Note to Editors: The following remarks were made by the DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane MP, to residents of Illovo in KwaZulu-Natal as part of his national Vision 2029 Tour. Maimane was joined by DA KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Leader, Councillor Zwakele Mncwango, and Constituency Head, Dianne Kohler Barnard MP.
My fellow South Africans,
Without water, there can be no life. Animals need it to survive, crops need it to grow and industry needs it to function.
Access to clean drinking water is one of the most fundamental human needs, recognised by the United Nations as a basic human right.
Yet we are fast approaching a water crisis of disastrous proportions in our country, the 30th driest in the world.
The effect of this crisis has been felt deeply here in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) where dams are only 35% full on average. Without rain, this supply will be depleted within 2 months.
But this crisis is not only a climate problem; it is a problem of governance. The burden of low rainfall is being exacerbated by poor maintenance, aging infrastructure and an intermittent energy supply.
South Africa has a Constitution that guarantees the right to water in the Bill of Rights but this right is being denied to millions of residents of our country.
In this province alone, an estimated 1 million people have been impacted by water shortages and water restrictions, while others have to walk tens of kilometres to source drinking water.
We have already seen the humanitarian impact of this, but we are increasingly seeing the agricultural and economic impact.
Without water for irrigation, sugar farmers are suffering and mills are closing. The result is job losses that we certainly cannot afford. In KZN, almost 40% of people are already unemployed – a rate well above the national average.
Like any scare resource, water has to be carefully managed to make sure that it is not wasted.
We cannot allow the water crisis to go the way of the electricity crisis. We cannot afford national water load-shedding on top of electricity load-shedding. We need to take urgent action to prevent this looming disaster.
On a national level, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has indicated that we will need R670 billion over the next 10 years to fix the infrastructure required to keep the water flowing. Only 45% of this has currently been allocated by government.
If water cannot reach consumers, the cost of treating and distributing it cannot be recovered. This results in a vicious cycle of lost revenue that further depletes the budget for infrastructure maintenance.
On average we lose 37% of revenue from water due to physical leakage, commercial losses and any unbilled consumption. In many irrigation and municipal water supply schemes this figure can reach as high as 60%.
This problem has reached disaster level in KZN where broken and leaking pipes are resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of litres of water at great cost.
In eThekwini alone, 237 million litres are being lost per day costing the municipality R600 million a year in wastage. To fix this problem R1.5 billion is needed over the next five years to repair the aging water infrastructure.
But it is not too late; this crisis can be tempered through decisive action. While we cannot change the climate, we can better manage the problem posed by scare resources.
Last month the DA launched Vision 2029 to show South Africans what a future under a DA government would look like.
Our Vision, supported by our new Values Charter, is to build a society based on freedom, fairness and opportunity.
At the heart of this vision is a government that is dedicated to ensuring that all South Africans have access to top quality services.
A DA government would prioritise spending in critical infrastructure, such as water and sanitation, while cutting the cost of the bloated public sector wage bill.
The ANC government currently spends 40% of our national budget on paying the wages of an ineffective public service.
We cannot justify this cost while millions of South Africans are being denied the basic human right to clean water. Instead of spending billions on bureaucrats, a DA government would employ expert engineers.
All South Africans have a right to a clean and safe environment. Our vision is to be a government that can make that right a reality.
The choices we make today will impact on the livelihoods of future generations.
South Africa is a land with great potential, but we have a responsibility to manage our resources in order to unlock that potential and secure a future for our children.
Speech by Mmusi Maimane, Mmusi Maimane is Federal and Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance.