South Africa

South Africa facing severe water shortages

Experts are warning of a looming water crisis on a scale worse than load-shedding in South Africa as criminal syndicates have begun targeting water infrastructure to score tenders. 

Professor Anthony Turton from the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State warned that the water crisis could have an even greater impact on South Africa than load-shedding if it is not addressed soon. 

The central issue, according to Turton, is not water scarcity but rather that criminal syndicates are embedded in South Africa’s water supply value chain. 

“There is a hierarchy of nested criminal syndicated that have dug themselves into infrastructure in South Africa”, Turton told eNCA

These syndicates are sophisticated and deeply entrenched. Tackling these syndicates is central to solving a looming water crisis in South Africa. 

The primary target for these syndicates is water infrastructure, such as pumping stations, sewage treatment plants, and electrical infrastructure, such as copper cables, generators, and batteries. 

“The whole idea is to create a crisis and then offer a service as a solution,” with syndicates deliberately sabotaging infrastructure to secure a tender. 

For example, syndicates often destroy sewage infrastructure to get a tender for an emergency pump. 

Anthony Turton, professor at the University of the Free State

Criminality exacerbates the ageing water infrastructure problems South Africa is already facing and which is worsening. 

According to government reports, nearly 50% of the water from bulk water facilities to the end consumer is unaccounted for. This is up from 30% to 35% a few years ago. 

This is also due to poor maintenance unrelated to criminal syndicates, with the maintenance done in a patchwork manner. 

Criminal syndicates prevent regular, high-quality maintenance from occurring. It means the water problem should be addressed as criminal and not just an infrastructural.

However, Turton said that calling in the army or security companies to protect this infrastructure is not the solution. Criminal syndicates are often embedded in these entities, making them ineffective responses. 

In many cases of sabotage, security firms are directly involved in giving syndicates access to infrastructure and some gain from tenders issued in response to criminal activity at water facilities. 


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