The scandal of water leaks


LAST Thursday, the National Assembly (NA) debated the current water crisis in Cape Town, the Western Cape and South Africa as a whole.

It is important that South Africans, and Capetonians in particular, have all the information necessary with regards to the management of this important resource. We have heard and read about the dry dams, the lack of rain, and we have even witnessed the blame game between the ANC government’s national Department of Water and Sanitation, and DA-led government of Western Cape.

However, one aspect that can play a crucial role in addressing the water crisis has been consistently overlooked by those in the media. We believe the issue of water leaks due old and dilapidated infrastructure is being deliberately overlooked.

In a series of questions for written reply by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) addressed to the Minister of Water and Sanitation through rule 145 of the NA, it became apparent that in one year alone 1.1 trillion litres of water was lost through leaks in the whole country.

That is over 3 billion litres of water a day. This is the equivalent of over 50 litres of water per day for every South African citizen young and old. In total, water leaks cost the country R6.7 billion in one year, and Gauteng R1.7 billion alone.

This is a shocking state of affairs, particularly if one considers the fact that currently the City of Cape Town cuts off water daily in coloured and black areas, and residents are limited to 50 litres of water per day. This is the exact equivalent to what is lost each day at national level per person.

In the City alone, 44 billion litres of water was lost through leaks in one year, over 65% of all water is lost through leaks in the Province.

This is average of over 120 million litres of water a day. It is not clear why the City continues to ignore one of the simplest and immediate solutions to the water crisis. Fix the leaks in municipal water infrastructure to ensure the immediate stabilization of the water crisis. The failure to do the logical thing, and fix leaks, is a result of a neoliberal approach to government. All services provided by the state, are outsourced, with individuals linked to those companies making millions in tenders.

In addition, the inability and lack of will by government, both locally and nationally, to ensure that water infrastructure is upgraded and maintained has now become the burden of the residents of the City, who continue to be harassed. In fact, the people who are being harassed are the people who use the least water, and who consistently pay one of the most expensive rates not only in the country but in the world.

It is therefore important to ask, how rates and taxes are applied in addressing the water crisis. Our rates and taxes are being spent on multi-million Rand water-saving campaigns and multi-billion rand desalination plants. National government and municipalities must build internal state capacity so that the maintenance and upgrading of infrastructure, like water pipes is a service directly managed and performed by government and not one outsourced to companies.

In the current system of outsourcing, corruption and patronage are encouraged, and government service delivery decisions are made based on corruption and patronage incentives and schemes.

Schemes like the communication tender awarded to Tony Leon, a former leader of the DA, to tell the people that there is no rain and they must save water, instead of employing people to build internal capacity to maintain infrastructure.

While one must acknowledge that City is going through a drought, just like many parts of South Africa, and everyone needs to save water, government must be at the forefront of fighting the water crisis and must look for the best, most cost-effective and sustainable solutions to address the water crisis, and not use it, once again as a money-making scheme.

Water infrastructure must be maintained by the state for the people, and not outsourced to corrupt inefficient companies who are awarded tenders because of their proximity to the party in power.

The people of Cape Town have done their bit in saving water, its time government did theirs.

Nazier Paulsen is an EFF Member of Parliament