Water crisis a 'mammoth problem'

Edna Molewa says government has both the resources and will to act on SA's water crisis.

A polluted river in the Marry Me informal settlement in Soshanguve north of Pretoria. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has described South Africa's water emergency as a "mammoth problem" which is receiving a "mammoth response".

Molewa was responding to an investigation by Eyewitness News which spanned all nine provinces and revealed the extent of South Africa's water emergency and the growing pressure on government to deal with it.

EWN's investigation also cast the spotlight on a booming industry surrounding the sale of clean drinking water.

"The problem is mammoth but we also have mammoth responses, which I don't think most of our people know about."

Molewa says a new team has been assembled to communicate better and make sure interruptions are dealt with.

The two major issues identified are co-ordination between tiers of government and the role of industry which consumes the vast majority of the country's water supply.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says government must prioritise people's lives especially the poor.

The commission says if the state can build World Cup stadiums it can deliver water.


Apartheid geography and migration patterns play a role, but at the heart of the water crisis is a breakdown in co-ordination and oversight by government as well as a failure to plan and maintain infrastructure.

From townships outside Cape Town to Nkandla and Soweto, communities have told stories of waiting almost an entire day to fill up water buckets.

A man fills a container with polluted water in the Marry Me informal settlement in Soshanguve north of Pretoria.

A tap in the Marry Me informal settlement in Pretoria.

A dirty stream where several Protea South residents in Soweto wash their clothes.

A young man washing his clothes in a sewage filled stream in Protea South in Soweto.

A man stands by a water pipe which many Protea South residents in Soweto use to get their water on a daily basis.

A woman washes her laundry with the dirty tap water in Protea South in Soweto. All pictures: Reinart Toerien/EWN.

But the reality on the ground paints a very different picture.

The last seven years have seen a dramatic drop in how communities perceive the quality of their water.

Millions of people don't have access at all while others report queuing for up to ten hours to get a single bucket of water.

Two weeks ago, four people protesting for water were killed in Mothutlung near Brits.

Pregs Govender, Deputy Chairperson at the SAHRC, says South Africa has the ability and money to fix these problems and must do so urgently.

"It [government] actually has to respond to the needs of the poorest people in the country. Our Constitution is very clear; dignity is inherent for every single person."

Municipalities have had to bring in private or semi-private contractors to deal with water problems and these deals are worth millions of rands.

The commission is due to release a landmark report on the water and sanitation situation later this year.