Gauteng’s Water Crisis Deepens Despite Lesotho Highlands Water Project Delays

Estimated read time 3 min read

By Samkele Mchunu

South Africa’s Gauteng province, home to the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg and the capital city Pretoria, is facing an escalating water crisis despite decades of planning and investment in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The LHWP, initially hailed as a solution to prevent water shortages in Gauteng, has encountered significant delays, leaving the province vulnerable to long-term disruptions in its water supply. With Phase 2 of the LHWP now expected to be completed in 2028, Gauteng’s water woes persist, raising questions about the efficacy of current strategies and the government’s ability to address the pressing issue.

The LHWP, a joint initiative between Lesotho and South Africa, was conceived in 1986 as a multi-phase project aimed at transferring water from Lesotho’s highlands to Gauteng via a network of dams and tunnels. Phase 1, completed in 2003, provided some relief to Gauteng’s water demands, but Phase 2 has faced numerous setbacks, including delays in negotiations, changes in government leadership, and allegations of political interference and corruption.

According to experts, political influence, particularly from former Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, has played a significant role in delaying Phase 2 of the LHWP. Mokonyane’s alleged attempts to bypass procurement processes and favor certain contractors have drawn scrutiny and sparked investigations into corruption within the project.

Furthermore, maintenance closures and inadequate infrastructure maintenance within Gauteng’s municipalities have exacerbated the water crisis. Johannesburg, for instance, loses nearly 40% of its treated water to leaks, theft, or non-payment, highlighting systemic failures in water management at the municipal level.

Despite assurances from the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) that measures are being taken to address current challenges, including implementing a communications strategy to promote water conservation and management, concerns remain about the province’s ability to cope with growing water demands.

As Gauteng’s population continues to surge, fueled by rapid urbanization and economic growth, the strain on water resources is expected to intensify. Without urgent action to address infrastructure deficiencies, curb wastage, and improve governance, Gauteng’s water crisis is poised to deepen, underscoring the need for a comprehensive and sustainable approach to water management in the region.

The upcoming Daily Maverick Debate, scheduled for May 9, 2024, promises to shed light on how Gauteng’s elected officials plan to tackle the myriad challenges facing the province, including the water crisis, crime, unemployment, and infrastructure collapse. With critical issues at stake, the debate is poised to be a pivotal moment in shaping Gauteng’s future trajectory.

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