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

A mission to be proud of: re-focus on Msunduzi partnership

In September 2022 the Blue Deal team had the chance to visit South-Africa again for the Msunduzi River Corridor Improvement programme. The goal for the week was to meet with stakeholders, and to discuss the first phase of the programme and how to proceed together in the second phase. After several fruitful discussions with stakeholders, it resulted in an action plan to investigate how to move forward together.

Ministerial Task Team

There was also time to look at achievements of the first phase of the programme. The delegation went to the Darvill sewer outfall pipes. One of the pipes has been restored as an interim solution. The Blue Deal partnership was used as a platform to elevate the serious situation of the Darvill sewer outfall pipes. This resulted in the establishment of a Ministerial Task Team. There is now a medium-term solution in place.

Water Flag

The delegation also met the local industries to obtain consensus on the pilot of the Water Flag in Phase 2 of the Blue Deal. The idea is to encourage private sector businesses and industries to engage in self-declaration and self-disclosure of key metrics on water use to obtain a ‘Water Flag’. This flag will be placed over their site on a ‘live’ Google Earth Map. The concept was shared and has been positively receive.

Blue Deal South Africa at the WISA conference

From 28 till 30 September 2022 the Biennial Conference of WISA, the Water Institute of Southern Africa, took place in Sandton-Johannesburg, South Africa. At the conference there was a presentation about the Blue Deal.

A man is seen on a large screen, while other people are sitting on the stage in front of the screen
Hans Waals, chief executive of Blue Deal South Africa, speaks at the WISA conference.

During the WISA conference delegations from countries all over the southern part of Africa come together to share their challenges and insights. Both Dutch and South African members of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa visited the conference.

Looking backward and forward

In a 2-hour session the Blue Deal programme was presented: the Dutch-South African partnership, the successes and the lessons learnt of the first phase (2019-2022) and the conclusions drawn at the end of the first phase. One insight came back in all presentations: the challenges in the projects are not so much technical as organisational, e.g. a lot can be gained by more cooperation and institutional alignment.

What happpens after 2030?

Afterwards there was a vivid discussion with the visitors of the workshop. Amongst other issues the question was raised what is going to happen after the end of the Blue Deal Programme in 2030. How to ensure that the results are sustainable? Visitors brought forward the idea that, by that time, South Africa should have built its own Blue Deal programme. With the goal to create partnerships with several other countries to further improve the water management. That would truly be a longlasting outcome of the Blue Deal programme.

A clean river starts with me, today!

The South African Blue Deal partnership's Vredefort Dome project has been quite successful in the past year. A Blue Deal delegation from the Netherlands visited this project in September and found out that most agreements from the previous visit had been fulfilled.

The South African project manager Dr. Konanani Khorommbi and the Executive Mayor of Ngwathe Victoria De Beer-Mthombeni leading a cleaning campaign.

The April 2022 work visit had agreed on improvements to the Waste Water Treatment Work at Parys. Pumps would be replaced and generators repaired, so during periods of load shedding (without power) there would be fewer spills of sewage water.

Mayor of Ngwathe calls for action, action, action

The Mayor of the municipality Ngwathe, Victoria De Beer-Mthombeni, was present during a clean-up campaign organised as part of the World Clean Up Day. More than 20 large rubbish bags of dirt were collected in 2 hours. A community awareness event was also organised in which the mayor gave an impassioned speech that something really needs to be done and that the municipality and community need to do it together. That really helps in making progress. Her approach is: “No more plans, but action, action, action.” The slogan for the campaign is: “A clean river starts with me, TODAY!” Blue Deal plays an important and visible role in this campaign as a brand name and driving force.

Vredefort Dome at the WISA conference

From 28 tot 30 September 2022 the Biennial Conference of WISA, the Water Institute of Southern Africa, took place in Sandton, South Africa. In a 2-hour session the Blue Deal programme was presented, including all the projects in South Africa. Progress on the Vredefort Dome project in phase 1 was also discussed. In addition, attention was paid to the preparation of Phase 2 of this project. An approach was chosen in which technical aspects, stakeholder involvement and monitoring (and communication) are leading. For each subject, 1 main objective will be described in Phase 2 and each objective will have a maximum of 5 key actions. The intention is that all further activities will be clustered under these objectives.

