About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Service infrastructure

According to StatsSA 2005 mid year population figures, Research Surveys (RS) estimate that metropolitan areas account for 5 million households. Overall 71 percent of households have access to running water. In municipal areas this rises to 90 percent, with 81 percent having water in their homes and 9 percent having it on outside taps. Communal taps are a source of water for 20 percent. Overall 3.6 million households need to be connected. In metropolitan areas 88 percent have flush toilets, overall 54 percent have. The pit latrine/bucket system is used in 36 percent of households (7 percent in metropolitan households) and 6 percent have no toilets. Nationwide 86 percent of households have electricity, rising to 95 percent in metropolitan areas. Again, nationwide, 28 percent of households have access tio hot running water, rising to 47 percent in metropolitan areas. Just 25 percent have a Telkom landline telephone in metropolitan areas, countrywide the figure is 17 percent; in metropolitan areas 51 of household say there was a hospital nearby; but this drops to 36 percent countrywide.  In its manifesto released for the March 2006 local government elections the ANC promised to electrify every SA household by 2012, provide every household with clean running water and decent sanitation by 20120, to rid the townships of the bucket system by 2007 and to provide free services to households.

Over the last decade, the Government has set a number of targets regarding access to basic utilities. The Programme of Action, contained in President Mbeki's State of the Nation address in May 2004, set forth a plan to achieve universal household access to clean running water by 2009 and electricity by 2012; accelerate the provision of basic sanitation to those who are not yet connected; and address the housing backlog through more government spending to improve access to basic shelter. In its manifesto released for the March 2006 local government elections, the ANC reiterated its promise to electrify every South African household by 2012; provide every household with clean running water and decent sanitation by 2020; to rid the townships of the bucket system by 2007; and more fully implement the Free Basic Service policy.

As indicated in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement in late 2005, government and public enterprise investment expenditure for the period April 2005 to March 2008 is estimated at R370 billion, which is an integral part of its Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for SA (Asgi-SA). Roughly 40 percent of the money will be spent by public enterprises, mostly Eskom (R84bn) and Transnet (R47bn, of which R40bn is "core"), to upgrade power generation and distribution, ports, an oil pipeline, and the rail network. The rest of the funding will be used for roads, water, energy distribution, housing, schools and clinics, police stations, courts, business facilities, and sports facilities. This includes preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which involves building or improving the 10 stadiums to be used, and investment in the environs and access to the stadiums.

All three levels of government – national, provincial, and local – will share responsibility, with most projects occurring at the provincial and local level. For more on Asgi-SA, see Media Briefing By Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, A Catalyst For Accelerated And Shared Growth-South Africa (ASGISA): A Summary, 6 February 2006.

go to www.pmg.org.za/bills/060206asgisummary.htm

While these intentions are laudable, some question whether South Africans are more willing to build new infrastructure than they are to maintain existing assets. Another concern is the degree (or absence) of environmental sustainability built into the plans. In late November 2006, the South African Institution of Civil Engineers (Saice) issued a report that graded the condition of nine of the built environment infrastructure sectors, including water resources and water supply; sanitation and wastewater; solid waste management; roads; airports; ports (harbors); electricity generation and distribution; hospitals and clinics. The exercise relied upon the investigations and findings reported by its members, as selected and analyzed by a panel of experts. Their overall grade for build environment infrastructure, as a whole: D+.

Two themes animated the report: (1) the extreme shortage of skills and the deleterious impact this has on planning, procurement, design, construction and care of infrastructure; and (2) the lack of adequate funding for the maintenance of the existing asset base and the new assets that come online each day.

Water. Of particular concern is South Africa's management of water resources and its infrastructure, including dams, weirs, canals, pipelines, and tunnels that are in major need of refurbishment or replacement, which are the responsibility of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. According to the Saice report, "Although DWAF has conducted regular maintenance, certain portions of the infrastructure have reached the end of their useful life. Of particular concern is the estimate that 43% of dams have safety problems and require urgent refurbishment. DWAF is doing what it can, including engaging in partnerships with users of water. Its major constraint appears to be the size of the available budget. This appears to be forcing DWAF to focus on its most strategic infrastructure, with the result that the remainder will continue to decline. It gets a grade of D+."

Drinking water. As for drinking water, the engineers continue:

South Africa remains one of the few countries in the world where, in most urban areas, water can be drunk with confidence directly from the tap. Major strides have been taken towards the Millennium Development Goals by bringing water to every household by 2008. However, there remains erratic compliance with water quality requirements in most other municipalities. The wastage of water is also, in many cases, above the international average, in some cases by a factor of 2 or more. As in the other aspects of infrastructure managed by local councils and municipalities, the dire skills shortage mentioned earlier is a primary constraint. For major urban areas, the grade is C+, and for all other areas, a D-."

