South Africa aims for more women in water sector

Melissa Javan

2 September 2015

The conversation needed to be changed, according to Nomvula Mokonyane. The water and sanitation minister spoke at a conference in Pretoria on Monday on getting women, who were breadwinners of households, to be providers in national sectors.

“How do we inform, incentivise and invest in women-owned businesses and women leaders in water and sanitation,” she asked delegates at the National Women in Water Consultative Conference, where she encouraged them to change the conversation.

“How do we change the debate from one of victimisation to one of transformational leadership. We are here to create wealth and prosperity.”

Mokonyane spoke of women who walked for more than an hour to fetch water for their households. “An old lady said she was raped along the way. But that will not stop her from fetching water,” she said.

More than 200 million hours were spent each day around the world on fetching water. Businesspeople, Mokonyane urged, should not forget people like the women fetching water for their families.

“Water is perceived to be a women’s business but the business of water lacks women.” She was planning to shape the Department of Water and Sanitation. “Women should not only fetch water for their households, but they must also be suppliers of pipes and manage reservoirs.”

Mokonyane wanted women to be part of the planning, designing and implementation processes of things such as building dams or toilets.

New programme

For this reason, her department had launched the three-year national Women in Water Programme. “The programme comprises a mentorship programme, a women in water business incubator and a women in water forum. The scope of the programme covers all women-owned businesses that are competent and excellent in the provision of services to the department.”

It would also focus on women in science and engineering, those in innovation, those in construction, and women in local community initiatives. Other businesses owned by women may be considered based on merit.

Mokonyane said the first incubators would be made known in January 2016.

Other speakers

Female speakers addressed the conference commission sessions, during which the audience could engage with the speakers and give their input on topics like science and engineering, innovation, construction and local community initiatives.

In the construction commission, Dr Thandi Ndlovu, chief executive officer of Motheo Construction Group, said the money the government pumped into infrastructure had been reduced. Despite this, she felt the concern of the country was what would happen to women.

The government policy was that at least 30% of its business should go to women-headed companies. Ndlovu said it was important to have a niche for yourself. “Look for the low-hanging fruit. Dams will be built by the grade 9 contractors. Don’t expect to build a dam if it’s not your niche.”

She also said the value of partnership was very important in making your business succeed.

Khungeka Njobe, the chairperson of South Africa’s Technology Innovation Centre and Aveng Water, said before she had started a business, she asked herself how she could do things differently from what was on the market.

She agreed that forming partnerships in business was vital. “Before partnerships, it starts with relationships. Partnerships must be complementary, not just about who you know. We got to know our strengths and skills [before entering a partnership].”

She also said that investing should not be postponed. “We’ll keep on saying we do not have the skills. To understand the situation better, investment in things like research should be done.”