Water committee founders soon after launch

President Jacob Zuma’s recent surprise cabinet reshuffle couldn’t have come at a worse time for the new National Water Advisory Committee (NWAC).

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The committee was officially launched in October by the then water affairs minister Buyelwa Sonjica. Made up of a variety of public and private experts in water-related fields, it was tasked with giving the minister guidance on the interventions necessary to ensure long-term water security for the country.

The committee was considered a very positive move by government, especially given the public’s growing concerns about the declining quality of South Africa’s fresh water resources.But on 2 November, the day on which the 15-member NWAC was to have its first formal meeting with Sonjica, President Zuma unexpectedly replaced her with Edna Molewa.

NWAC chairperson Prof Carolyn Palmer explained, “The meeting was postponed and we’re waiting to hear back from the department about what’s going to happen next. “It’s likely that Minister Molewa will first want to review the make-up of the committee and Minister Sonjica’s goals for it before getting back to us.”

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Department spokesperson Linda Page said they were not yet in a position to give “an accurate response on this”, adding that Molewa had yet to pronounce on the constitution of the NWAC and other departmental matters.According to independent environmental consultant Carin Bosman, who worked for the department for many years, because the NWAC had been appointed by Sonjica in terms of provisions within the National Water Act 36 of 1998, Molewa can’t simply abolish the committee.

“The new minister would only be able to change the constitution of the NWAC for very good reasons – for example, if the committee was failing to effectively carry out its mandate,” explained Bosman. “We’ll just have to allow her the opportunity to find her feet in her new post before we learn what her plans for the NWAC are.”