‘Tanker mafias’ scoring big in South Africa

 ·14 Feb 2024

The water crisis in South Africa is expected to worsen in 2024 due to failing infrastructure, and criminal syndicates – dubbed ‘tanker mafias’ – are spreading and benefitting from this as they try to keep the crisis going.

In October last year, expert and University of the Free State professor Dr Anthony Turton noted that water shortages in several provinces – caused by the neglect of deteriorating infrastructure – created a perfect storm for tanker mafias taking advantage of the chaos.

He highlighted instances of a thriving tanker mafia in KZN that sabotages the water infrastructure to continue and prolong their contracts with the municipalities to provide water across communities that go days without water.

Alarmingly, speaking to Newzroom Afrika, WaterCAN executive manager Dr Ferrial Adam said the water crisis is expected to worsen further throughout 2024 and flagged similar cases of tanker mafias now operating in parts of the Eastern Cape.

“We do know, according to research that some of my colleges have conducted, that in KZN and the Eastern Cape, there are water tanker owners damaging infrastructure to continue municipal contracts to provide the water,” said Adams.

Tanker mafias are a by-product

Although these mafia groups are contributing to the water shortage across parts of the country, Adam noted that the main culprits of the crisis are failing infrastructure and lack of skilled personnel.

She noted that there is a considerable backlog in desperately needed maintenance of the water infrastructure in affected areas – especially in the City of Joburg – and South Africans can expect more pipe bursts, leaks and water sharing in the foreseeable future as a result.

“Infrastructure is failing across the board, and without increased spending to fix these issues, I don’t foresee us [South Africa] getting out of this mess anytime soon.”

Adam’s sentiment aligns with professor Turton’s, who highlighted that an estimated 50% of the water from bulk water suppliers in South Africa does not reach the end consumer due to leakages, theft, and failing infrastructure.

“It is not a water scarcity issue. It is an institutional failure issue,” said Turton.

The inefficiencies of government in fixing and addressing the crisis have created a thriving environment for dodgy water tanker owners, and they will benefit – and are expected to continue benefitting – from the water shortage until it is met with action from authorities.

“These elements thrive on chaos, and they need to be investigated with urgency,” added Turton.

Read: Tshwane’s plan to save itself from the brink of financial collapse

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