South Africa

Private sector the only solution for South Africa’s water woes

South Africa’s private sector has the necessary skills and resources to effectively run the country’s water plants and will help alleviate the current water crisis.

This is according to water governance expert Richard Meissner, whose comments come as South Africa is experiencing severe water shortages.

The latest reports from the Department of Water and Sanitation indicate that around 50% of water in South Africa is lost in transit between bulk suppliers, such as Rand Water, and the end user due to leakages. 

Inadequate planning and a lack of insight into how the water system works are at the heart of South Africa’s water problems. 

Over the last three decades, a mass migration has occurred into South Africa’s major metropolitan areas.

Despite the rapidly increasing population, the water system has not been sufficiently upgraded to accommodate the higher water demand.

This has led to concerns of social unrest and the collapse of municipalities as South Africa’s water woes mount.

Therefore, to address the crisis, Water Minister Senzo Mchunu plans to overhaul the national water industry and strip municipalities of responsibility for its provision.

The reforms are intended to attract private investment, enforce accountability for non-performance and remedy a crisis that has seen outages nationwide.

“I am very, very, very worried. I want this thing to go,” Mchunu said.

His plans come as opposition politicians seize upon the interruptions as evidence that water supply is a developing crisis in Africa’s most industrialized economy as they campaign ahead of the 2024 elections.

Mchunu expects Parliament to approve the creation of a National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency in the coming weeks.

This agency will be tasked with overseeing major projects and, later in the year, to amend existing legislation.

Those changes will see municipalities tasked with appointing water service providers whose licenses to operate will depend on a level of performance. If those standards aren’t met, municipalities will have to appoint alternative providers, he said.

Those providers could be existing agencies such as Johannesburg Water, with new rules about where its revenues go, private companies or other models. 

‘The way to go’

“The private sector is the way to go when it comes to water provisioning,” Meissner told eNCA

“We must remember that under the Water Services Act, municipalities are both water authorities and water providers, so they are both player and referee.” 

He explained that, in simple terms, Mchunu’s plan to reform the Act would make municipalities water authorities only, and then the water providers would be the private sector. 

The private sector already adheres to various corporate governance structures and runs on a profit basis, which means they have the financial resources to run South Africa’s water systems.

Meissner specified that this would not mean the privatisation of water as a resource in South Africa.

Rather, the private sector will employ its financial resources and technical skills to run wastewater treatment plants and water purification plants in South Africa. 


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