The giant pipes lying idle along the road were supposed to deliver water from a dam completed six years ago to villages across the region.
Instead, they have become a symbol of government greed and failure in South Africa’s impoverished north, where families are still walking kilometers to the nearest well.
A court suspended the water project after unsuccessful bidders filed suit, saying that graft played a part in the choice of contractor. It is just one of several lawsuits challenging how contracts are awarded in the province of Limpopo.
Now the South African national government has stepped in, sending its officials to oversee and try to find budget savings in the provincial departments of education, finance, health, public works, transportation and water.
Limpopo “has been spending beyond its means. This has to stop,” it said.
The national government gave no names and provided few specifics, but a visitor does not have to spend much time in this province of 5 million people before seeing suspended or abandoned government construction projects.
Government-built homes for the poor have leaking roofs and crumbling brickwork. Residents say windows were so poorly installed that thieves just pull out the whole frame to break in. Potholed roads are said to have started crumbling within months of tar being put down.
That contrasts with the extravagant homes said to have been built by friends, relatives and business partners of important politicians.
The South African government says Limpopo’s provincial government also was paying “ghost teachers,” failing to ensure that schools had the money to keep running and failing to pay suppliers to its hospitals and clinics.
National investigators are probing provincial leaders’ decision-making and whether illegal payments had been made. The province -apparently was paying some contractors so often it could not keep track of whether the work or services being billed had been done.
Critics say Limpopo’s failures are linked to Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale and another prominent politician from the province, Julius Malema. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
The provincial wing of the country’s governing African National Congress (ANC) party has rallied behind them and has disputed the need for the national government’s intervention in provincial affairs.
ANC provincial spokesperson Makondele Mathiva compared the corruption accusations against Mathale and Malema with allegations that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction.
“Where is the evidence?” he said. “There must be some people concocting these stories for reasons I believe are political.”
Malema was seen as the kingmaker who helped South African President Jacob Zuma reach the top. Malema gained a strong national following with his populist rhetoric, but his influence has waned since the ANC suspended him for five years for violating the party’s discipline code. On Saturday, party officials said they were giving him a second chance to fight that suspension, but upheld the guilty verdicts.
Limpopo is among the nine provinces created for a democratic South Africa following the end of apartheid in 1994. It was carved out of what was once the sprawling province of Transvaal.
Though an estimated 40 percent of Limpopo’s workforce is unemployed, compared with a national average of 25 percent, Limpopo’s capital, Polokwane, has the look of a 21st-century frontier boomtown. The new buildings springing up on its flat grid are not saloons and mining license offices, but a premier’s office with an imposing stone facade, and something chic and modernist for the department of economic development.