On World Water Day, VoxCroft Assesses Public Sentiment Around Water Issues in South Africa
On March 22, the international community celebrates World Water Day. The annual event raises awareness around the importance of water and sanitation – one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030. The theme for this year’s World Water Day is Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible, focusing on subterranean water resources and their role in meeting the water supply needs of a growing global population.
To commemorate World Water Day, VoxCroft Analytics conducted an analysis of public attitudes toward water-related issues in South Africa, using data from broadcast and social media. To gauge public sentiment around access to and quality of water services in the country, VoxCroft collected a snapshot of tweets from 6-14 March. Keywords included “water,” “sanitation,” “water shortage,” and “water supply.” VoxCroft also used the same keywords to collect data from select television and radio stations between March 2021 and February 2022, including Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu-language sources.
On social media, sentiment was largely neutral (55.6 percent) and negative (41.1 percent), with positive sentiment accounting for only three percent of tweets. Three major themes drove negative sentiment, namely interruptions to water supply (28.4 percent), water shortages and restrictions (16.5 percent), and government water management (13.8 percent). The discussion around water supply interruptions focused on occasional water cuts, due to maintenance, breakages, pipe bursts, or other reasons.
The second theme – water shortages and restrictions – centered on the country’s inadequate water supply. These conversations included terms such as “Day Zero” and “water crisis,” in reference to severe water restrictions resulting from lack of rainfall and dwindling water reserves that are unable to meet public demand.
The final theme of government water management relates to the administration, operation, and maintenance of water systems by the Department of Water and Sanitation at the national and municipality level. Maladministration, mismanagement, and corruption in government water departments comprised the main topics of discussion. Notably, this was the only theme to receive majority negative sentiment (73.3 percent), signaling that the South African public fault the government for water supply issues over other potential contributors, such as climate change.
Similar trends appeared in the broadcast data, with sentiment predominantly neutral (72.0 percent) and negative (26.4 percent); only 1.6 percent of items expressed positive sentiment. Like social media, the main themes in the broadcast dataset were government water management (27.3 percent), water supply interruptions (21.3 percent), and water shortages and restrictions (15.4 percent). These figures further reflect public dissatisfaction with the state of water services in South Africa, and a high level of distrust toward the government departments responsible for the provision of water.
The sentiment of the South African public toward water issues mirrors government concerns about present and future water supply. The Department of Water and Sanitation’s 2018 National Water and Sanitation Master Plan notes that South Africa is in the midst of a “water crisis.” It predicts that water scarcity will worsen in the coming years, as the already-insufficient water supply struggles to keep up with the needs of a growing population. The Master Plan blamed this negative trajectory on insufficient infrastructure, deteriorating water quality, weak maintenance, and unequal access to water and sanitation. In fitting with this year’s World Water Day theme, improved management of South Africa’s groundwater resources is an essential piece of the strategic puzzle, as the country aims to fulfill its constitutional guarantee of access to water.