T+S+M = clean river

People often ask for a short description of the approach. The Blue Deal partnership chose to present it in a mathematical equation: Technical + Stakeholder + Monitoring = Clean River. This was presented during the WISA conference. It was discussed after the presentations. People said that they were missing the F of finance in the equation. The Blue Deal does not bring in large investments, but it can support to use the available money differently. For example by extending the technical lifespan by organising good operation and maintenance.

Turning water hyacinth into useful products

The 19th of July was a day of celebration for 11 women in Blesbokspruit, South Africa. After a training of 6 or 12 weeks they finished their training in entrepreneurship from the Thekga company. The women have been trained to make useful products out of the harvested water hyacinth.

The Blesbokspruit project is part of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa. The objective of this project is to improve the water quality and thereby restore the ecological status of the wetland. The project aims to improve quality of the water in the Vaal river area, which millions of people depend on.

From threat to opportunity

The use of the water hyacinth for the production of articles and home decoration is an interesting example of how a threat can be changed in an opportunity. The water hyacinth is one of the invasive species that blossom as a result of the bad water quality in many locations in South Africa. The water hyacinth gets removed by hand and by machines. There are also plans to use the water hyacinth on a wider scale for biobased products because there is plenty of it. When a water hyacinth plant blooms, the seeds will stay in the ground for 20 years, which means it is a difficult specie to eradicate.

Blesbokspruit work visit

The celebration of the graduates was part of the program of the Blesbokspruit work visit in July 2022. Other important parts of the visit were:

  • the preparation of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with all the stakeholders in September 2022;
  • the evaluation of the results and lessons learned of the first phase of this Blue Deal partnership;
  • the preparation for Phase 2 of the Blue Deal programme;
  • the selection of a new Young Expert for a traineeship programme of 2 years;
  • the alignment of the water quality goals, activities and planning.

Drought lessons from Cape Town

South Africans deal with water issues in a very special way. We can learn a lot from them, says Hans Waals, chief executive of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa.

“It is not where you start, but how high you aim that matters for success.” These words from Nelson Mandela fit perfectly with the ambitious goals of the Blue Deal: to help 20 million people in 14 different countries to have clean, sufficient and safe water.
Strategic consultant at the Dutch water authority Hollandse Delta Hans Waals is chief executive of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa.

As such, Waals knows how severe the consequences of drought can be. “Like in Cape Town 6 years ago. The city was at a serious risk of running out of water altogether. To avert this catastrophe the city council and water authority started to warn the people. By continuously informing them of the consequences, they succeeded in bringing down household water consumption by more than halve. They did not go from 100 to 0 overnight. They reduced consumption in stages. But they made it. Day zero never came, but it was a close call.”

“Over the years, we have built a good water network in South Africa,” Waals says. “Our contribution is aimed at improving water quality and water availability. We do this, for example, by training managers and maintenance people of sewage treatment plants.”

In South Africa, there are very large differences between the various ethnic groups, Waals goes on. “These are also reflected in the distribution of water. 60 per cent of the available freshwater goes to agriculture and 95 per cent of that goes to rich white farmers. Because of South Africa’s past, other groups have been put at a disadvantage. They do not have the knowledge to stand up for themselves. So stakeholder empowerment and levelling the playing field are very important.”

That is why the South Africans have found a clever way of involving stakeholders in their water management. And the Netherlands can learn a lot from this, says Waals.
“So water authorities organize a meeting 4 times a year, where all stakeholder groups come together and explain what their interests are. Together, they then decide what needs to be done. In this way, they get to know each other and understand each other’s situation better.”

“I once experienced a session like that about the drought in Kwazulu Natal. There were no acute problems yet, but there was the prospect of them. Instead of quarreling about a solution, both industry and agriculture as well as the people of Kwazulu Natal agreed to reduce their water consumption straightaway, so there would be more water left for the really dry period. All groups agreed, voluntarily. I think that’s amazing.”

Crocodile River project back on track

In November 2021 the Dutch team was finally able to meet their colleagues from the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa again. They visited the Crocodile River Project. The project is now ready to start again.

In the Blue Deal Crocodile River Project, the Dutch Water Authorities and South African partners work together with the objective to improve the quality of the Crocodile River.

Because of COVID-19 the project collaboration went on only via digital meetings. And few will deny, this was sometimes quite a challenge. Due to this, the project came to a halt. Fortunately, in November 2021 it was possible for the team to meet each other live again, which was very inspiring. Now the project is back on track.

Buhle Shongwe, technician Water Demand & Conservation: “We want to grab each and every opportunity, so we’re excited to be working once again with you.”