/ 21 March 2024

Mchunu calls on private sector to invest in water infrastructure

Umgeni River
Water activists last week "renamed" some of the country's most polluted rivers. Here, eThekwini's notoriously polluted Umgeni, was "renamed" to reflect consistently high levels of E-Coli, a direct result of poor maintenance of infrastructure. Photo: Des Erasmus

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has called on the private sector to invest in water infrastructure projects.

Speaking at a sustainability conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Mchunu asked companies to help the government fund the construction of water storage facilities to mitigate the effects of droughts and ensure a more reliable water supply.

“Investing in water infrastructure upgrades, implementing water conservation measures and enhancing water management practices are crucial to ensure equitable access to clean water for all citizens,” Mchunu said.

His call comes as several municipalities and metros, including eThekwini, Tshwane, eMalahleni and Johannesburg have been without water for several weeks, citing ageing infrastructure among many as the cause of water cuts. 

Johannesburg also had water supply problems after the Eikenhof pump station was hit by outages over the past two weeks. 

The water shortages in the city lasted up to 11 days, with some areas still grappling with water supply after lightning hit a transformer on 3 March. On 18 March a lightning strike at the Orland substation in Soweto caused a power outage for several hours, affecting eight water towers and reservoirs. 

Mchunu said the water system had deteriorated because of inadequate maintenance, no planning for population growth, mismanagement and corruption. As a result many municipalities lose drinking water to leaks.

The department’s latest Drop reports,  which look at water quality, wastewater quality and water losses, paint a grim picture of the water situation in the country.

“The Blue and No Drop Reports indicate that there has been a decline in drinking water quality and an increase in non-revenue water since the last reports were issued in 2014,” the department said last year.

Several water supply systems in the country were operating close to or beyond their design capacity, with monitoring and compliance systems showing signs of being severely deficient, the Blue drop report noted.

Mchunu said there was a need to improve distribution networks so water could reach people in high-demand areas. “Upgrading pipelines, canals, and pumping stations enhances the reliability and efficiency of water distribution, reducing losses and ensuring that water reaches communities, industries, and agricultural areas on time.”

By modernising distribution infrastructure, South Africa can ensure equitable water distribution across regions, the minister added.

Mchunu said his department was aware of the problems in municipalities, saying they were behind in their efforts to address the water situation because issues were not addressed promptly.

He said the department was waiting on parliament for the Water Services Amendment Bill, which aims to make enforcement stronger so directives can be issued when residents aren’t given clean drinking water by municipalities.

“The key changes included in the bill are a legal requirement for all water service providers to have an operating license, and an amendment to section 63 of the Act to strengthen enforcement mechanisms,” Mchunu said.

He emphasised that the legislative reforms are crucial to prevent incidents such as the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal last year when 23 people died.