Drought situation in Free State: Water Affairs briefing; State of South African Cities 2016: South African Cities Network briefing

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

08 November 2016
Chairperson: Mr M Mdakane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The delegation from the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) presented on the issue of drought in the Free State, describing the issues that faced the province, as well as putting forward the many steps the DWS was taking to combat the impact of the drought.

The delegation noted that there were a number of different factors involved, both natural and man-made. Consumption was higher than supply, but this issue compounded by the lack of monitoring by the municipalities of the water levels in their dams. This in turn meant that the communities affected by water shortages were not receiving accurate information from the municipalities. This made reducing consumption difficult.

The Committee Members raised a number of questions regarding what steps were being taken to address the issue of drought, both in the short and medium term. They asked for details relating to water infrastructure, disaster management, and the perceived bias towards urban areas by the DWS and local municipalities. The Committee concluded by expressing its desire that the DWS compile a number of reports on questions relating to the state of drought and water management in South Africa as a whole.

The delegation from the South African Cities Network (SACN) presented on their 2016 State of Cities Report (SoCR), a 450-page document which provides a comprehensive breakdown of South Africa’s municipalities, covering everything from their economies and infrastructure, to the historical factors and future challenges. The point of the SoCR was to provide policy makers, the private sector, students and civil society with a detailed account of the state of South African cities and to consider the emerging trends. The report indicated that there were certain global trends which would change South African cities. The first was the adoption of climate change agreements. The second was urbanisation, which had changed the world, and had brought local government on to the centre stage of governments around the globe. The conclusion that the SoCR had reached was that South Africa’s success was going to be based on the success of its cities.

Many of the questions raised by Committee Members were related to the historical challenges that faced South Africa’s cities, because of the legacy of apartheid. Issues such as poor finance management, lack of resources, poor and exclusionary city planning, and unequal infrastructure development, were all discussed by the Committee and the SACN delegation. It was agreed that a more in-depth look at the SoCR, and how it pertained to national government, was needed.


Meeting report

Opening Remarks
Mr K Mileham (DA) expressed concern that although the Committee was worried about the drought in the Free State, the drought situation in South Africa as a whole was worrisome. He asked that the delegation inform the Committee on the situation in the rest of South Africa as well.

Ms Deborah Mochotlhi, Deputy Director General: Planning and Information, Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), said that although they had been asked to prepare information on the drought situation in the Free State, they would do their best to answer questions regarding the situation in the rest of South Africa.

Drought Situation in Free State:
Ms Mochotli said that a number of intervention measures were needed, because the levels of the dams were all very low, with eight out of nine provinces considered at risk of drought.

Dr Tseliso Ntili, Regional Head: Free State Province and Northwest Province, DWS, said that the Department was having problems at the municipal level, as many of the municipalities did not believe that it was their responsibility to monitor the water levels in their regional dams. This was problematic, because then it was difficult to provide a clear drought warning forecast.

Dr Ntili said that 50% of South Africa’s dams were too low, but that in Free State especially, many of the dams needed to be reassessed. However, the municipalities had to monitor the dams themselves, as it was not the responsibility of the DWS. This was especially important when the levels of the dams were in the 45% range. In addition, the municipalities had to communicate with their communities before the dams got below 45%. However, the DWS could do more to make sure that the municipalities had the tools needed to monitor the water levels, as well as helping make the dams more effective, so that water was not lost due to poor water retention in the dams. For example, it could aid in desilting some of the worst dams.

The DWS was also committed to making sure that illegal water extraction was not happening. It checked the water flows of both the Caledon and Orange Rivers daily, to make sure that water was not being diverted for private usage. Many municipalities also had poor water storage facilities, which made it difficult to capitalise during periods when the rivers had excess water. The DWS was helping to create better water storage facilities, so that water could be diverted from the rivers to areas that needed it.

Dr Ntili said that the DWS had initiated a “War on Leaks”, to help prevent water from being wasted due to poor piping. It had also started a program of eradicating alien, or non-native plants, which usually used more water than the local varieties. The Department was also working with Lesotho to divert water from their dams to dams in South Africa.

The Chairperson asked the DWS delegation to clarify if other provinces were taking similar positive steps.

Ms Mochotli said that all provinces were undertaking similar programmes to reduce water usage, stop illegal water usage, and store water more efficiently.

The Chairperson said that in deep rural areas, small villages were the most affected by drought. They did not have the same storage facilities, and tankers did not come as frequently. Rural people suffered the most, because boreholes dried out or did not work, and tankers came infrequently. A big problem in rural areas was that many peoples’ livelihoods and investments were in livestock, and droughts impacted on them even more.

