SA’s water woes: Experts warn day zero not as far away as initially believed
Researcher Dennis Webster said in Gauteng alone, water leaks meant that for every cup of water coming out of taps, another disappeared into the earth.
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Despite South Africa’s water crisis not being anything new, with the people who collapsed the most vital parts of government services still in positions of power, day zero for the country is not as far away as initially believed, according to experts.
Although the department of water and sanitation (DWS) had made strides in its fight against corruption, keeping the likes of former minister Nomvula Mokonyane as deputy secretary-general in the ANC led some to believe SA’s water woes were far from over.
Presenting its 2023-24 annual performance plan to the portfolio committee on water and sanitation, the DWS noted a recovery of R413 million from a contract with failed global software giant SAP and tech giant EOH (formerly Enterprise Outsourcing Holdings) had agreed to pay back more than R191 million, including interest over 36 months.
This was after EOH was ordered to pay back more than R40 million for a failed contract with the department of defence.
Water expert Prof Anthony Turton said while the causes of the country’s water problems were not high demand and inadequate supply, the solutions were designed in dysfunctional government departments by people typically connected to a local criminal syndicate.
“The solutions benefit the criminals and not the general public,” he said.
“Crime thrives on chaos. The more instability we have, the greater the chance for financial benefits from public funds to accrue to local mafia syndicates.
“The failure of the state is this advancing at an accelerating rate and self correction by the government is increasingly unlikely the further we advance down that pathway of failure.”
He said without a 98% assurance of supply – the engineering standard used – no rational investor would put capital at risk, which “means the local economy will simply fail… This is why it’s an existential risk”.
“The purging of skills under the pretext of transformation has left dysfunctional government departments at national, provincial and municipal level [being] unable to effectively plan, design, manage or maintain infrastructure.
“The state has been hollowed at national, provincial and municipal level, with many local mafias now firmly embedded in the procurement process value chain.”
In her note, “SA faces multiple water crises across all provinces and sectors”, published by the Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari), freelance journalist Tshegofatso Mathe said there had been widespread failure of water service authorities to meet the minimum standards.
“Being unable to sufficiently recoup money for services rendered adds to the problems of revenue – and when revenue is weak, so is the water sector’s ability to sufficiently carry out its mandates,” she said.
In his note, also published by Pari, researcher Dennis Webster said in Gauteng alone, water leaks meant that for every cup of water coming out of taps, another disappeared into the earth.
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“As the DWS clambers out of the worst of the capture years, the most critical and immediate struggle is to secure a state capable of protecting the daily dignity and humanity which depend on water, and leveraging the developmental goals water underpins,” he said.
“Consumers bear the brunt as the state squanders vital water resources. Despite being the target of now familiar patronage networks and the attendant looting, the department is now in better shape than it has been in several years.”
Emeritus senior lecturer in the department of global health at Stellenbosch University Dr Jo Barnes said it was concerning that for decades, the government concentrated on providing water, but neglected sanitation systems.
“Oversight of projects is sadly inadequate and governance in general leaves a lot to be desired,” she said.
“So, the question arises whether the huge sums of money to be spent on these projects will yield working results, namely services to those who need it most.”
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