Sanitation. With regard to sanitation and wastewater, the engineers acknowledge that progress since 1994 has been "very significant", yet claim "there remain serious problems with the management of many wastewater sewage treatment works. Wastewater leakage and spillage remains far too high and there are frequent problems with on-site sanitation. Of the sanitation projects completed since 1994, more than a quarter have failed or are in the process of failing, and almost half of all municipalities do not have adequate operations and maintenance capacity. The threat of water-borne diseases remains significant in many of the small to medium municipalities. Major urban areas get a C-, and the grade for all other areas is an E."

Waste management. Another area requiring attention is waste management. "Waste management practices have improved over the past thirty years, although there remain many municipalities with uncontrolled dumpsites and the attendant health risks," Saice reported. "National initiatives on solid waste management to reduce generation of waste and to encourage recycling have not been successful as hoped. The grade is C- for major urban areas and D for all other areas."

Roads. As anyone who has ever traveled them knows, the condition of South Africa's roads warrants consideration, too. "National roads are the responsibility of the South African National Roads Agency Ltd, which has a network of 16,000 km.

The acquisition of key strategic roads from provincial departments is ongoing, but some of these roads are in relatively poor condition. A serious concern is that 72 percent of the national road network is nearing the end of its design life, and funding remains a challenge. The condition of roads managed by provinces and municipalities varies greatly, and a massive backlog exists with respect to access roads for the poorest part of the population. Overloading and neglect of routine maintenance is a serious cause of reduction in road life, with the associated premium in repair costs. With the exception of Gauteng province, the general condition continues to decline, mostly owing to inadequate budgets and shortage of skilled personnel. National roads gets a grade of C. Please note that this is for national roads and not for major urban areas as reflected in the report, and all other areas get a grade D-."

Electricity. Power outages throughout 2005 and 2006 created widespread inconvenience and hardship, the inevitable byproduct of demand outstripping both supply and capacity. According to Saice, "Eskom's bulk generation and transmission capacity is nearing peak demand levels. Although some power stations previously mothballed will return to service over the next two years, this will only provide temporary relief.

A further risk is the length of the transmission corridors between generation sites in Mpumalanga and demand locations in Gauteng and the coast. This leaves little in reserve for maintenance or for failures in the generation or transmission grid. It is expected that between now and 2011, when new base-load stations come on-stream, further power cuts can be expected. Furthermore, a concern is that almost all of Eskom's supply is from coal-fired power stations. Even the new cleaner burning power stations have a considerable adverse effect on the environment, owing to the high emissions from coal burning.

There have been major strides in the provision of distribution networks of electricity since 1994, both from Eskom and from municipal networks in major urban areas. However, a shortage of skilled personnel and ageing or overloaded infrastructure, combined with inadequate operation and maintenance, are a problem. Improvements are clearly discernible. In areas other than the major urban areas, the problems are aggravated. The grades are C+ for Eskom's bulk generation, transmission and distribution, C- for major urban municipalities and D- for other areas.

Hospitals and clinics.  The Saice Report Card had this to say: "In general, the allocation of maintenance budgets for hospitals and clinics has been below the required levels to maintain the facilities adequately. As a result, the maintenance backlog in some provinces is escalating. A further concern is that emphasis is being placed on capital works to construct new facilities, without adequate measures to maintain these once they are built. Inadequate skills and experience to plan and implement maintenance programmes is a further shortcoming. An encouraging sign is that some provinces, notably Kwa-Zulu Natal and Limpopo, have improved their healthcare facilities over the past ten years. Hospitals get a C and Clinics a D+."

See Robyn Chalmers, "Civil engineers find a dangerous hold in SA's infrastructure plot," Business Day, 6 December 2006. For a copy of The Saice Infrastructure Report Card for South Africa 2006, visit the website at www.saice.co.za/

In 2005, TNS Research Surveys, a leading market survey research company, conducted a study to measure everyday quality of life factors as defined by a select sample of South African residents; these results were then weighted and benchmarked to the Stats SA 2005 mid-year population figures. The researchers estimated that the six metropolitan areas account for five million households; 35 percent of their interviewees reside in metropolitan areas, and 65 percent of their interviewees reside in non-metropolitan areas. With regard to access to infrastructure, overall, 71 percent of all South African households have access to running water; in municipal areas this rises to 90 percent, with 81 percent having water in their homes and 9 percent having it on outside taps. Communal taps are a source of water for 20 percent; overall 3.6 million households need to be connected. Again, nationwide, 28 percent of households have access to hot running water, rising to 47 percent in metropolitan areas. Eighty-eight percent of metropolitan-area household have flush toilets; overall, 54 percent do. The pit latrine/bucket system is used in 36 percent of households (7 percent in metropolitan areas) and 6 percent lack toilet facilities. Nationwide 86 percent of households have electricity, rising to 95 percent in metropolitan areas. Just 25 percent have a Telkom landline telephone in metropolitan areas; countrywide the figure is 17 percent. Fifty-one percent of households in metropolitan areas stated there was a hospital nearby, but this drops to 36 percent countrywide.  For more information, go to the TNS Research Survey website at www.researchsurveys.co.za and Measuring and understanding the well-being of South Africans: Everyday quality of life in South Africa, which can be purchased from Springer Netherlands at www.springerlink.com/content/186603r26n670x75/. See also  Stats SA, Perceived health and other health

indicators in South Africa, 2004, which can be downloaded from Stats SA website at  www.statssa.gov.za

