Sustainable water supply

Eastern Cape and Northern Province, South Africa




In 1997, South Africa's Department for Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) signed two-year contracts with four BoTT (Build, Operate, Train, Transfer) consortia, one in each of the countrys four poorest provinces. These were extended by another two years in 1999. Programmes in two of the four provinces with Project Implementing Agencies (PIAs) Metsico in the Northern Province and AmanzAbantu in Eastern Cape constituted one of BPDs focus projects.


These PIAs were led by Water and Sanitation Services of South Africa (WSSA), a subsidiary of Northumbrian Lyonnaise International (NLI) - and therefore of ONDEO (ex-SLdE). Both incorporated the Mvula Trust, a water and sanitation oriented national NGO, for the institutional and social development (ISD) elements of the programme. The intention was to transfer responsibilities for rural water and sanitation to local authorities and / or communities. An Employer's Representative (ER) oversaw the PIAs on behalf of DWAF.


Project description


BoTT (Build, Operate, Train, Transfer) is a public-private partnership, whereby scheme funding is from the public sector and private partners undertake project implementation. BoTT is primarily targeted at poor communities and small, poorer towns. One of the key principles is that sustainability can only be achieved by actively involving communities and local government in all stages of the project cycle. BoTT thus attempts to build capacity within institutions, communities and councils, in order to pursue an integrated and participatory project development approach. A one-stop shop capacity is created via a consortium of service providers with expertise in five key disciplines: design, construction, operation and maintenance (O&M), on-site sanitation, and Institutional and Social Development (ISD).




Upon its creation in 1994, DWAF assumed control of water and sanitation in the former black homelands. Ongoing institutional reform redrew jurisdictional boundaries, and new local authorities were defined and elected in 2000. An accompanying statement by the ANC promising free basic services for all also reawakened the 'free water' debate - the ramifications and responses to which were hotly debated. There was a backdrop of general ambivalence towards PSP in South Africa. The BoTT programme itself achieved significant notoriety.


Project beneficiaries


At the time of the project, multiple, typically small, rural water and sanitation systems had been built and were being run by communities. Post-apartheid expectations were extremely high. This was coupled with a general non-payment / entitlement culture and the use of technology generally inappropriate given the ability to pay of poor rural communities. Extensive radio and media campaigns were aimed at strengthening willingness-to-pay, which met with some success in the BoTT service areas. There were some security issues in historically unsafe areas, whilst other issues of note included HIV/AIDS, land tenure, illiteracy and unemployment. An outbreak of cholera made headline news and increased pressure on politicians. Pollution of rural water sources was another concern.


Objectives and structures of partnership


The overall aim was to harness the comparative advantages of each sector, to provide a holistic drop-down structure that could deliver rapid, yet sustainable, water and sanitation solutions in poor rural areas. Overall objectives were clearly enshrined in the contract, whilst the means were encapsulated in Business Plans prepared by the PIAs when bidding. In effect there were three types of partnership: i) the contractual relationships between DWAF, the ER, local governments, the PIAs & the communities; ii) the working relationship within the PIAs between private sector firms & Mvula; and iii) the project implementation partnerships of the private sector, Mvula (and various sub-contractors) with communities and / or local governments. In this latter arrangement, communities were represented directly via Project Working and Project Steering Committees.


Roles and responsibilities


At the time of the project, DWAF (both national and regional) funded construction and approved projects. Responsibility for water and sanitation was being transferred to local governments. The PIAs were contracted to DWAF. Individual organisations within the PIAs were specialists in one of the five disciplines. Water and Sanitation South Africa (WSSA) was present within both BPD BoTTs and brought operations and maintenance experience. The Mvula Trust was also doubly present and worked on ISD implementation with sub contractors (Amanz'abantu) and ISD strategy and quality control (Metsico). Communities selected representatives for Project Steering Committees (PSCs) and Project Working Committees - they also contributed labour, operated and maintained schemes and set user fees. The Employer's Representative monitored the PIA's work.


Community liaison


Community involvement is regarded as the key to ownership, cost-recovery and thus sustainability. Stakeholder involvement was typically via the PSC (facilitated by Mvula in the Eastern Cape, and by private sector partners in the Northern Province). This evolved into a water committee which ran the system. An initial fund (10% of future annual O&M costs) was set up (in the Eastern Cape) & community labour used for construction. There was also training of plumbers, operators, water bailiffs and revenue collection officers. After a 12 month O&M period, DWAF transferred schemes to local water authorities (a local or district council).


Communications and feedback


Amongst consortium partners, communications were fairly good. These had a strong project focus (and thus macro issues could take a back seat). Serious disputes were fairly rare internally - if necessary these were resolved via reference to the contract. There was a national BoTT Steering Committee meeting every 2/3 months. However, various ad-hoc modifications complicated communications and decision-making (with many intermediaries between DWAF and a water user). To compensate, DWAF developed a number of planning forums and standing committees. For the end beneficiaries, this structure also posed accountability problems - with so many actors and committees, access was complicated. The proliferation of decision-making forums also rendered each less effective.


Evolution and institutionalisation


BoTT was designed to be a flexible structure from the start, and demonstrated this over time. The NGO sector saw increasing professionalism (outcome-based contracts, performance measurement etc). District councils were increasingly accepting of both the PIAs and BoTT, whilst increasing trust from DWAF saw an extension of original contracts.




At the end of the project, over 45 projects had been implemented, leading to improved access for roughly 3.5 million people. BoTT had ongoing DWAF support and general endorsement from reviewers. The mainstreaming of ISD led to an enhanced chance of sustainability. Lower costs, increased ownership and job creation also resulted from community involvement.




Flexibility in a comprehensive format; community empowerment; local government control; increased ownership & sustainability via community/local government involvement; a leveraging of DWAFs limited capacity; a more central role for ISD; close co-ordination between NGO & private sector; and a solid structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.


Wider lessons


Wider lessons were that:


  • Dialogue towards consensus over time frames is critical
  • Dialogue towards consensus over stakeholder risks is also beneficial
  • Structural monopolies (thus limiting potential partners) can be a threat
  • The balance of risks and responsibilities when bringing a regulator into partnership needs careful thought
  • Ongoing learning mechanisms are important
  • Questions over the NGO skills, resources and capacity must be separated from questions of commitment.