South Africa - A water scarce country

Earth surface is 70% water and 30% land, but only 2.5% of all water on earth is fresh water. South Africa on the other hand has less fresh water available than your average country. There are frequent scares of "Day Zero" scenarios. Cape Town was one such example in recent times.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

In the Kgalagadi, Joep le Riche (Park Warden) and his men drilled many waterholes. Mostly without success. It is hard to believe nowadays that water was carted to Twee Rivieren in drums from the nearest borehole.

A good supply of water was eventually found near Leeudril, some 12km north of Twee Rivieren. Water was eventually found at another waterhole near Twee Rivieren at a depth of almost 400m.

Over many years over 80 waterholes was producing drinking water for the animals. Water in the Nossob river is salty and brackish. Animals drink it because there is nothing else. Gemsbok on the other hand drinks just about anything. Water from the Aoub river is sweeter, which the animals prefer.

These waterholes are a neccessity, as the fences prohibits the natural migration of animals, mainly in search for water. A few underground dams was built underground at strategic places in the Nossob riverbed. Rainwater in the good months lands in these reserviors. 

River systems and water usage background in SA

Agriculture uses 60% of South Africa's water supply. Energy production uses 2%. The industry sector uses 11%. The mining sector uses 5%+.  South Africa have an entitlement policy of 6,000lt of water per household per month. Most of the existing pipelines has no monitoring on them, hence it is estimated that 20% is either lost due to leakages or "stolen". Most people in rural area's are still without water.

It is estimated that South Africa loses 1.5billion cubic meters of water anually due to outdated infrastructure. It is already estimated that South Africa is using 98% of water within the natural supply limits. The numbers in the above paragraph confirm this as well. This is a scary situation. The waste and non-functional bankrupt municipalities is not helping either. 

The time is now for all of us to start making a difference, or else water will run out. A poluted river will take centuries to recover. And South Africa, as can be seen from the map below, does not have many large river systems. 

Our main lifeline is the Vaal and Orange rivers. Sadly, large parts of the Vaal river system are already polluted, which will eventually be felt downstream as well. Besides these 2 rivers, we are mainly left with the Tugela and Zambezi rivers as main sources of water.

Annual rainfall

Measured rainfall is declining and groundwater levels are falling.

Groundwater Quality

Considering the amount of towns that depends on groundwater from the above image, one need to take water quality into consideration. Purified water from a reverse osmoses system should be in the region of 5mS/m. This measurement is EC (Electrical Conductivity) which measures the mineral content in water. A measurement of 0-50 is perfect, 50-150 is OK, 150-400 is marginal, 400-500 is poor and anything over 500 is unacceptable.

Taking both the below and above maps into consideration it is clear that groundwater is of better quality than those in lower rainfall areas, as a general rule. Hence, most of the Northern Cape does not have the best groundwater compared to the rest of South Africa. 

I would also suspect that with the falling groundwater levels that the EC levels will rise over time.

Northern Cape Water Pipelines and Canals

There no less than 8 water pipeline and 5 canal water systems are in the Northern Cape thirstland. Some are fed from the Vaal river, but most are fed from the Orange river. Many billions of rands has been spent to date on these systems.

Vaal Gamagara Water Project

An original pipeline was built some 60years ago from the Vaal river towards Kathu and Black Rock. Some R16billion was set aside for the upgrade of this pipeline to benefit the mines, farms and the towns of Kathu, Olifantshoek and Hotazel areas. The expanding iron ore and manganese mines in the area was most probably the biggest driving force behind this upgrade.

Existing mines in the area are Khumani, Sishen Iron Ore (Kumba), Mamatwan, Tshipi é Ntle Manganese, United Manganese of the Kalahari, Kudumane Mineral Resources, Kgalagadi Manganese, Hotazel, Wessels, Gloria and Black Rock. And prospecting continious in the area.

Kalagari East & West Pipelines

The Kalahari East & West pipelines is an ongoing project, but already covers many parts of the arid land south of Twee Rivieren. The water comes from the Orange river via pipelines some 200km to the south. 

The Mier municipal area is larger than the Orange Free state province. It includes the Rietfontein, Philandersbron, Loubos, Klein Mier, Groot Mier, Welkom, Askham and Noenieput areas.

When the German missionaries arrived from the then South West Africa (Namibia), they found large lakes in the area. They called them "mere". Locals pronounced this as "mier", hence this is where the name Mier originated from.

These lakes I presume they found at Hakskeenpan and Koppieskraalpan. Except during infrequent downpours, they are bone dry places. 

The 1st phase of this scheme started in mid 2015.

There are extentions from Cramond to Askham (some 69km) followed by a 56km extenstion from Askham to Groot Mier, followed by another 46km from Groot Mier to Philandersbron. The estimated cost of this section is R630 million. A storage reservoir will also be built somewhere in this area.

This became a neccessity as groundwater levels declined as much as 10 metres in recent times. A growing population, global warming and heatwaves all play a contributing factor.


The SA Goverment admits that 60% of the countries sewage plants are in a poor or critical state. Many rivers are for the most part already lost, such as the Hennops & Jukskei rivers. Many others are in the same state.

This is widespread across South Africa. Even the Little Karoo is not spared, as the disfunctional treatment plant in Zoar allows 800,000lt of raw sewage water to flow into the Nels river every single day.

Various reports confirms that 50,000lt of untreated sewage are released every SECOND in South Africa.
These photo's are supposed to shock as the situation is shocking. 

One hear so many stories of people doing cleanup operations in parts of the country. This is to be commended, but we are still treating the symptoms, instead of the cause. And the eventual outcome will be that all our rivers will look like this if drastic actions are not taken today. No more investigations, no more commissions, no more talks. Just actions.

Saamgestel Deur: Johan Swart

Sources: Daily Maverick, Goverment sites, Department of Water & Sanitation, Mail & Gaurdian, Farmers Weekly & other publications.