Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane File picture: Dumisani Dube

Cape Town -

Newly appointed Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane on Tuesday vowed to open up access to water to all South Africans.

Starting debate in Parliament on her department's R12.48 billion 2014/15 budget, she signalled a “game-changer” shift in the government's management of water provision.

“We will move away from a one-size-fits-all approach, where every district or local municipality has the powers and functions of a water services authority, yet its viability and capacity is questionable,” Mokonyane said.

In a statement later on Tuesday, her ministry said a priority was to “strengthen and work closely with local governments” on the provision of water and sanitation.

This included the refurbishment of ageing infrastructure, which was responsible for the loss of millions of kilolitres of potable water.

“Spending... will focus on providing regional bulk infrastructure for water and wastewater treatment works which link water sources to local government infrastructure,” it said.

Mokonyane told MPs her department would “extend our stakeholder relations by ensuring that water and sanitation forums are established in every metro and district, representing communities, business, academia, women, youth and people with disabilities”.

This would get underway with a summit - in the first week of August this year - of all stakeholders in the water sector.

“Together with the SA Local Government Association, we will further engage on issues related to water tariffs, water loss and water preservation.”

Ownership of access to water continued to perpetuate inequality in South Africa.

“Working together with all South Africans, we will - in this financial year - open up this protected space so as to ensure that water as a natural resource is available and shared by all.

“This includes those who live in villages, townships, and beneficiaries of land reform nearer to the mines and new industries will benefit.”

Mokonyane said her department was focusing on a number of dams around the country to supply those communities which had previously been denied access to the water they stored.

These included the Jozini Dam in KwaZulu-Natal, the Taung Dam in North West, and the Xonxa Dam in the Eastern Cape.

“Honourable Members, these are amongst the game changers we will implement as we respond to the expectations of our people and the mandate given to this government. We will act swiftly and decisively as we deal with nothing else but service to the nation.”

The minister also promised “radical” action against water vandals.

“The continued disruption of water services and vandalism has prompted us to take issues of protection of our infrastructure quite seriously.

“We... intend to act radically against those... who collude with owners of water trucks by disrupting the supply so as to wrongfully amass public funds.”

Turning to Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, she said first water delivery would come on line in 2022.

“I am pleased to inform you that good progress is being made... . This includes the advance infrastructure in preparation for the construction of the Polohali Dam.

“Water delivery from the scheme is planned to commence by 2022. The cost to implement this project is estimated at R11.2 billion,” Mokonyane said. - Sapa