Defining the Geopolitics of a Thirsty WorldSM
South African Opposition Capitalises On Water Shortages

Via Future Directions International, an interesting report on water politics of a different sort where the drought has drawn attention to the parlous state of water infrastructure in South Africa, a development that the political opposition has utilised to attack the ruling African National Congress:


The drought in South Africa has continued to spread throughout the country, worsening to a level not seen since 1982. Some areas, according to Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, are in the midst of the most severe drought since the 1960s with some dams completely dry. At least 2.7 million homes face water shortages as most dams are at record low levels. While the situation has been exacerbated by environmental forces, part of the blame lies with a lack of infrastructural renewal and poor water planning on the part of the South African Government.


The drought has exposed structural deficits in the water supply system. Demand for water across South Africa is projected to increase by 20 per cent by 2025. The Department for Water Affairs has identified 2.7 trillion rand of potential projects that could be implemented within the next 20 years to meet increased demand. Challenges remain in their implementation as existing infrastructure upgrades are already running behind schedule and over budget.

Solutions to the crisis have focused on fixing supply-side issues. In September 2015, for example, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) launched the “War on Leaks” programme which encourages unemployed people to become plumbers, electricians and water monitors. South Africa is estimated to lose at least 37 per cent of its water supply each year due to poorly maintained infrastructure. The programme targets a major social and economic problem but does not go far enough to reverse decades of poor water infrastructure maintenance. Addressing heightened demand for water and wasteful practices will also need to be part of the government’s solution.

There have been fears that the water supply might be subject to disruptions in supply similar to that experienced by the overburdened electricity network. Mokonyane has assured South Africans that they will not be subjected to “water blackouts”. Unless water consumption is drastically reduced and rainfall begins to refill diminishing dams, however, parts of the country are likely to come under level three water restrictions. Such measures include the cutting of water services during the day.

The main opposition parties have begun to draw attention to the failings of the ANC in ensuring water security. The Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow Minister for Water and Sanitation, Nosimo Balindlela has told Parliament that the ANC does not understand the seriousness of the water situation. The City of Cape Town, which has long been a DA stronghold, has the lowest level of water loss in the country, adding credibility to Balindlela’s claims.

Funds totalling 364 million rand ($36 million) have been set aside to provide financial assistance to farmers significantly affected by the drought. These funds are unlikely to be sufficient, however, as South African farmers collectively struggle under rapidly expanding levels of debt. The total debt of farmers has increased 14 per cent over the past year to R117 billion ($11.6 billion). Rural communities provide considerable electoral support to the ANC. It is therefore vital that it provides adequate support to this demographic as failing to do so could lead to a considerable reduction in support for the ruling party ahead of local government elections in 2016.

Water shortages are likely to contribute to the frustration experienced by a large segment of the South African population and provide the political opposition with further grounds to lecture the ruling ANC on its poor governance record. Opposition parties could benefit greatly from this crisis, particularly leading up to the local government elections, but whether it gives them a platform big enough to deal a serious blow to the ANC, however, remains to be seen.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2015 at 7:29 pm and is filed under South Africa.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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