Home PodcastJulie Alli Urgent action needed to resolve SA’s water crisis

Urgent action needed to resolve SA’s water crisis

by Luqmaan Rawat
The water crisis is a dire situation but there is hope on the horizon Photo Pexels

South Africa – The water situation in South Africa has been a looming disaster for over a decade, with severe consequences for public health, infrastructure and the economy. The dire situation is now being linked to the recent cholera outbreaks and numerous cases of diarrheal diseases.

Over a century ago, a direct link was established between cholera and drinking water contaminated with sewage. While the exact source of the water crisis and the subsequent cholera outbreak has been a topic of discussion, water expert, Prof. Anthony Turton, has deemed it a discussion not worthy of having. There are more pressing matters at hand like how the sewage of the country is being handled.

“To be squabbling over what the actual source of it is [cholera outbreak] is really quite a moot point. The fact is we produce five billion litres of sewage every single day and only about 15% of that gets treated to a reasonable standard before being discharged back into a river. What more can we expect when we are exposing large numbers of the population to water that is partially treated. This is just unacceptable.”


The need for urgent action

Given the severity of the water crisis, it is imperative that swift action is taken to address the situation. According to Turton, the Minister of Water Affairs, Senzo Mchunu has recognized the urgency and has begun taking steps to tackle the crisis. While he acknowledged the minister’s efforts, Turton also expressed concern about whether we have reached the lowest point yet.

“I must say that the Minister of Water Affairs is trying his very best at the moment. I have been in contact with his office. They reached out to me last week and the minister is going to be establishing some teams later on this week. The ministry is starting to take us very seriously, but have we reached the bottom of the pit yet? I don’t know. Can we get worse? I’m afraid we can still get worse. It’s going to take a while to get this thing around.”

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The state of infrastructure in the water sector

The state of infrastructure in South Africa’s water sector is dire, requiring an estimated R1 trillion to repair the existing issues. However, the country’s economic challenges, including the collapsing tax base due to the energy crisis, make it difficult for the government to fund such a massive undertaking. 

“We need R1 trillion just to fix what is broken. There’s no way that the fiscus has that money. The taxpayer will be unable to pay for that bill so I’m afraid we’re going to enter into a new kind of future where capital is going to have to come from alternative sources. Possibly through some kind of public-private participation model and that is also going to need to have a restoration of investor confidence in South Africa.” 


Hope for a positive resolution

Despite the grim circumstances, there is hope for a positive resolution to the water crisis, believes Turton. Mchunu has shown a willingness to address the water crisis differently. Shortly after his appointment, he reached out to experts, indicating a desire for cooperation and improvement.

“Shortly after the minister was appointed he reached out to a number of experts, myself being one of them. He wanted to mend fences and see how we could cooperate going forward. So that’s good news.”

This willingness to seek expert guidance suggests a potential shift in approach and offers optimism for finding effective solutions to the crisis.

Immediate action is essential to address the inadequate sewage treatment, contamination of water sources, and the spread of waterborne diseases. While Mchunu has taken initial steps, the dire state of infrastructure and the need for significant funding further complicate the situation. However, by restoring investor confidence, exploring public-private participation models, and amending constitutional challenges, there is hope for a positive resolution.


Prof. Anthony Turton engaged in a captivating conversation with Julie Alli delving into addressing constitutional challenges, safeguarding ourselves amidst the crisis, and the vital need to depoliticise water and energy. Listen to that discussion here:

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