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Speech by Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, MP
at the Limpopo Water Indaba, The Ranch Hotel, Polokwane
1 October 2009


It is with great appreciation that I take to this podium stand to acknowledge, first and foremost, your responsive and warm embrace to our call for a collective and integrated approach to the challenges facing the water sector in the country, in general, and the province of Limpopo, in particular. As we continuously strive to ensure that all South Africans should have access to basic services, a principle very well enshrined in our Constitution, our partnership is crucial in fulfilling this constitutional mandate.

Programme director, water is fast becoming a constraint to development in South Africa. We have seen in many parts of the country where development had to be delayed because of lack of water and associated infrastructure and Limpopo has been no exception. Given the dire need for development and economic growth in our country, we cannot afford to let this happen. In addition to the fact that South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world, recent economic growth in our country coupled with rural to urban migration has led to an increased demand for water and increased pressure on infrastructure.

Climate change has also now become a reality. From research that we are doing, we know for a fact that climate change will result in variability in the availability of water and in essence, this means extreme droughts and floods. I believe the recent extreme drought experienced by this province in the last few months is a clear illustration of this. This highlights the need for the Limpopo province to strengthen its ability to manage infrastructure and more importantly, to have functional institutional mechanisms to deal with disasters.

It is only now that many of us are beginning to appreciate that water is a strategic resource that not only gives life but that water is also a catalyst for development and therefore has to be at the centre of all development plans. Water has to feature very strongly in the development strategies of all sectors. It is also absolutely true, ladies and gentlemen, that all the other millennium development goals like health, housing and poverty rely heavily on the availability of water.

It is my humble view that in the context of the growing scarcity of water resources as well as challenges facing municipalities in providing water and sanitation services to our communities, we need a multi-sectoral and multi-pronged approach to managing water. The purpose of the Water Indabas that we are conducting country-wide, is firstly, (Limpopo being the third we have held so far) to have a comprehensive understanding of the challenges facing water supply and water management in our country.

Secondly, it is through this understanding that we will be able to come up with an integrated approach towards delivery of these services. As we all appreciate, integration, aligned planning and co-ordination between all sector stakeholders in addressing development and growth within the context of the integrated development plans (IDPs), provincial growth development strategies (PGDS), Water for Growth and Development (WfGD) and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) is a critical success factor in all that our government seeks to achieve.

You will recall that this is not the first water summit we are having in the province. In our last summit held in February 2005, the summit agreed on the key following issues:
  • The provincial water services strategy should focus on forward growth, based on priorities of the Limpopo growth and development strategy. The strategy should also include the role of businesses for example; mining, agriculture and tourism
  • As the water sector and role players in the sector, we need to ensure that we have an integrated approach pertaining to the water resource and water services strategies.
I am glad to note that an integrated water sector strategy was developed and approved by Collaborative Forum in Limpopo in May 2007. The strategic issues and challenges that were raised during the water summit, district workshops and provincial stakeholders meetings were identified, refined and prioritised and grouped into six strategic goals as follows:
  • Promote socio-economic development and poverty alleviation through the strategic alignment of planning and projects
  • Ensure water resource allocation and development to meet the needs of the province
  • Delivery to overcome water services backlogs
  • Ensure the sustainability of water provision through institutional and sector skills development
  • Ensure disaster management systems are in place to deal with the regular floods and droughts
  • Ensure effective collaboration and communication in the sector
  • There is a need to review this water sector plan to ensure that it takes into cognisance the dynamic service delivery environment and the changing and growing demands trends for water. I would like to make a personal plea to my colleagues, the MEC of Local Government, to kindly take personal responsibility for ensuring that the strategy is implemented.
As we are well aware, this province is one of the most poorly developed provinces when it comes to water infrastructure. The Limpopo province is characterised by insufficient bulk infrastructure, thus impacting on the eradication of the water services backlog. The water backlog stands at 55 000 households. Our government recognises that and it is for this reason that our department has invested billions of rands to develop regional water resources and bulk schemes. It is therefore important that in the process of addressing this challenge, there is proper alignment and integration that highlights the importance of the provincial growth and development plan.

