South Africa overview

South Africa is a middle income country with a high level of water supply coverage – some 91% of the population currently have access to improved water supply; almost all of the unserved reside in rural areas, where 22% of the population still does not have access to an improved water supply.

South Africa has undertaken a comprehensive decentralisation process, starting in the early 2000s with a well elaborated framework and a clearly defined water service authority mandate at local government level. Of the countries studied, it has the most potential, in terms of systems already in place, to start addressing the full life-cycle of services in a more structured way.

Administrative set up

There are nine provinces with six metropolitan and 46 district municipalities which are further divided into 231 local municipalities.

Main sector institutions

There is a well defined division of roles and responsibilities for the delivery of WASH services in South Africa, with the national government having responsibility for setting norms and policies, as well as a major support and leadership role to ensure a strong and collaborative sector. Local government is responsible for ensuring the actual provision of services and universal access to services:

  • The national government is represented by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA), as a policy, norms and standards setter; provincial (deconcentrated) offices of DWA play a technical capacity role through regional offices which also provide support to local government.
  • Within local government, water services authorities (WSAs) have been established to cover water policy for free basic services. They have a technical department responsible for infrastructure such as water, roads, etc.
  • Water services providers (WSPs) at system or multi-system or municipal level provide day-to-day O&M, customer care, revenue collection, etc.

Service Delivery Models

There is a range of WSP institutional arrangements, from options that cover an entire district municipal area (or even multiple municipal areas) to individual CBO options that cover specific communities. WSAs decide on the provider through contracted arrangements. Three principal SDMs can be identified in sector policy:

  1. Municipal provision: this can be either directly by the municipality itself through a service unit, or via contracting out to a municipal-owned utility.
  2. CBOs contracted as service providers by the WSA: they often receive support from (often private) Service Support Agents (SSAs) which both provide technical back-stopping and a monitoring and reporting function to the WSA.
  3. Private sector companies: different types of contacts can be entered into with the private sector ranging from concessions to lease and management contracts.

Key issues

One of the strengths of South Africa is the approach which has established a range of frameworks to enable water services provision at the local level with service targets and financing, planning, regulatory, monitoring, reporting and support.

The institutional framework for water services also recognises that there is no single model or institutional arrangement that can address the different realities at the local level, and thus legislation requires a vigorous assessment process to find the most appropriate service provision arrangement(s).

One of the other highlights is the SWAp (called ‘Masibambane’ or ‘working together’) launched in 2001 which has fundamentally changed the way the water sector operates, by coordinating the mandates and relationships between different stakeholders towards a truly scaled-up effort.

However, the rural water sector is not without significant problems in so far as it has in fact largely focused on rapidly increasing coverage through implementation and rehabilitation, with a resultant capital maintenance backlog.