In his February 2022 State of the Nation Address, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to resurrect the government’s Blue and Green Drop certification programme.
The programme sets and monitors drinking water (blue) and wastewater quality (green) standards, but the publication of these reports effectively stopped in 2014.
In 2019, South Africa provided its first Voluntary National Review on the Sustainable Development Goals to the United Nations, which showed a decline in the percentage of households with access to water from 87.5% in 2015 to 86.4% in 2017 and indicating that only 64% of the population had access to safely managed water.
A civil society survey conducted of the wastewater treatment facilities of 142 towns in 2021 found that 122 did not comply with minimum wastewater standards. The Department of Water and Sanitation reported in August 2021 that 56% of the nation’s 1,150 wastewater treatment plants were in a poor or critical condition. In total, 75% of 910 municipal wastewater treatment systems had less than 50% compliance with national standards.
Following public complaints, in October 2021, the South African Human Rights Commission recommended that the situation with respect to failing wastewater treatment systems and the pollution of the country’s water resources be declared a national disaster.
It recommended the reintroduction of the Blue and Green Drop quality measuring system, and further suggested that the Department take direct control of the Water and Sanitation Department of the city of Tshwane (formerly Pretoria).
Earlier in the year, the South African Human Rights Commission had launched an inquiry into the flow of raw sewage into homes and streets of Emfuleni local municipality on the Vaal River and had concluded that this constituted a violation of human rights.
The resurrection of the certification programmes for water and wastewater form part of Operation Vulindlela, a coordinated programme within president Ramaphosa’s government to reverse the decline in public services that took place during the presidency of Jacob Zuma.