South Africa pours millions into sanitation


2 June 2015

Growing up in Evaton, in Gauteng, Themba Msukwini had to use a bucket system. Like many in Evaton, Msukwini he had no access to basic sanitation services and as a result struggled to live a dignified life.

But much has changed for Msukwini since those days. He now owns a home with a flush toilet inside his house, thanks to a multibillion-rand project the government has introduced to help people like him.

The Sedibeng Regional Sewer Scheme (SRSS), a project expected to cost about R4.2-billion, is set to change many lives in the municipal area of Sedibeng.

It was identified by the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission (PICC) and approved as a Strategic Infrastructure Project (SIP). There are 18 SIPs across the country devised to solve issues such as raw sewage spillage, as well as unlock job opportunities and improve service delivery. Upgrading Sedibeng’s sewerage system will not only improve the state of sanitation and human settlements in the district municipality, but will also serve as a source of employment and poverty alleviation.

Job creation

About 6 000 jobs are also expected to during construction. The job opportunities include the appointment of suitable local sub-contractors, local people and helping unemployed youth qualified in the relevant engineering fields by giving them relevant work experience. The project is expected to be completed in the next three years.

Msukwini is impressed by the SRSS project because not only will it create jobs for the community but there will also be skills development.

“The most exciting part about this project is that people will also be trained in various skills like plumbing,” he says. “This will benefit the community since we have a huge problem of leakages due to old water pipes, which were installed early in the 1970s.

“The project will further fast track the building of low-cost houses because you can’t build houses without a sewer system. The sooner the sewer system is installed, [the sooner] houses will be built and people will finally have houses with basic needs.”

Decent basic sanitation

Msukwini acknowledges the strides already made to ensure that people have decent sanitation, but cautions that it is important to monitor that the money is well- managed when it is allocated from national to provincial government. People with the appropriate skills to deliver quality work should be employed to do the job, he says.

“This will help the government to avoid unnecessary spending on repairs due to shoddy work.”

The Department of Water and Sanitation declared May Sanitation and Hygiene Month to remind South Africans about the importance of decent sanitation and good hygiene practices. This year, the theme was “It’s not all about flushing”.

The aim was to raise awareness and the public profile of sanitation and to encourage local governments to prioritise sanitation, health and hygiene as key issues to build a healthy nation.

South Africa achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of the population without basic sanitation before the target of 2015. In the 2014/15 financial year alone, it eradicated 20 560 bucket systems.

Ending the bucket system

Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane says the department intends to conclude the eradication of the bucket system programme in formal areas by December 2015. However, she acknowledges that the challenge of access to water and sanitation continues to characterise the daily life of many people.

Statistics show that the country has been increasing access to sanitation. But the pace of delivery remains a concern. According to the 2012 National Report on the Status of Sanitation Services, approximately 11% of South African households do not have adequate sanitation services.

Some of the challenges in sanitation can be traced to urban migration and the proliferation of unplanned informal settlements. Mokonyane says the country has committed to join the world in enhancing and fast-tracking programmes and developments to fulfil the international commitment to eradicate sanitation backlogs by 2015.

“In response to the global sanitation-related challenges, the South African government has set out higher targets and committed itself to ensuring that all buckets in formal established settlements will be eradicated as soon as possible.”

Saving drinking water

The current methods of disposing human waste through flushing toilets that use drinking-quality water are unwise and unsustainable, she adds. Her department is looking at numerous technologies that will help to eliminate the use of clean, drinkable water to dispose of human waste.

“We are determined to introduce low-water and no-water solutions as part of our efforts to deliver sanitation. Dry sanitation solutions must become the reality we work towards in both low- and high-income households going forward.’

Working with the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and National Treasury, her department has adopted the Back-to-Basics programme aimed at supporting municipalities with resources accompanied by capacity to bolster performance in the delivery of water and sanitation.

Through this programme, 27 district municipalities and the Nelson Mandela Metro have been identified as areas in need of interventions. Bold interventions have also been made in areas including Makana Local Municipality in Eastern Cape, Ngaka Modiri Molema District in North West Province, Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga, Sedibeng in Gauteng and Jozini in KwaZulu-Natal.

Partnering with provincial governments through premiers, her department has put in place community-based initiatives as part of a people-centred approach to ensure communities are involved in work in their respective areas.

The establishment of community water forums is a direct result of the interventions her department has undertaken and the affirmation given to communities and their leaders as partners in the department’s programmes.

It has also initiated the Adopt a River programme, which has been launched in a number of provinces as a community-driven initiative.