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Water is life, but sanitation is dignity

There was not an empty seat in the house (in this case the International Convention Centre in Durban) when Pamela Tshwete, deputy minister of Water and Sanitation, officially opened the 2015 National Sanitation Indaba under the theme: ‘It’s not all about flushing’. Various representatives of the three spheres of government, water authorities and entities, business, non-governmental organizations and research and innovation institutions were in attendance and ready to work together to devise a way forward to alleviate the country’s alarming sanitation crisis.

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The Sanitation Indaba was aimed at sharing ideas and experiences to accelerate the adoption of world-class, advanced technologies by both municipal and industrial water users.

The indaba already officially kicked off on 14 May with a site visit programme, transporting delegates to various demonstration sites in Durban to view successful sanitation projects.

Day 2 commenced with the singing of the national anthem as well as the African Union anthem, followed by the presidential address by deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa. “This gathering demonstrates that, working together, we can find innovative solutions to enhance human dignity,” Ramaphosa said. “Our democratic Constitution places dignity as a cornerstone value and as a substantive right. By ensuring that sanitation is central to our national development effort, we reaffirm our commitment to dignity, equality and social justice.”

The sanitation perspectives plenary followed after a break, dividing the delegation into three working groups (called ‘commissions’) to brainstorm challenges and solutions to the ‘sanitation revolution’. Each commission was addressed by relevant industry respondents, after which delegates could ask questions and suggest solutions.

The following commissions took place:

  1. Sanitation technology: Assessment and evaluation;
  2. Health and hygiene education; and 
  3. Cooperative governance/regulatory frameworks.

After the commission discussions (and in some cases – debates), the sessions broke for lunch. Delegates were encouraged to use this time to also walk through and interact with the various exhibitors who were showcasing exciting alternative technologies – from waterless dehydration toilets to organic onsite faecal treatment systems.

Thereafter, each commission chairperson had to give feedback on what was discussed in their session and a possible way forward.

The closing ministerial address by Nomvula Mokonyana, minister of Water and Sanitation concluded the day’s formal events, after which delegates were invited to a cocktail party networking function.

On 21 May 2015, minister Mokonyana presented the Budget Vote of the Department of Water and Sanitation to the National Assembly, further elaborating on the outcomes of the Indaba and government's plans for the provision of sanitation and the management of the country’s water resources.

As deputy minister Tshwete said: “Water is life and sanitation is dignity…and dignity is a human right.”

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