The Chairperson said he thought there was an urban bias in government, and in governmental departments, and that this Committee could not forget about the rural areas.

Mr N Masondo (ANC) said assistance from Lesotho had been mentioned. He asked how the two countries were collaborating. He asked about disaster management, saying that officials had warned against declaring that certain areas were disaster areas, because this came with negative side-effects.
The DWS had said that eight of the nine provinces had been declared disaster areas, even though the Committee had been told at a previous meeting earlier in the year that the situation may get better. He asked how soon the DWS expected the drought to be over, adding that it seemed that this drought was not as bad as the previous year’s drought.

On the issue of urban bias, Mr Masondo asked how biased the DWS was towards urban areas compared to rural areas. Referring to infrastructure development, he said that there were a lot ongoing projects in place to augment the existing infrastructure, but he was curious as to how much progress was being made on those projects. He suggested that perhaps the Committee needed to go and see what was happening on the ground.

Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) asked about the sea water purification plant in Richards Bay. He also expressed concern that in Durban, a lot of rainwater was lost and returned to the sea, but KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) still had drought issues, and that the dams were dry. Could anything be done to capture that water? On the issue of water harvesting, he asked who was being given priority for the water tankers. In many rural areas, the people only had 25-litre barrels, and the tankers either could not or would not fill up those small containers. What was the DWS doing about these issues?

In some urban areas, the dams were not taken care of, and they were muddy and silted. Other dams were controlled by farmers, who profited off them by, selling water to communities. He asked what was being done to combat this issue.

Ms N Mthembu (ANC) said that the DWS had noted the importance of involving the community, but she believed that businesses needed to be involved in this issue, and that there needed to be consequences when they overused water. It was alleged that certain businesses used an illegal amount of water, and that some farmers were redirecting water from municipal dams to their private dams.

Mr Mileham asked for clarification on how much of the problem was drought, and how much was other water-related management issues, such as poor infrastructure. What was the forecast over the short and medium term in terms of water coming into the system? He commented that eight out of nine provinces had been highlighted as disaster areas, but the Committee had received a briefing from Mr Terry, of the National Disaster Management Centre, who had stated that the disaster warnings had lapsed, and that there were currently no disaster declarations in place. He asked for clarification on whether there were, or were not, disaster warnings in place.

He asked about the number of dams across the country that had already undergone the process of desiltation. He pointed out that the Sterkfontein Dam, which was used as a water storage facility for much of the Free State, and feeds into the Caledon and Vaal river systems, was fed from the Tugela River system, but the Tugela pumps had been only partially operable for the last four years. He asked the DWS what was being done to maintain those pumps, to make sure they were operable.

Mr Mileham expressed his concern over the issue of pollution in the ground water, asserting that a number of river systems were being polluted. He concluded by referring to the presentation’s figures on boreholes, and expressed concern that a number of the boreholes cost upwards of ten times the normal cost of putting a borehole in. He asked for a list of locations for those boreholes, so the Committee could provide oversight.

Mr A Matlhoko (EFF) asked if the district municipalities were the ones that needed to be competent. Did the DWS have anyone in the district municipalities that liaised between the district municipalities? He noted that around the country there were areas that had high rainfall, and asked if anything was being done to capture that excess water, and feed it to areas that were experiencing drought.

Mr C Matsepe (DA) said that people in the Loskop area were suffering. Water was pumped from the Oliphant’s river through that area, and the pipeline went through a number of villages, but those villages do not benefit from that water. What could be done to make sure that those villages benefited, such as diverting that water to those areas.

Ms Mochotlhi reiterated that the DWS had been asked to prepare a presentation on the issue of drought in the Free State, and that their current expertise was limited to that province. However, Dr Ntili was also the regional head for the North West Province, so he may be able to address issues relating to that province as well.

She responded to the question on the pipeline, saying that she was in Planning and Information Management, and there was a plan put forward on national infrastructure. The pipelines were laid out so that they most efficiently provided water for the greatest benefit.

It was difficult to give a clear answer at the moment on the issue of villages without frequent tanker visits, without knowing exactly which areas the MPs were asking about. On the issue of boreholes, the DWS could provide a report on the location, cost, etc of each borehole in question.

On the issue of the Disaster Management Centre, the DWS was working with a number of other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the agricultural field, and some of information differed from that which the Department puts forward. The DWS arrives at its information through a different process. She did note, however, that those organisations were assisting greatly with agricultural issues involving the drought, and that they were very important because they helped to inform and aid South Africans in difficult periods.

