Spur’s water woes

Spur said the inability to access reliable, clean water in certain regions is becoming an increasingly prevalent challenge for the restaurant franchise giant.

In its results for the second half of 2023, Spur said 217 of its 595 restaurants in South Africa have invested in infrastructure to secure a supply of usable water.

Spur owns brands such as Panarottis, RocoMamas, John Dory’s and, most recently, Doppio Zero.

“The inability in certain regions to access a reliable, clean water supply is becoming more prevalent, requiring franchisees to seek alternatives,” the company said. 

“The need to invest in alternative water reserves at restaurants will be a key focus in future. The group continues to engage with its franchisee network and consider requests for short-term financial support.”

Spur’s concerns come as South Africa is currently facing water shortages and problems with its water infrastructure.

In particular, Johannesburg and its surrounds were hit by severe water cuts in 2023. While water interruptions have been happening for years, they scaled up dramatically at the end of last year.

On 27 September, the deteriorating situation recently forced the Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, to intervene. He announced a new initiative called “water-shifting” to deal with the shortages. 

When releasing the full Blue Drop, Green Drop, and No-Drop Water report for 2023, Mchunu blamed the increase in the deteriorating water supply on historical challenges of ageing infrastructure. 

However, water scientist Dr Anthony Turton dismissed this excuse out of hand. 

“Let the facts speak for themselves. The ANC has been in power for over a quarter of a century. The population has doubled, so what have they done about upgrading infrastructure? To blame something else is disingenuous,” Turton said. 

“The simple fact of the matter is that your infrastructure has deteriorated, and your institutions have failed. That is the important thing. Institutional failure is far more significant than ageing infrastructure.”

Dr Anthony Turton, professor at the University of the Free State

Turton used the example of South Africa’s wastewater plants, which treat the country’s 7 billion litres of wastewater generated daily. 

The wastewater is mostly fed back into South Africa’s rivers after it is treated to be reused, with a small amount being deposited into the ocean. 

However, the latest data shows that two-thirds of the country’s wastewater plants are dysfunctional. 

This results in the increasing levels of unsafe drinking water in the country. 

“The situation is dire, and it is a result of institutional failure”, with most of the blame being laid at the feet of municipalities as the Department of Water and Sanitation does not have jurisdiction over these areas. 

Turton said that this could be turned around with sufficient political will. 

“I would almost say we are at an inflexion point in our history. The forthcoming elections are going to play a considerable role in deciding whether South Africa is going to continue to sink like the Titanic or slowly recover.”

Turton said South Africa needs to invest R1 trillion to repair its deteriorating water infrastructure and upgrade it to ensure it can meet the growing demand of the country’s population.