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Inga Jacobs  
 South Africa’s 20-year journey in water and sanitation research

On Wednesday, 26 November 2014, the WRC launched a book entitled ‘South Africa’s 20- year Journey in Water and Sanitation Research’ at a prestigious event held at Freedom Park, Pretoria.

The book intertwines the country’s journey since democracy with the journey and developments in water R&D since then. It also presents a story of scientific transformation – some may even call it a scientific revolution. It tells a story about water innovation, but most importantly, a story about people. In its chapters, we have tracked the journey of South Africa and that of water research in South Africa. The contents of the book highlight how water R&D has played a role in informing policy and decision-making, empowering communities, transforming South African society, providing new products and services for economic development, promoting sustainable development solutions, and supporting human capital development in the water and science sectors.

For the WRC, South Africa’s premier national funding agency dedicated to water and related R&D, this momentous occasion presented an opportunity for us to reflect, not only on how our freedom and democracy were achieved, but also on the progress we have made over the past 20 years in the delivery of water science to South Africa.

Chapter 1 focuses on the policy landscape since 1994. The effectiveness of any sector is however only as good as its leadership. And so we begin with an overview of the water and sanitation sector’s ministerial leaders and game-changers who influenced the sector’s strategic direction, defining pivotal turning points in our country’s water history. It also includes an overview of all key policy developments and the role of research and development in this regard.

Chapter 2 maps the WRC’s journey of transformation since 1994 and highlights key strategic initiatives in water and sanitation R&D.

Chapter 3 focuses on the role of water and sanitation R&D in transforming society at large. Of special interest is the role that water may play in achieving social transformation and justice in the context of deepening democratic practices, the extension of water services and redressing the wrongs of the past. 

In Chapter 4, we acknowledge the role of researchers and scientists who have contributed to the development agenda by empowering communities. Poverty and inequality remain significant challenges in South Africa’s development. The WRC recognises that the role of water is pivotal in guiding communities on the path towards economic and social prosperity.   WRC research is not only aimed at improving the lives of South African communities and helping them to thrive in the South African economy, but also at equipping them with the necessary water-related knowledge to adapt to future challenges, such as those brought on by climate change.

Science and technology continue to revolutionise the way goods and services are produced and traded. Government’s National Development Plan recognises that South Africa needs to sharpen its innovative edge and persistently contribute to global scientific and technological advancement. Chapter 5 highlights those key South African innovations in the water and science domain that have contributed to economic development.

Water underpins all socio-economic development in South Africa. A reliable supply of water in sufficient quantities at the desired quality is critical for economic growth, social development and job creation.  Indeed, sustainable development remains a core principle of all WRC activities and is also the focus of Chapter 6. This is undertaken by addressing enabling principles of sustainable development, namely, protection of water resources, optimal water use, equity between generations, current equitable access, environmental integration and good governance.

A cornerstone to water security in South Africa is to have a ready pool of skilled talent. Having good knowledgeable people at all levels of the water value chain is critical. This is an area of great challenge for South Africa. In the science and technology domain, the WRC is managing to support the training of some 500 post-graduate (Master’s and Doctorate) students in its projects each year. Its research portfolio is also adjusting to train and mentor new research leaders. Chapter 7 therefore outlines the achievements made in human capital development over the 20-year period.

The final chapter highlights the achievements of 2014 and also looks beyond to challenge the water and sanitation R&D community to provide demonstrated innovations that can have real impact on the ground.

This is not meant to be an anthology of the WRC’s work over the past 20 years. It is a snapshot of some of the key developments and successes in WRC projects. It is by no means comprehensive and is designed to give a taste of the work of the WRC and its role in defining democracy for all South Africans.

Water service delivery in South Africa forms part of our challenge to meet the milestones in our very own National Development Plan and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Water nourishes our bodies and our crops; it trickles through the machinery of industry; it cools mining operations deep in the bowels of Gauteng and the North West. Rivers and water pipelines are like arteries, pumping life across our beautiful country. South Africa’s waters run through the veins of each and every one of us. Water is our life blood, our future, and the promise of a better tomorrow. As a knowledge-based organisation, it is the responsibility and commitment of the WRC to ensure that the power of knowledge about water is given to all South Africans, who can in turn use it to empower themselves and those around them. This is our commitment to water service delivery.

Contact:  Dr Inga Jacobs, Executive Manager, Business Development, Marketing and Communications E-mail: ingaj@wrc.org.za



Mr Thelle Moema, Advisor to the Minister of Water and Sanitation
Mr Dhesigen Naidoo (WRC CEO); Prof Graham Jewitt (UKZN); Dr Thele Moema (Spokesperson of the minister of DWS; Mr. Aneez Naidoo (scholar); Ms Tercia Strydom; Ms  Lani van Vuuren (WRC); Anil Sign (Deputy Director General : DWS); Dr. Inga Jacobs-Mata (Executive WRC)
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