OP-ED

First 100 Days: Gugile Nkwinti tackles water and sanitation in SA

By Deborah Mochotlhi 7 June 2018

Tree trunks, which were submersed when the dam was full, stand in the critically low Theewaterskloof Dam in Villiersdorp, South Africa, 23 January 2018. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

Engagement and building consensus has been the hallmark of Minister Gugile Nkwinti’s style of leadership, especially in his first 100 days of office in the Department of Water and Sanitation.

When, more than three months ago, the newly sworn-in President, Cyril Ramaphosa, told then-Rural Development and Land Reform Minister, Gugile Nkwinti, that he was to be moved from his post to becoming the political head of one of the most important departments in the country, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), the veteran Eastern Cape politician was not fazed.

Thuma Mina”, the new minister said, despite the many challenges that faced the department – including the ongoing drought in the Western Cape, the staggering financial and technical challenges facing the water sector and the massive work needed to improve the country’s water infrastructure.

However, while the minister expected it to be tough; he did not expect that he would be locked out of his Pretoria office at his first visit. The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) had barricaded entry as the union was on strike. Minister Nkwinti then set up a meeting where he engaged the union leadership; set up a joint task team to look at the issues; and, “three or four days thereafter we met to receive the report and agreed on the way forward”.

This method of engagement and building consensus has been the hallmark of Minister Nkwinti’s style of leadership at the DWS, especially in his first 100 days of office. Minister Nkwinti has now reached the 100 days mark at the department – and many have begun feeling the impact of his work.

The results of the engagements with water boards and others, Nkwinti told lawmakers, was the development of a Five Pillar Turnaround Strategy. Key to the Strategy is the creation of a National Water Resources and Services Authority: RSA; a National Water Resources and Services Regulator: RSA; a Water Resources and Services Value Chain; a Water Resources and Services Master Plan and Institutional Rationalisation and Organisational Alignment. The department streamlined its organogram and a new accounting officer is at the helm.

Further, Minister Nkwinti said the Department had decided to reduce construction costs by prioritising an internal Construction Unit. This state-controlled construction company will have a share equity regime where the State owns 51%, historically disadvantaged individuals with own 30% with direct investment totalling 19%.

While busy transforming the way the Department works, Minister Nkwinti also made it his business to visit the department’s key project to get a sense of what is happening on the ground.

Based on the meetings, Minister Nkwinti committed the Department to a turnaround plan to prioritise the Nandoni pipeline and 35 megalitres command reservoir in order to increase water sourcing. Further, it was agreed that the new bulk line should be connected into the existing village distribution reservoirs and household connections.

Nkwinti also called for a well co-ordinated multi-stakeholder involvement in fundraising for the last phases of the project as well as increased involvement of local people in sub-contracting and employment.

Having built a solid foundation of representative and participatory democracy in his first 100 days, it is only a matter of time before the new Minister delivers on his goal of doing more, with less. DM

Deborah Mochotlhi is the newly appointed Acting Director-General of the Department of Water and Sanitation

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