The Vaal River has been described as an open sewer, most frequently by people who live on its banks, despite protestations to the contrary by the department of water & sanitation. It smells of dead things and faeces. SA’s water crisis is not confined to the Vaal River, though it is singled out because the system supports about 60% of the economy and provides drinking water to about 45% of the population. Neither did it happen overnight. In a paper by limnologist William Harding, published by the Water Institute of Southern Africa in 2010, he writes that South African authorities have known since the 1970s about the country’s escalating water crisis at all of its major rivers and at most of its impoundments. Yet, in February 2008, when the rainy season was ending, a cabinet minister said there was no water crisis in SA. The then water and forestry minister, Lindiwe Hendricks, did not attribute SA’s good fortune to an unusually strong La Niña system over the Pacific during 2007/2008, ...

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