On Wednesday this week, on a sweltering winter day at the Mmamashia treatment plant, the long end of the Masama 100km water project, Khato Civils Executive Chairman Simbi Phiri beamed with excitement in front of clicking cameras of journalists as he demonstrated passionately and proudly with bolts and flanges paraphernalia.
The components are new arrivals. They were being brought to the site from various Johannesburg manufacturers on a daily basis for the final touches of joining pipes and valves in the inlets and water chambers of the 100km pipeline project ahead of pressure tests and flow of water along the 100km pipeline from Masama East and West aquifers, capable of pumping 64 mega liters of water per day.
About 11 000 of these pieces will be fitted in inlets and valve chambers ahead of water testing stage along the pipeline.
The delivery of the final pieces of the jigsaw has caused a lot of excitement among Khato Civils as they are on track to complete the project within budget and on time.
Despite the project being hailed as a huge success story and model, it has not been without its own hurdles and frustrations, some threatening the company's reputation. The procurement of the bolts and flanges was initially not on the list of the anticipated challenges, until the client, Water Utilities Corporation instructed the contractor to source the components from a local manufacturer, a Chinese owned company based in Palapye, and known as Seven Stars. It was a local empowerment initiative.
The decision to procure the pipe fitting components locally at first appeared convenient. Palapye is only two hours away, and it will be supporting local job creation.
However, the first month passed, then the second, and third month passed without any delivery of the bolts and flanges, as the manufacturer, according to Khato Civils sources kept on promising to deliver “next week” every time a follow up was made.
According to Phiri, all these times, Khato's officers never stopped checking on the supplier, including driving to Palapye to make face to face follow up enquiries about the delivery of the components for an emergency water project.
It was almost three months when the Chinese manufacturer hit Khato Civils with the heaviest blow of bad news; they were told the bolts and flanges can only be ready in September. That would have set the project completion back by a quarter of a year. Phiri would not have it. He had to rescue the situation and quickly identified a couple of companies in Johannesburg among whom the jobs could be spread for speedy production.
Phiri told journalists during the project media tour that the last four weeks him and his team only went to sleep at 4am every day as they daily monitored progress at the production sites. “We set up a nerve center , monitoring every aspect, and now they have started arriving every day, and we are doing the finishing touches now, but being told so late by that Palapye manufacturer that it wont be possible to help us was a blow, but here we are, we are finishing the project on time and within budget despite the shenanigans”.
Contending with a non performing manufacturer was not the only challenge Phiri and his team had to stare on the face.
The execution of the 100km pipeline project, among others required sophisticated and high level engineering; a project engineer had to be fired as the project execution almost reached a dead-end, specifically at the Bokaa village bend, and at the Metsi-botlhabe river crossing where pipe jerking engineering techniques had to be adopted against a large pond full of water, and then at Metsimotlhabe river crossing which was flooding at the time.
That is where their chief engineer for the last 12 months was fired as Khato Civils chairman Simbi Phiri ensured that a solution and not an excuse was found. The river was temporarily blocked and its flow diverted as the engineers performed pipe jerking through the river.
All in all the project had not less than ten rivers/stream crossings as well as railway crossing, road crossings, all of which required inserting the water infrastructure underneath without causing damage to the railway, roads or the river.
Majority of the infrastructure such as the feeder tank, and chambers and river crossing were built and completed amidst heavy rainfall as the project coincided with out pours.
The contractor also had to get a waiver to be allowed to work night shifts in order to make up for down time caused by long delays of delivery of materials and equipment at the border, as well as down time lost by key projects experts to covid19 preventative protocols like 14 day quarantine.
They also had to overcome pipes procurement challenges amidst COVID-19 restrictions when they pointed WUC to a South African manufacturer who could reliably supply the pipes as the original suppliers in Brazil and China could not be relied upon, while shipping costs from overseas had also quadrupled since covid19.
Upon arrival in the country in September, Phiri says he also found that some of the information he was relying upon from his managers about the progress of the project was misleading as he upped the game to ensure that the progress was at par with the target set, hence the importance of company owners to be on site and up to date about their projects.