CAPE TOWN. – South Africa’s Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize has declared the prevailing water crisis affecting multiple provinces a national state of disaster.
Mkhize, on behalf of the inter-ministerial task team on water, told the media in Parliament yesterday that his decision was gazetted as at 10:00 yesterday morning.
Government previously reclassified the water crisis as a national disaster on February 8.
However, this was different to a declaration.
Government can now finally access special funds through Treasury reserved for national disasters.
The process to calculate how much will be released has begun and the figure will be announced at a later date, Mkhize said.
“As the minister responsible for disaster management, I have recognised that special circumstances exist, and have decided to declare the drought as a national state of disaster in terms of Section 27 of the Disaster Management Act,” he said.
Mkhize called on all citizens to continue to save water and change behaviour, as South Africa is currently a water scarce country.
Mkhize said there is R6bn allocated for disaster relief in the budget, and that more is coming through special disaster funds.
A portion of the R6bn allocated for all disaster relief in 2018/19 will be accessed, but a separate process to approve special funding will also be allocated through a Treasury process.
“The R6bn is for all forms of disasters, and from which various provinces and municipalities can apply,” Mkhize said.
“This declaration is about immediate relief, so there is a distinction between day-to-day operations.
“Once the allocation has been done and Treasury is satisfied, we will get that (final figure) announced at a later date.”
A short-term relief grant for provinces was also announced during the budget, amounting to R501m, which will also be accessed.
According to the Disaster Management Act, a state of national disaster lasts for a period of three months. If the situation persists, Mkhize will have to extend the period again through the same process.
The various provinces affected by the drought crisis – including the Western, Northern and Eastern Capes – will need to make their case for financial assistance based on their needs.
Mkhize said the process was stringent, as they needed to ensure there was no “double dipping”.
The funds released would then be allocated through a joint process with provinces through Cogta.
The decision should be seen separately from government’s duty to provide long-term bulk water supply to the various provinces and municipalities, Mkhize said.
Those processes were still ongoing, and were still the competency of the national Department of Water and Sanitation.
Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana, who was also at the briefing, said the department was aware that the sector had suffered job losses as a result of the drought, particularly in the Western Cape.
“Once your production level has dropped, water is one of those issues you need to take into account when most of your production is under irrigation.
“Obviously we won’t be producing at a certain level. Hence, we have allocated funding to reduce the impact.”
As for recent suggestions by some MPs that private dams also be included in Parliament’s pending talks on land expropriation without compensation, Zokwana said the question should be directed to the Department of Water and Sanitation, the custodian of water in the country.
From his point of view, the land question needed to be addressed and the land restored “to its rightful owners”, but had to be done responsibly through Parliament, and should not affect food security.
The same would go for water, if it was brought up in the discussions, he said.
Saying he was encouraged by progress made to save water, Mkhize had one last message for citizens.
“In the spirit of Thuma Mina (Send me), we urge all South Africans to continue pulling together to save water and to manage this scarce resource wisely.
“Society must inculcate this culture of saving, as it is the only way future generations will deal with the declining water resources and growing demand for both human consumption, agricultural and industrial utilisation.” – News24