A new national water company on the scale of Eskom is needed to drive the infrastructure spend which is required to move SA from drought to abundance.
This is the bold vision leading businessman Fred Platt of Accentuate.
He told a media briefing on Friday that the current political structure overseeing water has failed South Africa, and radical thinking is required.
“This is not about technology: That gets applied once you have a political decision on what you want to achieve,” he explained.
“Good examples are countries like Dubai, Israel or Singapore – all those economies are incredibly water-restrained.
“They said to themselves: Water is our ultimate enabler. We need to understand it as a national asset.
“The only reason Dubai is there is because they have water there, and when you fly over the Orange river, you see the development which ends when the water ends.”
Platt said that a radical re-think is needed in how to fund and advance much-needed new water projects.
“The regulatory environment is constraining – incredibly constraining. The (involvement of the) three tiers of government is a problem. We see it in Cape Town.
“Another problem is that there is an enormous amount of capital (people are) willing to invest. But we don’t have an Eskom to which IPPs can contract.
“We need a water company to established. Treasury would put up a single guarantee. We could list that company on the JSE.”
Platt’s suggested that with the arrival of President Cyril Ramaphosa a new opportunity is presented to do things better and differently.
“The water crisis is a reflection of no national plan, no leadership. Hopefully Cyril will bring that back.
“A problem with SA is there are too many great discussions, and documents, and new plans. That is why I am glad Cyril is dusting off the NDP.
“The President needs to come out and make a statement on water.
“We need a decentralised approach to water management. The national political questions is: do we see water as an enabler? We haven’t taken a view on what we want to do with water.
“Our approach in CT towards desalination is: how do we augment the supply? If there is not enough water in the dam, we need another mechanism.
“In contrast, in Singapore or Dubai or Israel, they have said: if we have water, we can build an economy……what is most effective way to provide it?”
He said infrastructure is a key part of the planning.
“The first thing you have got to do is understand your sources of water – ground water, rainwater, desalination…
“Then you need to understand your infrastructure needs to be accommodating. It does not help you if you are putting more water into a system where 30% goes missing.
“You must have no leaks, and must keep every drop of water in the system, through reclamation and a series of processes.
“CT has reduced its water consumption by 50%, but at what cost? How many businesses cut back on development; how many construction projects were stalled?
“You must look at water reclamation, which is 50% of the capital cost and 10% of the running cost of desalination.
“We can’t leave it to the politicians or the technocrats. On the one hand, we have a technocratic approach, and then we have politicians who don’t understand water as a job creator.
“That’s where the national debate has to be driven.”
He suggested that instead of looking at very large-scale water projects, there should be many more, smaller projects.
“This is the same route that renewable energy is taking. Water will go very similarly to renewable energy,” he suggested.
Platt said that in the forthcoming cabinet reshuffle, the water portfolio should be put into the Presidency, to recognise the urgency of the national challenge.
“Without water we have nothing,” he warned.
“Clearly you need new thinking. Water has become a political football. Water is too important to be politicised.”
“Our debate is not about avoiding Day Zero. It is about understanding water as the fundamental economic enabler. Major civilisations died because they had no water.
“I say we should create another problem – of having too much water.
“I am happy the debate is being elevated. Without CT, people wouldn’t be talking about the water problem.
“I was in meeting with Cape Town officials, and they said: What if it rains? (will we have spent in vain on water projects?).
“The real question is…..what if it doesn’t?”