South Africa

South Africa’s water infrastructure collapse

South Africa’s water infrastructure is collapsing, with the country having double the leakages of any industrialised economy and 50% of all water from bulk suppliers never reaching the end consumer.

This is feedback from the CEO of the South African Water Chamber, Benoit Le Roy, who told eNCA that the problem is not increased water consumption but the failure of distributors and municipalities to ensure adequate supply. 

Generally, water usage does increase when temperatures rise. Still, the issue is not insufficient bulk water supply from entities such as Rand Water – it is the deterioration of water infrastructure at a municipal level. 

Rand Water announced last week that it has been pumping more water than its usage licence allows to make up for leakages preventing water from reaching the end consumer. 

Le Roy said this is not a problem as South Africa’s dams are mostly full, but increased water pressure will exacerbate the existing leakages and result in further failures. 

“Pumping more water into the system just means more leaks,” he said. 

“All cities in the world have leakages, but South Africa’s leaking buckets have more holes than most. We have double the number of holes on average than any industrial economy.”

Moreover, South Africans are not large water consumers if leakages are stripped out. Without water lost to leakages, South Africans are one-third below the global water consumption average. 

“We need to fix the leaking bucket,” Le Roy said. “It will cost about R25 billion to fix Johannesburg’s water infrastructure alone, and you cannot do it overnight.”

“We need to move. That is the big thing. We are talking a lot and raising awareness, but we are not moving.”

Le Roy’s comments come on the back of Rand Water’s warning last month that it cannot guarantee water supply to all areas in Gauteng over the festive season. 

Rand Water COO Mahlomola Mehlo spoke to Newzroom Afrika following a media briefing where the water utility detailed the extensive challenges it faces. 

Mehlo explained that water supply is based upon the resource’s abstraction, purification, and distribution. All three are dependent on electricity. 

If the electricity supply cannot be guaranteed, neither can the water supply to all areas. 

Rand Water has plans to mitigate the effects of power outages, and its facilities are exempt from load-shedding. 

The main problem is its old infrastructure, which is deteriorating and making it increasingly difficult to get water to the end consumer. 

Mehlo stressed that this is a countrywide issue and not unique to Rand Water. 

“If you consider all the variables at play and those that we have to manage and keep in check, at any given time, one of those variables can fail us,” Mehlo said. 

“The incidents of the recent weeks have actually shown us that there are no guarantees in the provision of water, especially during this period. What I can guarantee is every effort is being made to ensure that we do not experience such.”


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