The Royal visit to South Africa: a personal account

Zamafuze (Zama) Ngcobo is a Young Expert Professional (YEP) of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa, with a background as a geohydrologist. As a Yepper she mainly does project management. And on October 18, she got to show the Dutch king and queen around in her project in Blesbokspuit. Zama: “I never thought I would do something like this.”

Zama (right) together with the king (left)

When did you hear about the royal visit?

“At first I was told there was going to be a high-level visit. I didn’t know who it was going to be. And then in August I heard I would be showing the king and queen around.”

“It was very nerve-wracking. There was so much preparation that went into it. Everybody stressed the importance of this visit.” She laughs: “And then they told me to relax…”

“It really took a full two months of getting everything as perfect as possible, and the whole event itself was only 45 minutes. But we could really see the importance of making a good impression. If your project gains the attention of important people, it really helps to get people into action, rejuvenate the project, get things done.”

> Read more about what was shown during the visit

What were the king and queen like?

“During the preparation for the visit, I asked for a briefing about how to act around the king and queen. Do I shake hands, do I curtsy? With the Dutch king and queen it turned out to be just a simple handshake. And they were quite friendly, all smiles.”

“I thought it would be more of a presentation with me doing most of the talking, but they jumped right in, asking questions. The king especially, with his background in water management, asked some really hard questions. But I was happy with this, it showed their engagement. I started to relax, because it really turned into a conversation. They asked about what we were struggling with and how we worked around it. And we spoke about different sorts of solutions, the effects of the mining in the area, and if we would be able to completely remove the water hyacinth.”

> Read more about the project

Were you happy with the results of the visit?

“Sometimes with a project, you need to get assistance from the top. High-level events like this put a spotlight on the project and really help to get attention from the right people. Now, things are already set in motion thanks to this visit. It also really helped that the South African Minister of Water and Sanitation, Mr Edward Senzo Mchunu, and the Mayor of the City of Ekurhuleni, Mr. Sivuyile Ngodwana, were present during the visit. The Minister really helped to push things forward for the future. There have already been many plans and meetings since the visit.”

“I would really recommend the project managers of other Blue Deal partnerships to see if there are any possibilities for high level visits. If you hear that a Minister or somebody else is visiting the area that you are working in, try to get them to visit your project. Not only does it help to move the project further, but it is also important for acknowledgement. Our work is really difficult and it can be so tiring, so it is nice to get the recognition from high level people.”

“I am really happy we got the message across and my colleagues were pleased with how I represented the project. It was a bit of a blur in the moment, but afterwards I realised: wow, I really did do that.”

Dutch King and Queen visit Blue Deal South Africa

His Majesty the King of the Netherlands and Her Majesty Queen Máxima were proudly received at the Blesbokspruit wetland in South Africa on October 18, in the presence of South African Minister Mchunu (water and sanitation). The visit to this Blue Deal project is the first part of their 3-day state visit to South Africa.

The wetland suffers from poor water quality, caused by the water hyacinth, an invasive aquatic plant. The King and Queen are enthusiastic about the creative solutions that South African and Dutch water authorities are jointly investigating to combat water hyacinth. This is done in the context of the Blue Deal, the international programme of Dutch Water Authorities and the Dutch Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Infrastructure and Water Management.

Fleas combat the water hyacinth

During the tour, the royal couple saw how the water hyacinth is removed. This is not only done by hand and with machines. Researchers are experimenting here with biological control. Natural enemies of the water hyacinth play the leading role: fleas from South America. King Willem-Alexander visited the greenhouse where the fleas are grown. And watched as these were deployed on the water hyacinth.

Entrepreneurs use water hyacinth a raw material

In the meantime, Queen Máxima spoke with a local entrepreneur, who uses the dried water hyacinth to weave baskets and other useful products and sell them. The woman also trains others in weaving and entrepreneurship. This initiative really appealed to the Queen. Also, water hyacinth is not only used for weaving products. Applications on a larger scale also seem promising, for example as a raw material for briquettes or geotextiles.