It is with this understanding that initiatives to identify and establish new water resources are occurring for both surface and groundwater. The De Hoop Dam is under construction at a cost of R5,5 billion, the Nandoni Dam is being completed at R403 million, the Olifantspoort schemes are being implemented and the Lephalale transfer scheme is being prepared with an estimated cost of R20 billion. There are various and varying water resource development schemes that are in feasibility stage.

Programme director, I have talked about the scarcity of water in this province. Many river catchments are currently over-exploited and there is not enough water for the environmental needs in many areas. Only the Luvuvhu catchment has surplus water resources available. For this reason the Limpopo water sector strategy must place emphasis on the need for improved efficiency, effectiveness, equity and sustainability of water resource use with the provision of selected infrastructure to promote the provinces development agenda.

Priority should also be given to Water Allocation Reform (WAR), more especially in the Mokolo catchments upstream of Lephalale areas. Groundwater is the major source for agriculture in the province and half the provincial population depends on it. This highlights the importance of effective groundwater management. This is an area that our department needs to play a major role in, in supporting local government.

Within the context of limited water resources, water conservation and demand management (WCDM) must also be up-scaled in certain areas where water resources are severely stressed. For instance, the Middle Letaba supply area, including Giyani and surrounding areas currently have severe water supply constraints. The cost estimate for implementing these, including water conservation and demand management, as well as improved security of supply, is R250 million.

We also need to be also mindful of the fact that we share water with neighbouring countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. There are treaties we need to respect in this regard. Our responsibilities extend beyond our borders as water knows no boundaries. It is a catalyst not only for economic growth and development but also, when well managed, it fosters peace, mutual coexistence and regional stability.

Programme director, we have noted with concern that the quality of both raw and drinking water is generally deteriorating. This is an area we cannot afford to compromise, especially in this province where the effects of the last cholera epidemic are still felt. Improved management and regulation of water quality is necessary to prevent both adverse health impacts such as cholera as well as the negative economic affects.

It is the vision of our department to ensure that water is utilised as a catalyst for development. It is for this reason that we have developed the water for growth and development strategy which will be presented at a later stage. We therefore have an obligation to support the rural development initiatives in the province as these cannot take off without water. I am also aware of initiatives that seek to promote poverty relief projects focusing on the revitalisation of agricultural projects, including rainwater harvesting projects to serve our rural villages and communities.

Earlier this year, a strategic review of the approved collaboration model for the province, namely, the Collaborative Forum and its alignment to the existing provincial Inter-Governmental Relations (IGR) forums, was carried out. Comrade Premier, given the strategic importance of water, it is my wish to see water committees reporting to you so that there is proper alignment and integration with your development goals in the province. It is also my wish to have more frequent meetings with the MEC of Local Government so that we come to deliberate on water challenges in the province.

We therefore need to look at ways of strengthening the effectiveness of the IGR forums, for example; we could have the Limpopo water sector intergovernmental forum, chaired by the MEC for Local Government and Housing being formally constituted in terms of section 21 of the Inter-Governmental Relations Act.

It is my fervent hope that after deliberations today, we will develop a concrete Water Indaba action plan as well as a monitoring framework for supervision by the provincial government. Therefore the intention of these Indabas differs radically from the previous water summits as together, we need to come up with a possible action plan that will make us realise the promises of better life for all that we made to our communities. The expected outcomes will be the solution of water sector challenges which include an action focused programme driven and endorsed by the province.

Monthly progress reports would have to be presented to the Premier and the MEC for Local Government. I am considering meeting with the MEC at least three times a year to discuss water related matters, as I am from time to time, requested to account for water services delivery to parliament or cabinet.

It is incumbent upon us to make sure that our plans and strategies work for the benefit of our people. I call upon the three spheres of government to collaborate and ensure that the people of Limpopo have access to clean and safe water. Working together to ensure the provision of water to the residents of this province is what we should all strive for.

I thank you.

Issued by: Department of Water and Environmental Affairs

1 October 2009
South Africa

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