These statistical figures belie the human side of infrastructure, especially the mounting levels of unrest and public protest concerning the inability of local government to provide basic services. The first flashpoint was the township of Intabazwe, which erupted in October 2004 as thousands of residents blocked the N3 highway to protest lack of delivery of services. On the first day 38 people were arrested, 37 on the next. When police opened fire on the protesters more than 20 children were injured and one later died. Subsequently thirteen Harrismith residents allegedly involved in the incidents were arrested and charged with sedition.

At a briefing of journalists Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils warned against the exploitation of service-delivery grievances to further secret agendas, while Minister of Provincial and Local Government Sydney Mufamadi insisted that the Free State residents were the biggest beneficiaries of local government service provision. Kasrils said the intelligence agencies would investigate whether elements were taking advantage of public dissatisfaction to foment disrespect for the law. If groups were repeatedly involved in breaking the law and it appeared to be their agenda, the agencies were obliged to keep an eye on them.

The unrest was the first in a string of demonstrations that spread across the Free State and slowly to all provinces as the poor realized that the only power they had was to burn and loot the meager possessions they had, block major highways, and generally disrupt the lives of the better off, often to the detriment of their own. Sadly, the imminent charges of sedition did not provoke a widespread public outcry, but the charges were subsequently dropped. Talk of there still being a "third force" orchestrating the demonstrations had eerie echoes of the ANC trying to find those beloved "outside agitators" lurking somewhere, always ready to pounce and destabilize South Africa's democracy. One year later conditions in Intabazwe were no better than they were in 2004. The compensation promised to the family of Teboho Mkhonza, the young man shot dead by the police, has not been forthcoming (Vicki Robinson, "No change, no vote," Mail & Guardian, 14-20 October 2005).

Local government in South Africa has either collapsed or is bordering on collapse. The total outstanding debt of the country's 284 local authorities was R3billion ($6 billion) in 2003, according to figures released by the Minister of Local Government Sydney Mufamadi on 30 June 2005. This represented a 13 percent over 2002. Debt is attributable to non-payment for services and required rates. One hundred thirty-six municipalities are insolvent. Two hundred and three cannot provide sanitation, 182 cannot provide refuse removal, 155 cannot provide water, 122 cannot provide electricity to at least 60 percent of their inhabitants (SA Reconciliation Barometer Newsletter, December 2005). Local officials pay themselves and their staff's huge salaries – sometimes as large as President Mbeki's. Mufamadi's department launched "Project Consolidate" in October 2004 to try and rescue the 136 municipalities by supplying them with skilled staff.

Johannesburg City Council wrote off $227 million owed by residents for water and electricity, which was applied to about 100,000 residents unable to pay (pensioners, child-headed households, unemployed, HIV/AIDS affected and people earning less than $ 22.50 a month.  The city is owed $1.2 billion.

The R1.3 billion ($200 million +) Alexandra Renewal Project, launched by President Mbeki in 2001, was supposed to build 21,000 houses in its first four years. Instead it managed to build 600. ("Alexandra housing project struggles on poor planning," Business Day, 1 November 2005)

In its 2005 annual report to Parliament, the Public Service Commission was highly critical of the public service. Its list of deficiencies included a paucity of skills and incorrect deployment of skills available; the absence of a work ethic; and performance characterized by under-spending and over-ambition.

In April 2005, Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel criticized the provinces for their failure to spend the money allocated to them for infrastructure construction. In fiscal years 2005 they underspent R1.8 billion ($275 million) on a total capital budget of R12 billion ($1.8 billion) Mpumalanga spent only two-thirds of its capital budget; the North West, Northern Cape, and Free State spent three-quarters or less. (Southern Africa Report, 27 May 2005. For more, go to http://www.sareport.co.za)

Addressing the South African Association of Consulting Engineers, Webster Ndodana, the first black head of the association, took aim at the performance of municipalities. The failure of municipalities to fill vacancies and deliver local services was, he said, "virtually a crime against the population, in particular the poor." Rather than a lack of professional staff, he said, municipalities' failure to build infrastructure was attributable to their failure to fill vacancies in "elementary positions" (Business Day, 19 January 2006).

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.