Young water professionals and students help out

There is still a lot to discover and learn within the Blesbokspruit project. The Blue Deal makes grateful use of the innovative ideas of students with a passion for water from the international Wetskills programme. These students come from all over the world. Their goal: finding innovative solutions to water management challenges in a changing world. In Blesbokspruit, a Wetskills participant presented her ideas to the King.

Challenges to learn from, experiences to share

Sharing knowledge and experiences with each other is what the water authorities do in the Blue Deal programme. The Blesbokspruit project is a good example of this. This is not just about solving an isolated problem. Water managers pool their expertise and share the results, also with other regions with similar problems. The Blue Deal programme has partnerships in 15 countries. The goal: improve access to clean, sufficient and safe water for 20 million people worldwide.

Two-way street

By exchanging knowledge, the Dutch water authorities also learn a lot from partnerships with other countries. For example, just like South Africa, the Netherlands has to deal with invasive exotic species. In addition, the water authorities can learn a lot about drought, with which South Africa already has a lot of experience.

> Read an interview with Zama, who showed the King and Queen around

> Read more about the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa

Management 4 largest Blue Deal partnerships exchanges knowledge

On September 7, the Dutch management of the 4 largest Blue Deal partnerships came together in the Dutch province Fryslân for a meeting. The objective for this gathering was: how can we learn from each other about managing large partnerships?

The meeting was amongst the partnerships of Mozambique, Colombia, Eswatini and South Africa. The managers were invited to Friesland, at the invitation of the partnership manager of Mozambique, of which Wetterskip Fryslân (the Dutch water authority in the area of Fryslân) is the lead partner. This was the third time that the major partnerships organized such a consultation. This time was extra special, thanks to a boat trip through the beautiful Alde Feanen nature reserve.

Topics to discuss

The colleagues exchanged, for example, their experiences with working with a so-called ‘talking sheet’. This sheets makes it visible which Blue Deal topics the partnership is working on, and where there are topics that still need to be addressed. “It helps to establish a relationship of the concrete activities which are implemented with the longer-term goals,” says one of the participants. “Large partnerships deal with many people and interests. Visualising this helps to get an overview of how all our activities contribute to our larger goals, and what we should continue or stop.”

The participants also discussed, among other things, their annual plans for 2024, presented to each other how they have organised their partnerships and discussed decentralization in one of the partner countries. They also covered the safety assessments of work visits, finances, accountability, and much more.

Learning from each other

An important part of the Blue Deal is learning from each other. Therefore, the Blue Deal learning programme also includes a training for new partnership managers. Thanks to this joint intervision of the partnership managers, the 4 largest partnerships are now going one step further to exchange knowledge with each other.

Green Drop Improvement Plans for a better water quality in the Blue Deal Crocodile River project

The Blue Deal partnership in South Africa achieved a significant milestone in the Crocodile River project: the partner municipalities of Mbombela, Emakhazeni and Nkomazi each successfully developed and submitted their Green Drop Improvement Plans.

The Blue Deal Crocodile River project in Mpumalanga, South Africa, works on improving the water quality and sustainability of the Crocodile River. Perhaps the single most important objective of the partnership is to ensure that all participating waste water treatment plants attain the prestigious Green Drop status.

That the partner municipalities have now been able to submit their plans, is the result of the successful collaboration between the South African and Dutch partner teams who, through their joint efforts and ‘buddying’ peer-based learning approach, achieved this notable milestone on the journey towards Green Drop status.

Optimising the operation

The Green Drop Improvement Plans focus on crucial aspects of optimizing the performance of the waste water treatment plants. For example, the development of asset registers and strategies to improve the municipalities’ Green Drop score. By prioritizing these plans, the municipalities aim to secure the esteemed Green Drop certification, a mark of excellence in waste water management.

