The provision of safe drinking water in rural South Africa remains a major challenge for a number of reasons not all of which are well understood. In the absence of reliable formal or municipal supply schemes, self-supply initiatives of a variety of forms emerge in rural communities. It is generally believed that involvement of communities in design, construction, evaluation, operation, and maintenance of the water projects and household contributions to water projects in the form of cash and labour ensure the success of rural drinking water supplies. This is often done as part of externally (to the community) driven interventions either by services providers or other agencies in the sector. The emergence of internally initiated schemes presents an opportunity for practitioners to seek to understand the factors that have led to the sustainability of these schemes.
This paper thus examines selected initiatives from around rural South Africa to evaluate them against accepted indicators of sustainability. The initiatives are from various parts of the country including Vondo, Ga-Mailamapitsane and Dresden villages in Limpopo. In these communities, there are community initiated schemes of harvesting water from various sources, mainly springs that have been running reliably for years. In addition, there are other areas such as Magona village in Limpopo where households pay for drinking water in the absence of the formal municipal supply. In the continuum, there are also situations where households simply rely on unprotected water sources for years on end and these become established with accepted management practices around them. The paper examines selected examples across the spectrum starting with the processes that established the schemes as well as the challenges and the role played by communities in ensuring sustainability. The examination extends to include the institutional organisation, operation, management and financing aspects of these schemes that have stood the test of time. Overarching to this user interface, the paper quite importantly also examines the implications of technology (hardware) choice on the acceptability, operation and maintenance and thus by implication, sustainability of rural water supply schemes. The paper thus draws lessons from these schemes that have implications for sustainable supply of drinking water in rural South Africa. It puts forward points for consideration by the sector towards ensuring the sustainability of access by the rural communities.
Community participation, rural water supply, and sustainability