Ms Mochotlhi said that the DWS did have a programme for rainwater harvesting, but she did not have that information at hand. On the issue of tanker water delivery not being adequate, she said that the DWS was not a water providing agency, and that that service was carried out by local government. However, the DWS could intervene when necessary.

On the issue of illegal water use, the DWS had a branch called Regulation, which was responsible for monitoring and enforcement. They handled the authorization of different water use licences, as well as issues of pollution.

The desiltation of dams was a country wide problem, and the problem was not easily fixed. The design of the dam during its creation directly affected the ability to desilt it. Under the DWS’s current climate change programme, dams were being designed so that they did not silt easily, and retained water better.

The South African government and the DWS both had scholarships and teams to encourage scientists, scholars and students to come up with creative solutions to South Africa’s water problems.

Dr Ntili stated that he would have to ask the DWS to provide a future report on the Department’s urban-rural bias, as well as what was being done to respond to the issue of water shortages in rural areas. This future report would address how water was being provided for both humans and livestock.

On the issue of Lesotho, he said that the country did not have professionals that could measure the water levels in their dams and rivers. In the Free State, there were a number of DWS professionals who managed the water levels, and the government of Lesotho had asked the DWS to loan some of their professionals to help with water management in Lesotho. The DWS had agreed, and a number of its water management professionals based in Bloemfontein would go and measure the country’s water levels.

On the issue of forecasts, Dr Ntili said that the DWS thought that there may be a series of serious storms that would drastically change the forecast of the country’s water supply.

On the issue of inoperable pumps, he said that the lack of sufficient rainfall had meant that most of the infrastructure could not be operable.

The Chairperson said that water was a serious issue, and that a follow-up meeting was necessary to discuss this issue at a national level.

Mr Mileham made a suggestion that the DWS provide its future reports to Committee Members before the follow-up meeting.

State of South African Cities Report

Mr Sithole Mbanga, CEO of the SA Cities Network (SACN), said the delegation was there to present the findings of the 2016 State of South African Cities Report (SoCR), and to reflect on the trends which had emerged. The SACN had been established following the setup of local municipal governments in 2002.

Mr Mbanga said that there were certain global trends which would change South African cities. The first was the adoption of climate change agreements. The second was urbanisation, which had changed the world, and had brought local government on to the centre stage of governments around the globe. The conclusion that the SoCR had reached was that South Africa’s success was going to be based on the success of its cities.

This forth iteration of the SoCR also had a complementary People’s Guide, which was a 40-page summary that had been produced so that the SoCR was more easily accessible by the general populace. In addition, the 2016 SoCR also had a statistical almanac. One of the things that the statistical almanac tried to illustrate, and make accessible, was whether South African cities were able to manage their finances and were able to govern themselves. For South Africans to govern their cities better, they needed to have a sense of history, but also a sense of what they needed to do better moving forward.

This year had seen an important new addition -- a city by city dashboard -- which gave statistics and figures for each of the different municipalities.

Mr Mbanga gave a brief overview of the eight chapters in the SoCR:

  • Chapter one was just an introduction to the SoCR. It looked at the status quo of the cities right now, as well as the long-term goals of the cities’ development.
  • Chapter two dealt with spatial transformation. South Africa had inherited the apartheid model, where many people lived far away from where they worked, and it was expensive to transport themselves to their places of work
  • Chapter three looked at the importance of the economic development of SA’s cities, but also how rural areas supported cities in being strong. Strong cities require strong rural areas.
  • Chapter four looked at inclusion. Many people felt that they were excluded from their own cities. In the last fifteen years of SA’s democracy, not a lot had been done to make SA’s cities more inclusive.
  • Chapter five considered the sustainability of the city, both the green and brown agenda.  Cities were battling with the water, energy and food nexus. Water restrictions affected the affordability of food. Changing the energy sources from fossils to green alternatives also had impact on the affordability of basic goods and services.
  • Chapter six dealt with the governability of cities. This chapter focused on the ability of cities to be well-governed. SA local governments had been poor at bringing in civil society, the private sector and the public sector. Civil society had been especially overlooked by local government.
  • Chapter seven looked at the finance and innovation of SA’s cities. There was a need to find alternative ways of funding the cities. This was not about suggesting that cities should not demand money from the national purse, but instead that they needed to manage their finances better.
  • Chapter eight looked at creating an enabling environment for the development of cities. This was a look at what had been done for the last 15 years, and what needed to be done in the next 15 years.

