Years of drought has put immense pressure on South Africa’s water system, with a devastating impact on agriculture and communities, and water insecurity will become the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing the country unless it takes drastic measures to conserve sources and promote efficient use, President Cyril Ramaphosa warned on Monday.

In a weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa said during a recent visit to villages around Lephalale in Limpopo province, residents all raised access to water as key to sustaining their lives, supporting agriculture, driving business and supplying the nearby Medupi power station.

With an average annual rainfall of 500 mm compared to a global average of 860 mm, South Africa is the world’s 30th driest country and a decade-long drought has devastated communities in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga.

Dam levels are currently on average around 58 percent full, compared to 69 percent for the same time last year.


“Our existing water systems are already over-exploited as usage increases rapidly due to population growth and as more homes get connected to water. Combine this with the worsening effects of climate change and we are clearly facing a dire situation,” Ramaphosa wrote in Monday’s newsletter.

“Unless we take drastic measures to conserve water sources and promote efficient use, water insecurity will become the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing this country. Our current energy challenges will seem small by comparison.”

He said while the country had made substantial progress in providing water to citizens over the past 25 years, access to water and deteriorating water quality continued to fuel service delivery protests.

“We must improve access to water for communities, upgrade water infrastructure, and manage water more carefully, or face social unrest,” the president said.

“Water security isn’t just integral to ensuring the well-being of our people, it is critical to our economy, and to our goal to accelerate industrialisation and expand mining and agriculture.”


Earlier this year, government provided R260 million in response to the drought and has offered support to farmers to purchase fodder, reticulate water for livestock and for dam de-silting.

Ramaphosa acknowledged that this was “woefully inadequate” given the severity of the crisis, saying disaster management authorities were working with provinces and municipalities to see how they could re-prioritise budgets for relief and recovery.

“To ensure our future water security, we will need funding of at least R126 billion for infrastructure,” Ramaphosa said.

“With existing freshwater supplies dwindling, we will be focusing on projects that broaden our water resource mix.”

He bemoaned the fact that serious accountability and governance issues persisted, be it in the building of infrastructure or at a municipal level where water losses were mounting as a result of billing errors, unauthorised usage and outright theft.


Just a week ago, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) raided Lepelle Northern Water in connection with alleged corruption at the Giyani water project involving R2 billion, a development Ramaphosa said was symptomatic of widescale tender corruption in these mega projects.

“This is putting the entire nation’s water security at risk, and the ongoing SIU probes into irregularities in these projects will continue,” he said.

– ANA, editing by Stella Mapenzauswa