SA droughtSouth Africa is in the midst of its worst drought since 1982, with more than 2.7 million households facing water shortages across the country.

The reality of water crisis in South Africa has hit home with some schools sending their pupils back home as taps run dry in some parts of the country.


  • Three of its seven provinces have been declared disaster areas with more on the verge of emergency
  • The capital, Pretoria, is already implementing water restrictions
  • Government sources blame the situation on the El Nino weather pattern though opposition politicians accuse the government of mismanaging water resources
  • Water and Sanitation Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane says the  government is drawing water from neighbouring Lesotho to augment the country’s resources
  • The current water crisis is threatening to cripple the food industry, with prices expected to soar in the next few weeks
  • Mokonyane has hinted that the nation would have to resort to prayers should the situation deteriorate



dry tap

Some parts of South Africa have been experiencing water shortages with the drought heavily impacting on the country’s water resources.

Worst affected are KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State, Limpopo, North West and the Northern Cape, where farmers growing white maize, yellow maize, soya beans and sunflower have incurred major losses.

Lennox Mabaso, spokesperson for the local government department in KwaZulu-Natal, confirmed that the drought, concentrated in provinces of Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, was beginning to impact livelihoods and drain the economy.

“The dams are at an all-time low. This is an epic drought and [the] government is doing the best it can do. As you can imagine, it requires a lot of resources, and it’s impacting everyone, rich and poor,” Mabaso said.


Disaster areas

The government has already allocated $26m to KwaZulu-Natal in a bid to mitigate the impact of the drought that has been blamed on the El Nino weather pattern. El Nino is expected to impact other parts of Southern Africa as well.Kwazulu Natal, Free Sate and Limpopo provinces have been declared disaster areas for agriculture and some 6,500 rural communities across four provinces face water shortages.


El Nino or government’s inefficiency?

El Niño causes global changes of both temperatures and rainfall.

According to Jennifer Olson, an associate professor at Michigan State University who researches the impact of climate change on agricultural communities in Africa, “It used to be that in Africa, El Niño was associated with the above-average rainfall, flooding and landslides, and then that would be followed by drought or vice versa. But now, it’s really unpredictable. It looks like it’s two different events that are happening, but it’s really due to the same thing, which is a lot more heat and energy in the atmosphere and a lot more extremes.”

Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. Credit: City Press

Opposition politicians however believe that government inefficiency contributed largely to the South African situation. Water Affairs Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane was not in parliament on Wednesday to hear the outrage about South Africa’s water crisis at a heated committee meeting, as she was away in Iran on official duty with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

That left Debra Mochotlhi, deputy director general for water planning and information management to face the angry parliamentarians.

DA MP Leon Basson said her department had “failed South Africa.”

Basson said, “I can name you 40 [times] where we informed you beforehand there is a crisis of water, and yet you did nothing about it.”

The crisis is not a bolt from the blue. Speaking after then Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan delivered his budget speech three years ago, former Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa—whose department dealt with water affairs—was unequivocal. She said, “If we don’t act, we will face a near-crisis situation in the future.”

Molewa’s statement is apparently prophecy fulfilled.

According to water expert Dr Anthony Turton, the disaster is one that could easily have been avoided. Turton said in an analysis published this week in @Liberty – the policy bulletin of the Institute of Race Relations that “The water shortage is also an induced one. It stems from a lack of strategic planning, a loss of skills to transformation and the fact that poorly functional wastewater treatment plants are spewing close to 4 billion litres of untreated or partially treated sewage into the country’s dams and rivers everyday”

Water restrictions

Rand Water, the country’s main water supplier, has introduced “water restrictions” in Gauteng province including the country’s capital, Pretoria.

Residents have been warned that fines of up to R6000 could be imposed on repeated violations of the restrictions, especially washing of cars with hose pipes and indiscriminate watering of the garden with tap water. Detailed tips issued by Rand Water on how to use water wisely include the following:

  • Take short showers (less than 5 minutes)
  • Turn off the tap whilst brushing teeth or shaving
  • Ensure that you have a full load of washing when using the washing machine
  • Water your garden before 06:00 or after 18:00 – and only for a short period!
  • Sweep paving with a broom instead of washing it with water.
  • Apply mulch to your garden as it can reduce water use by up to 70%.

Commenting on the water restrictions, a cynical Pretoria resident said on social media: “First they introduced load shedding (electricity rationing), now it’s water restrictions. Who knows, next it might be oxygen”


Palliative measures

Earlier in the week, Minister Mokonyane said in a press release that the South African government was drawing water from neighbouring Lesotho to augment the country’s resources, especially in Gauteng, the economic hub of the country.

“Engagements are under way to allow us to access water from the Zambezi via Zimbabwe to further guarantee supply in the northern parts of our country,” Mokonyane said.

The heat wave that has hit Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga adds to the drought woes with no cooling effects or rain in sight.

The Minister said on state television last week that if the situation deteriorated, the nation would have to resort to prayers as prayers are known to induce rainfall.


Impact on food prices

The main driver of the declining food inflation was vegetables

South Africa’s worst water shortages in 23 years have caused a decline in farming output that will lower its GDP and cause food-price increases with the country’s farmers projected to lose up to R10 billion this year.

Grain SA’s Chief Executive Officer Jannie de Villiers warned that the country would have barely enough white maize for its own consumption, and would need to import about 700 000 tons of yellow maize to feed livestock, which would cost farmers R1.96 billion.



Neil Davison of Food Bank South Africa believes that food prices will increase from the beginning of December as farmers and food producers look for ways to ease their financial burdens.

Those that are expected to suffer the most are families that are currently living from hand to mouth and those relying on government food parcels.

“The shortage of water has certainly had an impact on the food industry and we are expected to see a possible food price increase in the next four weeks,” Davison said.

“Families from poor backgrounds already spend 50 percent of their monthly budget income on food so those kinds of people will suffer the most now. Government will have to help farmers on the current crisis, we don’t know how exactly they will do it,” he added.


According to Statistics South Africa, food inflation has slowed in the last year, decreasing from 7.4 percent in December 2014 to 6.6 percent in January 2015.

The main driver of the declining food inflation was vegetables but the current situation threatens to erode any gains recorded this year.


NP/Aljazeera/Bloomberg/Agency reports

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