Mr Mbanga said that the most important message was that the development of cities was vitally important to the economy. He argued that economic development would not happen the way we wanted, if it did not involve cities, pointing out that of the 257 municipalities, the top 30 produced 80% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). He suggested that there should be a developmental agenda directly between the state and individual cities. A single municipality on its own could not grow, and all municipalities were interconnected, and connected to the state. Buffalo City, for example, was not growing because people felt excluded from that city, and it was losing out on their skills and the development when those people moved away from that municipality.

Mr Mbanga said that he would like the SACN to meet with each Committee that was in some way involved in the development in each city, or with local governance. He said that certain governance issues could not be handled with a blanket policy. For example, land in an urban municipality had a drastically different value from that in a rural one, and issues of transportation were likewise very different, and required a policy that reflected that difference. Each type of city had different issues, but the issues were ultimately interconnected.

The Chairperson thanked the delegation, and suggested that another meeting and workshop should be arranged because it was impossible to go over a report of this size -- 450 pages -- in an hour long meeting. 

He asked for questions from MPs, and also asked the delegation to point out policy gaps.

Mr Masando commented that there were realities that were unique to South Africa, and South African cities, and that the Committee could not overlook the historical realities and challenges of the cities. There was a general assessment that there were stubborn problems in SA that had not gone away since 1994. These issues occurred in other countries, but in SA they were not changing rapidly enough. 

He asked for clarification on informal settlements, saying that in Johannesburg there were about 180 informal settlements. He argued that the issue of informal settlements was linked to other issues, such as education, which was failing in South Africa.

He said there was a bias towards urban areas, and also a bias towards western ideas on how cities should be run. There needed to be more of a focus on incorporating South African and African values when students were trained in city planning, so that in the future cities represented South Africa. There was the issue of inadequate and inefficient infrastructure outside of the privileged white areas.

Mr Mthethwa asked if South African cities were willing to bring transformation to everyone, saying that these cities were designed to exclude certain people. He asked if the infrastructure was in place to hold up the programme put forward in the SoCR report.

The Chairperson said that many people felt that they were excluded from the cities, and did not invest personally or economically in the cities. He argued that this Committee, and government in general, could not go into the smaller municipalities and inject their values, as first there had to be a sense of partnership, and the government had to be able to give the municipalities concrete tasks.

Mr Matsepe commented that much of the country’s infrastructure was very old, and had been built with an apartheid understanding of cities.

Ms B Maluleke (ANC) commended the SoCR, and said that both the rural and urban areas should be developed in equal measure.

Ms Geci Karuri-Sebina, Executive Manager: Programmes, SACN, agreed that the SoCR did not do enough to deal with informal settlements. Informal settlements were not the type of development that the SACN promoted, but it was the type of development that South Africa had to cope with nonetheless. Dealing with informal settlements was a serious issue, as pushing people out toward the outskirts increased the fragmentation of cities, but upgrading them to official settlements created another set of problems. The SoCR did not put forward any specific recommendations, but it does take note that this was a problem that local governments had to face.

On the issue of infrastructure, Ms Kahruri-Sebina said that in the municipalities alone, the infrastructure gap was between R400-600 billion, regardless of how much was done to save or maximise the collection of revenue, according to the National Treasury. Cities had survived in a situation where they did not have enough revenue to provide all of the necessary services, by cutting corners on the maintenance of infrastructure. Now the issue was two-fold, as the current infrastructure needed to be maintained, but the demand for more infrastructure had also increased.

She argued that cities could not survive on their own, and needed to work with national government and institutions to solve their problems. She appreciated the MPs’ point about culture, and how academics, in city planning and public policy, did not understand how people work and did not take into account how cities should be designed to account for the many different cultures in South Africa.

Mr Mbanga commented that because of the history of apartheid, there was a lack of creativity when it came to these municipalities’ integrated development plans. This led to uncharacteristic similarities between cities that were very different.

Mr Mbanga thanked the Chairperson, and agreed that a workshop was needed so that MPs knew how to interact with these issues, and knew what suggestions to put forward to the municipalities when they worked with local government. A workshop between the SACN and members of the different committees, where creative solutions were encouraged, was needed.

The Chairperson thanked the delegation, and acknowledged that the Committee had not been engaging with the SoCR or with cities on a regular enough basis. He concluded that it was a waste of money for Committees to visit different municipalities without a plan, and without an idea of what measures could be put in place to make a difference.

The meeting was adjourned.

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