Management of water services

KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa




In response to the launch of BPD, Vivendi Water originally became interested in setting up a tri-sector pilot project in Pietermaritzburg . Its contacts with Umgeni water (a bulk water supplier in South Africa) led it into discussion with Pietermaritzburg local council. A Memorandum of Understanding for the project was followed by a formal Co-operation Agreement, detailing the roles, responsibilities and governance structures of the pilot partnership.


Mvula Trust agreed to form the NGO pillar of the arrangement, principally to gain experience of working in urban environments. Durban Council joined a few months later, as did the Water Research Commission.


Project description


Several pilot schemes took place in five selected communities in both Durban and Pietermaritzburg (ranging from 700 to 4000 households each). Various solutions included a three-service level scheme, individual flow limiters and community service centres. A project on customer management was started in a pilot area, building on lessons learned.




After 1994, Durban and Pietermaritzburg Municipalities were expanded to include the former townships. Their boundaries were further extended to include surrounding rural areas (part of a national decentralisation policy). New local authorities were defined and elected in 2000. During these elections a statement by the ANC promising free basic services for all reawakened the 'free water' debate - the ramifications and responses to which were hotly debated. There was also a backdrop of general ambivalence towards PSP in South Africa with the unions generally wary of private sector involvement in any form.


Project beneficiaries


At the time of the project, post-apartheid expectations in South Africa were high, requiring careful negotiation from the partners. Within the townships there was a strong culture of non-payment & entitlement, stemming from the apartheid-era resistance movement. This low willingness-to-pay proved difficult for the pilot to overcome and impaired cost recovery. Security ws an issue in the townships, but good community relations tempered this somewhat. An outbreak of cholera in KwaZulu Natal (though not in Durban or Pietermaritzburg) made headline news, increasing political attention. Other significant issues included HIV/Aids, illiteracy and unemployment.


Objectives and structures of partnership


The focus project was an experimental pilot exploring innovative water and sanitation solutions. The overall objectives were well documented and split via seven task components: i) community liaison; ii) project environment; iii) education and awareness; iv) technical activities; v) customer management; vi) monitoring of awareness, knowledge and behaviour & vii) reporting and communication of project activities and outcomes. The project established two Steering Committees (senior partner representatives) and two Task Teams - one for Durban and one for Pietermaritzburg. The Task Teams focused on implementation and delegated work to both Component Managers and Task Managers.


Roles and responsibilities


Co-operative Agreements laid out roles, responsibilities, and financial commitments. Vivendi Water served as the project manager, whilst time & other resources roughly followed a three-way split. On the ground there was some cross-over, but in general Mvula were involved in community liaison work, Vivendi Water undertook project management and the Municipalities integrated the pilot project within their role as a service provider. The WRC helped to determine and disseminate lessons learned. External consultants undertook some community liaison, education and technical activities.


Community liaison


Community liaison was cited as the first of the project's seven components, reflecting its importance. There was a commitment to undertake community consultation / participation on an ongoing basis, using existing community structures. Transfer workshops educated people about the project and built up capacity within the municipalities to undertake liaison work, promote community organisation and self-development, and share knowledge, skills and resources. Actors from all sectors were involved. Turnover of role-players within communities posed a challenge - local elections meant that new actors had to be educated.


Communications and feedback


The partnership structure lent itself to clear consultation and communication between partners (whether in the Steering Committees or via Task Teams). Monthly Task Team meetings were an effective mechanism - decisions relied on consensus, with working groups discussing unsettled issues. Strong personal relationships were built up over time - staff contact was informal, frequent and generally project oriented. A specific monitoring and evaluation (M&E) aspect was included (and a local consultant engaged). The WRC played a key role in these M&E exercises (which it funded). A workshop was also held in January 2001 to analyse the functioning of the partnership.


Evolution and institutionalisation


As mentioned, some cross-over of roles emerged - this reflected an informal flexibility to the partnership. Community liaison itself hs evolved over time. In general, the partnership was characterised as responsive and evolving, exhibiting a wide sense of fluidity and candour. Institutionalisation questions were focused on the future of the partnership beyond the pilot stages.




Indicators and an M&E methodology were established to substantiate anecdotal testimony of cheaper and faster projects. At the time of the project, satisfaction and optimism amongst both partners and communities was strong.




Strong relationships between partners; solid time invested at the beginning; a well-defined structure; clear roles and responsibilities; willingness & trust amongst partners.


Next steps and replicability


The next steps for the partners were to capitalise on the strengths and address the weaknesses, opportunities and threats identified in the January 2001 Workshop. These steps included:


  • Increasing councillor buy-in
  • Deepening community involvement
  • Seeking clarity over the NGO role
  • Constructing a two-way dialogue with the poor and bringing community structures closer
  • Producing and communicating tangible results
  • Undertaking more marketing and outreach work
  • Strengthening the Steering Committee (whose role was relatively weak and membership smaller and more remote from the project)
  • Pursuing further institutionalisation
  • Exploring future partnership options whilst maintaining focus.


At the end of the project, replication seemed a definite possibility, although the future of partnership beyond the pilot was unclear. If not within the same partnership framework, most partners wanted to replicate a similar approach within their organisations.


Wider lessons


Wider lessons related to:


  • Governance: clear roles and responsibilities are crucial; flexibility is important; consensus decision making helps; partner contact should be institutionalised
  • Time: consensus and trust require time; relationship-building is important and needs champions
  • Other lessons: external events can pose a threat to a solid partnership; attention over the NGO role is needed; an NGO's financial independence can be a delicate issue; community liaison is vital but challenging.