/ 3 July 2024

From water to police: Senzo Mchunu’s legacy and Pemmy Majodina’s new job

The  ANC's KwaZulu-Natal leader Senzo Mchunu.
Senzo Mchunu. (M&G)

The outgoing water and sanitation minister, Senzo Mchunu, has left big shoes to fill, water experts say. 

Mchunu, who was appointed minister of police in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government of national unity on Sunday, has been replaced by Pemmy Majodina, who was the ANC’s chief whip.

Ferrial Adam, the executive manager of WaterCAN, said Mchunu had taught her that “you can’t deal with water from sitting in an office in Pretoria, you have to be on the ground”.

“He did it; he didn’t just give fancy nice speeches,” she said. “He was so accessible. When I met him, there weren’t a thousand bodyguards intimidating you so that you couldn’t speak to him. He developed a leadership team around him that is the same. 

“They took away that idea that we can’t speak to people in those positions because there’s a blue light on their head. That was what he [Mchunu] did and I think it’s because of that that he was able to turn the water ship around. He did miracles. We’ll miss him on that front.”

How Majodina builds on the work that Mchunu and his team started is key, she said, including not saying “‘I’m now the new minister so I decide’ but working with the team to make sure that this ship moves forward”.

Adam said Mchunu got the Lesotho Highlands Water Project back on track, published the Blue, Green and No Drop reports after years of this not being done, and amended policy to make it better and stronger. “For the most part, he really got into the water issues and with such a good team around him, he was able to focus on the important things.”

Anja du Plessis, an associate professor in the Department of Geography, College of Agriculture and Environmental Science, at Unisa, said she was sad to see Mchunu’s departure from water and sanitation “when looking at his past performance”.

“I was hoping he would be kept in that portfolio so we could progress with the positive momentum that was built by him with his team after a lot of hard work,” she said.

Du Plessis said she hoped that the department of water and sanitation “won’t move back to the dark ages” that it was a decade ago. “I do hope that the director general [Sean Phillips] and the team can continue with the work that they are doing and that there is positive progress to carry on with the enforcement that Senzo was calling for.”

She added that Majodina should ensure continuity in the department in terms of the team, and work together with the director general, experts, civil society and the private sector. 

“I just hope … that we continue with this pressure on municipalities for accountability, transparency and enforcement of standards” because widespread pollution must continue to be addressed.”