Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: REUTERS
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: REUTERS

Water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu has hit back at her detractors – which include cabinet colleagues - who criticise her ambitious R900bn water master plan which she regards as the best option to address SA’s water crisis.

Speaking to Business Day on the sidelines of the ANC’s 108th birthday celebrations in Kimberley at the weekend, Sisulu said the drought , which has led to Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape and the Free State declared disaster areas, was giving her sleepless nights.

“An emergency and disaster [of this magnitude] can keep anybody awake because … you can’t plan it, you can’t put timeframes to it, it’s just something that happens and you have to respond to it,” said Sisulu.

“It is particularly problematic when you don’t have the resources to deal with it immediately.”

Water is key to several major industries, with  SA's agricultural sector  using about 60% of all available water in the country for irrigation. Thesector contracted by 13.2% in the first quarter of 2019, after 7.9% growth in the last quarter of 2018. In the second and third quarters the industry contracted 4.2% and 3.6% respectively, due to the drought wreaking havoc across the country.

For SA as a whole, real agricultural output for the first half of 2019 was down 9.2% on the same period last year. The industry contributes about 2% to the economy. It employed about 880,000 people between July and September 2019. Its contribution to GDP fell from 4.2% in 1996 to 2.4% in 2018 and its value rose from R50.5bn to R74.2bn over the same period.

In November, Sisulu unveiled her much-anticipated master plan, which will cost R898bn over the next 10 years, to deal with the drought and provide water security for SA. The master plan would, among others, look into research and technologies to help find other water supplies from sources other than boreholes and dams.

However, City Press reported in December that Sisulu was facing resistance to her master plan as some of her cabinet colleagues and chunks of the ANC Parliamentary caucus said it was “rushed” and publicly launched without adequate consultation.

Her colleagues were reportedly not impressed that they only learnt about the contents of the document on the day that it was being made public; and they also raised concerns about the budget and were not convinced the department would have the capacity to drive the plan.

On Saturday, Sisulu who inherited a dysfunctional and broke department from Nomvula Mokonyane, who has been implicated in state capture allegations, denied ever receiving a backlash on the document.

“Anybody who has had a backlash on the master plan has not read it, they probably need to have an English dictionary,” she said.

“That master plan is the best you could ever have found anywhere. It took a lot of time. I mean, we are world renowned for our knowledge in [the water] industry. I’ve taken onboard, as my advisors, the best there is. There isn’t anybody out there who knows better about water than the people that I have in my team.”

Sisulu said she was “very happy” with the document. “Any backlash is just people with sour grapes. But if there are positive suggestions that they [detractors] want to put in, they may write in. But [the idea of a] backlash [is] sour grapes.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who delivered the keynote address at the ANC January 8 event, said the drought has “severely affected communities, agricultural pro­duction and broader economic activity”. He said the government will promote sectors like manufacturing, tourism, agriculture and the oceans economy as major areas for employment growth.

“We similarly need to act decisively to protect our scarce water resources, ensure that all have equitable access and respond to the devastating effects of successive droughts. Such action is essential to ensure the development of our economy and the realisation of the constitutional right of all South Africans to sufficient food and water,” said Ramaphosa.

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