To attain the prestigious Green Drop Certification, waste water systems must achieve scores equal to or exceeding 90%, with different performance areas carrying a unique weighting based on regulatory priorities. The certification holds great significance as it recognizes the municipalities’ dedication to optimizing the operation of waste water treatment plants and ensuring the highest standards of treated waste water discharge.

First step

Drawing up these plans is the first step in the process of working towards a Green Drop Certificate. The Blue Deal project aims for all 6 participating waste water treatment plants to have obtained a Green Drop Certificate by 2030. However, in September of this year, the waste water treatment plants will be tested again by the Department of Water & Sanitation. We hope to see a concrete improvement in the scores by then. After all, concrete things have already been improved in the run-up and during the writing of the plans, such as the renewal of a number of assets. The next test moment is in 2026, when we expect that a number of waste water treatment plants will have already obtained the Green Drop Certificate by then.

What makes drawing up these plans special is that we have succeeded in drawing up these plans in a collaboration between 3 municipalities, MISA (regional organisation) and COGTA (ministry) and the Department of Water & Sanitation. This is unique to South Africa and may be a model that can be applied elsewhere.

Towards a harmonious environment

A vital beneficiary of improved water quality is the majestic Crocodile River. The river’s health is essential for sustaining important economic drivers of the region (including the abundant wildlife and tourism, as well as both export and local agriculture), meeting the needs of local communities, religious ceremonies and safe drinking water. By striving to enhance the quality of the Crocodile River, the participating organisations are actively working towards creating a more uplifting, sustainable, and harmonious environment for all.

Work visit to Theewaterskloof project in South Africa

'Nothing About Us Without Us'. A slogan that exactly expresses what the Blue Deal Theewaterskloof project in South Africa is doing: meaningful participation by all partners, especially with the local community as guiding project members. Since only an engaged community leads to sustainable change.

The ultimate goal of the Theewaterskloof project is to address the diffuse pollution threat emanating from rapidly growing informal settlements. We do this by improving sanitation and decreasing solid waste pollution. The project is rolled out in the towns of Grabouw and Villiersdorp in the Theewaterskloof Municipality, Western Cape.

The highly anticipated Blue Deal Theewaterskloof work visit took place from July 9 – 21. It included a team building session with all the parties involved. A clear way forward was discussed and steps to enable action plans with the project teams were made.

Nelson Mandela Day

July 18 marked a special day: Nelson Mandela Day. The worldwide Mandela Day Campaign message encourages people to use 67 minutes of their time to support a chosen charity or serve in their local community. The 67 minutes symbolically represent the number of years the former President fought for human rights and the abolition of Apartheid. The Blue Deal project team joined forces with local communities in Villiersdorp and Grabouw and took this opportunity to make a difference, which included a river clean-up, painting of a day care centre and fixing the sanitation facilities there.

Signing the Memorandum of Understanding

This was followed by the signing of the Blue Deal Theewaterskloof local Memorandum of Understanding by the core partners. These were Dutch Water Authorities, Theewaterskloof Local Municipality, Department of Water & Sanitation: Western Cape, and the Breede-Olifants Catchment Management Agency. In doing so, the partners expressed their support and commitment. Indeed an important moment for the project, led by a local pastor’s prayer, celebrated with singing and dancing.

Blue Deal programme strengthens South African municipalities’ efforts towards Green Drop certification

In spring, the South African organisations collaborating in the Blue Deal Crocodile River partnership welcomed their colleagues from Dutch Water Authorities to the Mpumalanga region.

