Improving lives with water delivery

Thursday, September 18, 2014

By Communications Minister Faith Muthambi

Our founding President Nelson Mandela often highlighted the profound impact water had in changing lives. He shared his personal experience of growing up in the former Transkei where water for household use had to be drawn each day.

Madiba recounted: “All the water we used for farming, cooking and washing … had to be fetched in buckets from the streams and springs. It was tedious work for children, like me each day, hours that were used to draw and carry water … were hours stolen from time that could be devoted to learning or earning,” he added.

Apartheid’s spatial planning had created these difficult and inhumane conditions as it systematically excluded the country’s black population from access to basic services such as water.

In 1994 the new democratic government inherited this unequal society with skewed delivery of basic services and gross inequalities. More than 12 million people were denied access to clean drinking water and less than half the rural population had a safe water supply.

The extent that the access to water changes lives was always going to make it a key priority for government over the last 20 years. 

The Twenty Year Review 1994 – 2014 showed that government has worked hard to provide almost 95 per cent of households in the country access to water infrastructure; this is up from 60 per cent in 1994. The percentage of households with access to at least the basic level of sanitation increased from 50 per cent in 1994 to 83 per cent in 2012.

While we have made strong inroads we still face a backlog of 1.4 million households without adequate water and 2.1 million households without basic sanitation.

Our plan to close this gap is spearheaded by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee chaired by President Jacob Zuma which is delivering improved access to water and safe sanitation through Strategic Infrastructure Project (SIP) 18.

These investments are also creating much needed jobs in rural areas through construction and maintenance of our water projects.

Government recently opened the first phase of Pongolapoort Bulk Water Supply project in the Jozini Local Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal. The R1.5 billion project supplies water to 16 200 households in the Jozini Local Municipality.

Moreover, surrounding communities who previously had no access to fresh water now also receive a steady supply.

The project was unveiled by Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane and KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu. Minister Mokonyane described it as part of government’s commitment to bring services to the people.

She indicated that the Pongolapoort Bulk Water Supply project represented Phase 1A of a larger project to ensure that everyone in UMkhanyakude District Municipality and Jozini Local Municipality had access to water.

Premier Mchunu said the project is part of government’s non-discriminatory development. “We develop both the urban and rural areas. All this work must be viewed as part of a process,” he said.

The total project costs R2.4 billion and is funded through the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant programme.

These infrastructure investments are expected to grow the local economy; create jobs and develop skills and training opportunities within the community. Over the last financial year 470 job opportunities were created and the steady supply of water is helping attract business opportunities to the area.

Government, through SIP18 is providing communities around the country like those in Jozini access to water.

As more South Africans receive access to water we should always be mindful that water is a scarce commodity. South Africa is ranked the 30th driest country in the world and we should all play our part in preserving this vital commodity.

Water is a catalyst for socio-economic development and therefore we should treat it with the utmost care. Government calls on all sectors to protect, conserve and manage water in a sustainable manner. Our communities also have an important role to play by reporting water leaks to their local municipality.

Through our infrastructure build programme, government will ensure that every South African has access to safe water and sanitation.

We have set a target in our Medium-Term Strategic Framework 2014 – 2019 to increase the percentage of households with access to functional water and sanitation services to 90 per cent by 2019.

Our plans set us on track to reach our National Development Plan commitment to have full access to affordable and reliable water and sanitation before 2030.

Inspired by our icon Madiba let us conserve and cherish our water sources. We should all strive as he did to be a “totally committed water person”. Our joint actions can preserve this precious life giving source for future generations.