South Africa Bulletin from the headquarters of TAU SA in Pretoria Web: www.tlu.co.za
“And not a drop to drink!” This was the mariner’s cry as he cursed the lack of fresh water amid the sea’s great expanse and depth. It could turn out to be South Africa’s lament as more and more reports surface about the quality and quantity of water available to keep South Africa “afloat”, to use a familiar term.
Huge volumes of highly poisonous – in many cases also radioactive – water, known as Acid Mine Drainage or AMD, are forming in abandoned underground Johannesburg reef mine workings. This AMD is steadily rising towards the surface and threatening to poison water sources not only across the Gauteng province but, because so many water systems flow out of Gauteng, in the rest of the country too. (Noseweek August 2009).
Noseweek describes what government and the mining industry are trying to do to avert a coming catastrophe. A critical situation level is predicted for Gauteng in October 2011 if nothing is done – and this means that construction of an underground pump station must commence by the end of 2009 if chaos is to be avoided. “Johannesburg’s water future will be decided in the next few months”, declares Noseweek.
But this type of warning is not new – indeed, the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) has been alerting South Africa for some years about the country’s water problems. A recent study by Mr Louis Meintjes, TAU’s Deputy President has placed SA’s water problems in daunting perspective.
Meintjes’ report has been partially precipitated by new Water Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica’s remarks that South Africa’s water resources are “under threat from hostile farmers who ‘illegally’ siphon off billions of litres”. The SA agricultural sector uses about 62% of the country’s fresh water, followed by industry (27%) and households (around 10%), according to the Minister. (Note that Egypt’s agricultural sector uses 83.3% of that country’s water – Gulf News July 29, 2009)
Regional Deputy Director General of Water Affairs Thandeka Mbassa-Sigabi said in reply to a 24 June 2009 press conference question that South Africa was one of the 30 driest countries in the world – and that it lost about 30% of its water (500 million cubic metres) to wastage every year, brought about by “ageing infrastructure and inappropriate technology”. But her government has been in power for more than 15 years, enough time to correct this situation, so commercial agriculture can hardly be castigated for allegedly “siphoning off” water to use on farms.