By Stacey Fulufhelo Williams

Amongst the key environmental challenges faced in South Africa is access to clean drinking water. The drinkability of water varies, depending on the quality checks conducted at each treatment plant. This means, when your water looks strange, the treatment process may have changed at the treatment plant.

Photography by Patrick Federi

The basic right to water and the nationalization of water have made the availability of water widespread across South Africa. The government has primary control of water as a national resource- this is the collection, regulation of availability, and quality of water. However, not all citizens have access to clean tap water inside their homes.

This is often the case in informal settlements that are recognised by local municipalities. In instances where the water cannot be supplied directly to each household, communal taps are available in relatively centralized locations. This water in many instances is from boreholes, because the precarious locations of many informal settlements disconnect them from the existing infrastructure.

In predominantly black townships the sources of water are often a combination of boreholes and dams or rivers. The boreholes provide centralized water sources for communities that cannot afford to pay for services. They serve as an affordable option for local municipalities, that do not yet have resources to build the necessary infrastructure.

Photography by Tejj

Nationalization of Water has Not Guaranteed Consistent Water Quality

The variation of the sources contributes to the variation of water quality in these instances. In instances in which the water sources are dams and rivers only, the primary driver of variation are the water services authorities and providers. These bodies are municipalities, parastatals, and private organisations.

The differences if the quality of the water vary across different water treatment institutions, which are responsible for cleaning wastewater, purification of dams and rivers, and ensuring the delivery of water to the distribution points.

To standardize and regulate these bodies, rating systems were adopted in 2014. However, these rating systems (the blue and green dot programmes) were disbanded in 2014, which means that information about the quality of the water in rivers and our taps is no longer available to the public. Without this information, it is difficult for us to gauge the quality of the water we are drinking. During the time of these programmes being implemented, there were significant improvements in the quality of water in Khara Hais Municipality (Northern Cape), Maluti-a-Phulong Municipality (Free State), City of Tshwane (Gauteng), Overstrand Municipality (Western Cape), City of uMhlathuze (Kwa Zulu Natal)and iLembe District Municipality (KZN).

Regulating the quality of the water available to us is crucial in South Africa, because our wastewater returns to the water bodies that provide our drinking water. This means our poop water eventually becomes our drinking water. Therefore, if this water is not well purified we could be provided with water that is a health hazard at a household level.

Photograph by Dan Meyers available on

As reports of the water levels in our dams are provided, keep in mind that beyond water availability, we need to be aware of the quality of the water that ends up in your tea, shower, and water bottle. Thankfully there are measures you can take in your home, to make sure you’re consuming good quality water, regardless of what’s provided to you.

Boiling water photo by wired

The simplest method to purify water at home is to boil it for some good time. High temperatures cause the bacteria and virus to dissipate, removing all impurities from the water. In doing so, chemical additions cease to exist in the water. However, the dead micro-organisms and impurities settle at the bottom of the water, and boiling does not help eliminate all the impurities. You must strain the water through a microporous sieve to completely remove the impurities.

Clay vessel filtration photo by Kiran enterprises

Way before people had access to an RO or UV Purifier, they used clay pots which purified muddy water, by blocking out the mud and allowing pure, potable water to pass through. This method is still used in some rural regions.

Solar Purification

An alternative to the UV filtration is solar purification which involves treating water with the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. The process involves filling a plastic bottle with water, shaking it to activate the oxygen and leaving it horizontally in the sunlight. This effectively kills bacteria and viruses present in the water, making it safe for consumption.

Water Purifier

An electric water purifier is the most trusted form of water purification found in most houses today. A water purifier uses a multi-stage process involving UV and UF filtration, carbon block, and modern water filtration technology that eliminates most of the chemicals and impurities, making it the purest drinking water.

Reverse Osmosis

An RO Purifier proves to be one of the best methods of purifying water. Reverse Osmosis forces water through a semipermeable membrane and removes contaminants. The TDS Controller and Mineraliser Technology, like the one found in an A. O. Smith RO UV Water Purifier, help retain the necessary nutrients while doing away with harmful impurities.

Water Chlorination

It is an older technique used usually during an emergency, wherein a mild bleach with approximately 5% chlorine is added to the water. This mixture works as an oxidant and quickly kills microorganisms, making water safe for consumption.


Distillation is a water purification process involving collecting the condensed water after evaporation, ensuring that water is free of contaminants. However, this isn’t as effective as an RO filter because it is time-consuming and eliminates minerals.

Iodine Addition

Iodine is a red chemical that is easily available as a tablet or a liquid. It is extremely powerful as it kills bacteria and viruses. However, it adds an unpleasant taste and can be fatal if taken in high doses. Therefore, it should only be used if you don’t have access to a better method of purification like an electric water purifier.

This story was written by Stacey Fulufhelo Williams with excerpts from and

Water Journalists Africa

Water Journalists Africa (WJA) is the largest network of journalists reporting on water in the African continent. It brings together some 700 journalists from 50 African countries. It was established in...

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