2 ‘buddies’ discussing the challenges on the waste water treatment plants in front of a newly installed inlet screening mechanism

The collaboration with the Dutch is part of the worldwide Blue Deal programme. The work visit proved to be a success, with high energy levels and motivation among all participants. The visit focused on the establishment of 4 different task teams, which have been made operational in the areas of:

  • business planning and finance
  • technical capacitation
  • communication and intergovernmental relations
  • data monitoring and sharing

Knowledge exchange

The purpose of this work visit was to exchange knowledge between South African and Dutch superintendents. In December 2022, the South African superintendents visited Netherlands as part of the Blue Deal ‘buddying and twinning’ peer learning programme and to learn from their Dutch counterparts. This time, the Dutch visited their South African counterparts to learn from and thus collaborate on the operation of participating waste water treatment plants.

Green Drop

The collaboration between South Africa and the Blue Deal is focused on the development of Green Drop improvement plans and asset registers, which are critical to improving the municipalities’ score on the Green Drop and ultimately securing a Green Drop certificate. Working towards this certificate will enhance the operation of waste water treatment plants, improve the discharge quality, and consequently boost the quality of the Crocodile River. Good river water quality is vital for both the animals living in the Crocodile River and for those communities downstream that use water for drinking, for irrigating their crops and for religious purposes.

Reaffirm collaboration

Meetings between the leadership of various national and local partner organisations and the municipalities of Mbombela, Nkomazi and Emakhazeni were held to reaffirm collaboration in the Blue Deal Crocodile River partnership and to celebrate the progress made.

Sustainable future

The Crocodile River team is confident that this work visit will significantly contribute to improved Green Drop scores during new assessments later this year. This exciting development brings us one step closer to securing a sustainable future for the Crocodile River and surrounding communities.

Kick-off Blue Deal South Africa project Theewaterskloof: time for action

In February, the new Theewaterskloof project for the Blue Deal South Africa was launched. The objective is to reduce pollution in the crucial Theewaterskloof catchment by means of community based initiatives within rapidly growing informal settlements.

Previous to the launch, the Blue Deal team had several scoping discussions, field visits and a special meeting with all stakeholders and archbishop Maghoba at Bishopscourt.

Community enrollment

The project focuses on supporting community enrollment as the only sustainable way to success. A starting point are the already existing, positive initiatives within the community (“seedlings of hope”), like the Soulfood soup kitchen. And hence, an important highlight during this launch was therefore the confirmation of the collaboration between:

  • the Blue Deal partners
  • the Soul Food Kitchen in Villiersdorp (solid waste management)
  • and the Sakhokhuhle Creche in Grabouw (sanitation).

These local initiatives are already a source of energy and ownership in the community.


The launch was officially noted by the Theewaterskloof Municipality team of the Mayor and Municipal Manager, Breede-Gouritz CMA, Department of Water and Sanitation, Dutch Water Authorities and the Water Research Commission. Everyone is supportive: now it’s time for action!

South African superintendents visit the Netherlands

Several superintendents from waste water treatment plants in South Africa recently visited the Netherlands as part of the Blue Deal partnership. Their goal was to gain insights into advancements in waste water treatment and to share their experiences with their Dutch colleagues.

The visited several waste water treatment plants and had the opportunity to exchange ideas and best practices with their Dutch counterparts, focusing on the effective management of assets and sludge handling. Although the temperature during their entire stay was shockingly low (below 0 degrees Celsius), the South-African superintendents thoroughly appreciated the visit and learned a lot.

Valuable experience for the future of waste water treatment

The trip to the Netherlands proved to be a valuable experience for the superintendents. Not only did they gain knowledge about the latest advancements in waste water treatment, asset management and sludge handling. They also had the chance to bond with their colleagues and explore the country. This visit will go a long way in improving their work and shaping the future of waste water treatment.

3 countries meet for regional knowledge exchange

The water challenges in Southern Africa are immense. Floodings, droughts; water and climate related disasters always seem to be just around the corner. On November 25, the Blue Deal partnerships of eSwatini, Mozambique and South Africa joined forces in the first joint regional Blue Deal exchange meeting in Johannesburg. Here they discussed the issues regarding data management of water data.

