South Africa

Water-shifting warning for indebted municipalities

Municipalities that fail to pay for their water supply may face restrictions, with the last resort being the implementation of ‘water-shifting’. 

This warning came from Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu at a media briefing during the ANC’s NEC meeting this past weekend. 

Mchunu was adamant that the country does not face a water crisis despite some areas in Gauteng experiencing water shortages. 

The Minister attributed these shortages to protracted load-shedding, which led to an inability to pump water to reservoirs in high-lying areas of Gauteng. 

In short, it is not a case of South Africa lacking water but a failure to get water from bulk suppliers to the end consumer. 

An estimated 50% of the water from bulk water suppliers in South Africa does not reach the end consumer due to leakages, theft, and failing infrastructure. 

Newzroom Afrika reported that Mchunu singled this out as the reason for periodic water-shifting implemented in some areas of Gauteng. 

Water expert Dr Anthony Turton explained that “water-shifting is to the water sector what load-shedding is to the energy sector.”

Turton said water-shifting prevents the total collapse of a local water system and “prevents a local angry mob from taking to the street and protesting”. 

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

However, Mchunu told reporters that water-shifting may also be imposed on some areas due to their municipalities failing to pay their bills. 

Some municipalities have failed to make payments to some of South Africa’s water boards for their water supply. 

This has led to skyrocketing debt owed by municipalities to water boards, with figures from the Department of Water and Sanitation in February showing that municipalities owed water boards R16.7 billion. 

Municipalities and the water boards owed the department – which has its own water trading entity – R17.4 billion.

Mchunu said the growing debt and lack of payments from municipalities have led to water boards restricting the water supply to some municipalities. 

The Minister warned that the department’s last resort is to implement water-shifting in the municipalities that have failed to pay the water boards. 

The department is working with the National Treasury to recoup some of the debt municipalities owe them.


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