As South Africa and the world celebrates the 100 Anniversary of the legacy of the Later former first President of the democratic country, Nelson Mandela, focus should be made towards the acceleration of the accessibility of one of the most life-giving resource water.


July, which is the birth month of Mandela, is celebrated as the period in which efforts should be driven at high speed to make sure that water, but repeat again, clean drinkable water is available to all. The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), the custodian of water in the country, has dedicated the month of July of each year as the period where flowing rivers should be cleaned and pollutants removed.


This is a great starting point for DWS to identify first what are the causes of water and river pollutions. There is a saying that notes there is no smoke without a fire.

Literally meaning there are causes or reasons for things that occur of happen. The same logic applies for anything that exist on earth, such as to why there is drought, rainfalls and maybe to be direct, why our water quality is rated or pronounced has been of poor quality.


Yes, indeed, there are causes, whether we like it or not. So, the logical thing to do to correct or right the problem is to dig deeper to identify the root causes to be able to find lasting solutions. It should be borne in mind that in many places in South Africa rural people depend, for their livelihood, on products derived directly from rivers. As a result, their relationship with rivers is close and their need for healthy rivers, critical. The benefits of the healthy rivers are however not only limited to the rural communities but also urban communities who use rivers for recreational practices such as fishing.


There is a growing need, always, to particularly focus on identifying the root causes of factors leading or causing our water resources to be rated as being of poor quality. Workshops such as the Integrated Water Quality Management Stakeholders Workshop (IWQMS) must be held always amid recent concerns of very aggressive and continuous pollution of the country’s water resources on a daily basis.


Considering that South Africa is facing some severe droughts in major parts of the country such as KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Limpopo, Free State, North West (NW), among others, it is worrying that these developments made the situation even more grave, worst, to say the least.


But, with the initiatives such as this one, steered and piloted by DWS, the future looks promising if not bright. The good thing is that these efforts, supported by water sector stakeholders, should leave no stone unturned in their quest to get to the bottom of the matter.


Communities benefit from clean and healthy rivers. Clean and fresh water assists communities in their daily activities including consumption, cooking and washing. The fish that live in healthy rivers can be used as an excellent food source. The dense, indigenous, riparian vegetation around healthy rivers also attracts animals and birds.


Communities and even livestock particularly in rural communities stand a better chance of an improved quality of life when our rivers are clean and healthy.


A river is healthy when there is a healthy riparian zone. The riparian zone is the area next to a river that helps the river to function as an ecosystem. The roots of trees and plants in the riparian zone stabilises the river bank and prevent excess siltation, which occurs when soil and sand is washed into the river. The trees, plants and ground cover on the riverbank trap soil and waste materials before it enters the river.


The roots of plants also create safe areas where fish can breed, feed and hide. Wild animals and birds also hide in the trees and in the dense bushes found in the riparian zone. Therefore, destroying the riparian zone means disturbing the natural life cycle in this zone. A river is healthy when there is a healthy riparian zone.


At the end of the day, it is commonly agreed there are five common causes, which when left unattended, lead to the poor quality of our water resources. These factors are: Eutrophication, Acidification and Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), Salinization, Urban Runoff Pollution and Sedimentation.


Accordingly, it is agreed that Eutrophication is a notable degree of dysfunction in many municipalities due to a range of institutional, technical or management incapacity, financial and political reasons.


Acidification and AMD result from a historical lack of planning, regulation and enforcement leading to lack of compliance. Salinization is when inappropriate irrigation technologies are used, inappropriate dry-land tillage and crops including lack of intercepting drainage and evaporation ponds.


Urban Runoff pollution results from the inadequate implementation of the best management land-use practices and a notable degree of dysfunction in relevant municipalities.


Sedimentation comes among other things, from inappropriate crop cultivation practices, including over grazing.


These may be the primary causes, probable others will emerge from this effort and they were dealt with aggressively, analysed and appropriate solution developed.


South Africa’s water quality measures among the best in the world but the country’s downfall is spoiled by the inadequate monitoring of effluent quality by users. That is why pollution of water from our rivers, dams and other sources need to be monitored and controlled.


Decision making paralysis at senior levels in relevant government departments is sometimes also cited as a contributing factor. Continued loss of senior technical capacity in relevant State departments was also cited to be among the many negative factors at play in the scenario.


This tells us that fragmented planning needs to be thrown out of the window and in comes the integrated water sector stakeholder partnerships that will wield lots of muscles.


Ike Motsapi & Thabang Molai




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