Much of SA’s water infrastructure is badly mismanaged or in need of upgrading, and the country is a water-scarce one generally. Three recent events should be a warning to us that the situation drastically needs attention.

  1. Large parts of Joburg will experience planned water cuts this weekend as Rand Water, which services the city, repairs faulty valves underground.
  2. The department of human settlements, water and sanitation will take over water infrastructure in Emfuleni in Gauteng, following a report by the South African Human Rights Commission that found that raw sewage flowing from the broken-down water works into the Vaal River under the Municipality’s watch, is a health risk to people and the environment.
  3. Last week, residents of Koster and Swartruggens were allowed to take control of their towns’ water works.

As News24 reports, the North West High Court ruled that the municipalities concerned had breached their constitutional duty to provide water to the towns. That’s because the water purifying works are “in states of disrepair and are mismanaged”. Residents were able to get things back on track within days. It sets an incredible precedent. 

Late last year Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched her Master Plan. It revealed solutions but also the extent of the problems. As Mail & Guardian’s acting editor, Sipho Kings, noted, SA’s infrastructure isn’t sufficient for our growing population. Kings wrote that the country has nobly spent enough money to supply 95% of the population with water… but a third of the infrastructure doesn’t work.

Add to this a vast country where water must be transported from dams across thousands of kilometres to big cities, and a warming climate causing unforeseen droughts, and you’ve got a problem.

Government is acutely aware of the myriad problems. Besides the master plan, twelve large water infrastructure projects were gazetted last year.  They now need to tackle the problems of mismanagement, corruption and a skills shortage. Or be embarrassed when citizens like those in Koster and Swartruggens successfully take matters into their own hands. 

Saving water should also become a huge priority for us, especially those living in the big cities. We’re a water scarce country. We need to start acting like it. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 25 February 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.