Cape Town - New Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti wants to bring his ailing Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) centre stage and elevate it to the level it once was under former water affairs minister Kader Asmal.
"What is emerging is a water resources and services transformation agenda," Nkwinti said at a World Water Day briefing in Cape Town on Thursday.
Nkwinti told journalists that, when he had woken up on Thursday, he had been thinking about how the late Asmal had given water affairs the status it deserved.
"At 04:00, I was thinking exactly that, and how I wish I could honour that old man by doing exactly what he started," Nkwinti said.
So, in the early hours, he sent a message from his cellphone to his ministerial team to tell them what he wanted.
Reaching for his phone in the briefing he read out what he had told his team. He wanted the department to be based on five strategic pillars:
• a national water resources and services water authority for South Africa
• a national water resources and services regulator
• a water resources and services value chain for water
• a water resources and services master plan
• institutional rationalising and alignment.
"Today they are meeting in Pretoria to follow my instructions," Nkwinti said.
He had taken that action in memory of Asmal.
Nkwinti said, when he had been in a departmental portfolio briefing in Parliament on Tuesday, one of the MPs on the committee had made a comment to DWS officials which had made an impression on him.
The custodian of water
She said: "'The Department of Water and Sanitation is the custodian of water, yet it does not claim that space.' That is exactly what Kader Asmal said. That is exactly what I am running with."
Had the department properly claimed its space as water custodians, the drought would still have happened, but they would have been better prepared.
Asked what was happening with the upgrading of the Clanwillian Dam, designed to increase the water supply in the drought-stricken region, but which has nothing to show after millions had apparently been spent, Nkwinti said he did not want to discuss the money involved in the stalled upgrade, as this was likely to emerge later from the commission of inquiry into the department.
"But I can assure it will happen. In the next two weeks I will visit the place. We are resolving it internally."
The proposed raising of the dam wall had been on the cards for years.
Earlier, Nkwinti told delegates at a World Water Day conference, to which diplomats had been invited, that he would ensure his department took notice of scientific advice and implement the recommendations made by scientists in the many reports written by the Water Research Commission and other institutions.
This followed a recent meeting with the Water Research Commission, where he had been told that the water department did not use the information in the many scientific reports the commission produced.
"But those reports are used by people outside South Africa. Why do you have scientists, if you are going to continue to believe in dreams?
Call to implement expert recommendations
"Officials of government, once we have read those reports, we must implement those recommendations."
Nkwinti told delegates that he was on a "very, very, very tough learning curve" about water issues.
He said he had not realised how crucial water was, as growing up in townships it was common to see taps left running, and one did not take much notice.
"That's exactly what happened. But my father was the chair of a street committee in Grahamstown. He was very strict about water running down the street. Or when people were washing clothes and threw the water into the street, he would say: 'Can't you use that water on the garden?'
"He never went to school, but he was ahead of me," Nkwinti said.
The minister is on Thursday due to meet Western Cape premier Helen Zille, who has been vocal about the national department's lack of bulk water infrastructure to the province and what she said was wastage of millions of rand by not tackling the upgrade of the Clanwillian Dam wall.
A joint meeting of the DWS portfolio committee and Scopa agreed on Wednesday that there would be a joint commission of inquiry into the DWS.
It also agreed to have a public participation process and will call for submissions from the public.