Similar challenges

The 3 countries face similar challenges: how to ensure financial stability? How can data sharing within and between countries be improved? And many technical hurdles, for example how to integrate the now often still separate data systems? As Ntombikayise Dhladhla, participant of the Blue Deal Young Expert Programme, explained: “In eSwatini, the main issues are reliability of the data, which leads to limited data sharing. We are working in silos.”

Lessons learnt

During the day the Blue Deal teams of the 3 countries looked back on Phase 1 of the Blue Deal. Experiences and lessons learnt were shared. Looking to the future, people shared their ideas on which topics the partnerships can work together. Ideas included working together on a central database, organizing shared lab facilities and connecting existing databases.

Different perspectives

Ambassador Han Peters mentioned the importance of long-term equal partnerships, which are the basis for the Blue Deal: “No one country can solve the problems of today on their own. You need different perspectives, you need people from different backgrounds if you want to get to the greatest solutions.” And with this first regional meeting of 3 Blue Deal partnerships, a strong start has been made.

Conference marks landmark for Blue Deal partnership South Africa

On November 24, the Blue Deal Conference for the South Africa Partnership was held in Johannesburg. David Mahlobo, the South African Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, and Dutch and South African employees of the various projects were present. During the conference, the partner agreement for the Blue Deal Phase 2, which runs from 2023 to 2030, was signed.

David Mahlobo, Deputy Minister Water and Sanitation, Risimati Mathye, Deputy Director-General Water Services Management and Hein Pieper, Chairman of the Blue Deal South Africa, sign the Partnership Agreement.

Clean and sufficient water for 2.5 million people in South Africa by 2030: that is the goal of the South Africa Blue Deal partnership. South African and Dutch water experts work together to improve water quality in major rivers. The partnership runs from 2018 to 2030.

Take responsibility

Hein Pieper, chairman of the Blue Deal for South Africa, was there: “We have to go faster, in this second phase. Climate change makes that necessary. And I’m not just talking about institutional changes. Projects succeed because people take responsibility. They act on the basis of underlying values and feel ownership of a project. Here in South Africa, it is about the immense importance of clean water for the basic needs of 2.5 million people.”

Objective: improving the water quality of the major rivers

The 4 projects of Phase 1 (2018-2022) focused on improving the water quality of major rivers such as the Vaal River, the Crocodile River and the Msunduzi River. A large part of this period was during the corona crisis during which only virtual meetings were possible. The Dutch and South African water experts who worked together learned a lot during this period. They kept in touch, organized virtual missions and shared knowledge through webinars. For example, about combating the water hyacinth, innovation in purification, community involvement and river management.

Reflection and looking forward

The Blue Deal conference was an important moment to reflect on the process of recent years, the successes and the challenges. Not everything went smoothly during the corona years. Political changes created different relationships and priorities. It is difficult to deal with this in an exclusively digital environment.

That’s why it’s important to keep meeting each other. That opportunity was there during the conference. More than 140 participants from various cooperation partners attended. Not only to look back, but especially to look forward to Phase 2, while using the experience of previous years. And with an increasing understanding of how we can share it with people facing similar challenges. Not only in South Africa, but also beyond.

Concrete examples

That may all sound a bit abstract. Concrete examples? In Blesbokspruit, the local population uses the removed water hyacinth, a proliferating exotic that impedes the flow of water, as raw material for useful products. In the Vredefort Dome project, the local population is encouraged by the Blue Deal to keep the river free of waste. Blue Deal members also performed remote, virtual inspections of treatment plants in the Crocodile project. And in the Msunduzi project, the Blue Deal shared vital data between various organizations.

Curious? An impression of the projects at the end of Phase 1 of the Blue Deal South Africa can be viewed in the video.

New project added

We will enthusiastically continue with the 4 existing Blue Deal projects. And there will be a new project: Theewaterskloof. There we will work on the waste (water) problem in a township in an urban area that is expanding rapidly.a