed to implement the project on the department’s behalf, but bungling by the department has left the entity unable to place the artisans in either municipalities or private companies for practical training.

Instead, many continue to receive their stipend while sitting at home.

One of the affected youths is from KwaMhlanga in Mpumalanga. He said he was the beneficiary from the state of a R50 000 stipend for more than 20 months while idling at home.

A total of 414 youths across the country are in the same boat, having pocketed their stipends ranging between R2000 and R2500 a month since August 2015, according to figures obtained from the Department of Water and Sanitation.

A further 1771 have received the monthly grants since August 2016.

The 2015 class should have been placed after completing their theoretical training in July 2016, according to a contract they signed. The trainees’ 2016 counterparts should have started their practical training in July last year.

With their contracts lapsing in August, the 2015 class face the risk of leaving the three-year training with no qualifications because they have not done the requisite practicals.

“We cannot write our trade tests without practical experience of at least a year. One can only become a qualified artisan in the country after passing the trade test.

“I’m stressing because I’ve not been placed and the contract runs out at the end of August. There are so many of us still unplaced,” the KwaMhlanga trainee said.

He said they would have to extend his contract until he can be placed.

“I will then be able to write my trade test. Writing the test is the main thing, or else we’d have wasted three years on the project.”

Another youth, from Zeerust, North West, said: “These people are failing us. It seems they failed to plan the project from the start.

“How can you say you will place people, but when the time comes, you can’t? How will I qualify to write my trade test without experience?”

The accusations against the Water and Sanitation Department failing to roll out the project come at a time when the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union yesterday threatened to report Mokonyane to the Hawks and the Public Protector over corruption they believe drove the department to financial ruin.

The union yesterday began its indefinite labour strike against the department.

Mokonyane was recently moved to the Department of Communications in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle.

Rand Water spokesperson Justice Mohale referred all questions to the Department of Water and Sanitation. Sputnik Ratau, its spokesperson, conceded to The Star that it was a major problem and released the figures on unplaced trainees.

He said the department was considering extending the contracts that are due to lapse in August.

“This matter is still being looked into. This challenge was not foreseen but will have to be resolved. Its resolution will form part of the lessons learnt going forward,” said Ratau.

In total, 2185 trainees from both the 2015 and 2016 recruits were yet to be placed in the workplace. Ratau said that 7087 of the War on Leaks project trainees were getting the required experience in various workplaces.

Of late, War on Leaks was also hit by pay problems that have affected the payment of the monthly stipends. The February payments were released a week late.

“We’re asking ourselves if we will have the same problem at the end of this month. We hear that the money has run out,” said one trainee.

A week ago, Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) expressed concern that Mokonyane had left the department bankrupt and on the brink of collapse. It has overspent its R14bn budget by R2bn. The department also requested a R3bn overdraft from the Reserve Bank, a move that Scopa rejected as illegal.

Ratau said the late payment was due to a “procedural delay” in transferring funds to Rand Water.

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