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Minister Ms Barbara Creecy’s keynote address at the launch of the Coca Cola Foundation Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN)

Park Hyatt, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 28 June 2019

Programme Director: Mr. Lebogang Makoloi;
Mr. Luis Avellar: General Manager for the Coca-Cola Company, South African Franchise;
Ms Asyia Sheik, Head of Public Affairs, the Coca-Cola Company, South African Franchise;
Mr. Marijn Zwinkels and Mr. Otto Beukes of Living Lands;
Mr. Samir Randera-Rees of the World Wild Life Funds;
Mr. Oldrich van Schalkwyk of the Endangered Wildlife Trust;
Ms. Louise Stafford of the Nature Conservancy

Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you very much for inviting me to join you in your review of the new and existing projects being implemented under the Coca-Cola Foundations’ Replenish Africa Initiative by Living Lands, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the Nature Conservancy (TNC).

To emphasise the importance of your work to the collective water security of our country and our continent,  allow me start with a big picture view.  Every year, a Global Risks Report shapes discussions at the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos. This report provides an insight into what global risk managers consider the top risks to humanity in terms of likelihood and impact. 

Since 2012, ‘climate change’, ‘extreme weather events’ and ‘water supply crises’ have consistently featured in the top 5 risks in terms of both  the likelihood  of these events occurring  and  the consequences of their  happening.

In terms of likelihood, the Global Risks Report 2019 has ‘extreme weather events’ as its number 1 risk followed by ‘failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation’ and ‘natural disasters’ at 2 and 3 respectively. ‘Man-made environmental disasters’ is at 6 with ‘biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse’ and ‘water crises’ at 8 and 9. 

In terms of impact, the 2019 report has ‘failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation’, ‘extreme weather events’, ‘water crises’, ‘natural disasters’, and ‘biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse’ in its top 6 risks behind ‘weapons of mass destruction’. The report warns that by the 2050s, more than 650 million people in 500 cities are likely to face declines in freshwater availability.

This gloomy outlook is already playing out here at home. Many areas of South Africa are still suffering the impacts of a prolonged drought. For those living in the Western, and parts of the Eastern Cape, this drought has been perhaps the most severe in recorded history. Indeed, it was only just over a year ago that one of our major cities was facing ‘day zero’ – the day when taps run dry . Many of our rural communities already face this as a daily reality.

Even without drought conditions, South Africa is an arid country, one of the 30 driest countries in the world.  So, while we  celebrating the fact that the dams that provide Cape Town with its water are just over 50% full, we have to do more than gamble on ‘good weather’ to ensure our water security.  We all know without water there can be no life, no growth, no shared prosperity .
This is why creating and maintaining our water security is not the work of one or two government departments, municipalities or state-owned entities – it is the work of the nation. Water security is everyone’s business.

South Africa’s 2014 National Water Resources Strategy provides the framework for the protection, use, development, conservation, management and control of water resources for the country as a whole. 

It is the first policy instrument in South Africa to formally recognise the role and value of ecological infrastructure in supporting developmental objectives. 

Accordingly, an entire chapter of the Strategy is dedicated to water resource protection as one of the mechanisms for ensuring that water contributes to on-going growth and development. 

The chapter states explicitly that sound ecological infrastructure – the healthy natural landscapes – that underpin healthy watersheds do much the same work as a water treatment plants , but without the expensive equipment and associated operating costs. 

Watershed-related ecological infrastructure can filter out water pollution, regulate stream flows, recharge aquifers, and absorb flooding. Of course this natural infrastructure has the added benefit of protecting wildlife habitats and absorbing carbon dioxide. 

Because these are effectively “free services”, we tend to take these benefits for granted. Indeed, few, if any, water authorities or utilities list watersheds as assets anywhere on their books, and the rural people living and working in our watersheds are not always rewarded for good management practices that result in downstream users receiving clean, ample water.

Fortunately this is beginning to change. Worldwide, governments and communities are moving to recognise the ways in which we depend on natural systems and how we need to incorporate those values into our economic decisions. 

Our Department has a role both in the protection of water catchment areas and the restoration and maintenance of sound water-related ecological infrastructure.  Our Working for Water programme has focused on clearing invasive plant species for the past 24 years and has cleared over 3.4 million hectares of invasive plants in almost 800 primary catchment areas. These interventions have created over six hundred thousand work opportunities and transferred R7billion in wages to some of the most marginalised communities over the twenty five year period.

Watershed-related ecological infrastructure investments aimed at improving and maintaining watershed services put this concept into action through interventions that have the potential to produce a range of benefits, including:

  • lengthening the lifespan of existing built infrastructure, thereby reducing or delaying the need for additional built infrastructure – often with significant cost savings;
  • buffering human settlements and built infrastructure against extreme events like floods and drought, thus playing a crucial and cost effective role in disaster risk reduction;
  • creating new employment opportunities for the maintenance and rehabilitation of ecological infrastructure, which usually entails labour-intensive activities;
  • supporting rural development by diversifying rural livelihood options, on the one hand through direct job creation, and on the other by strengthening economic sectors such as sustainable farming and ecotourism.

It is clear that restoring, protecting and maintaining our ecological infrastructure is not an act of charity but an economic necessity that in itself can create work while promoting sustainable development.

This is why it is gratifying to know that the people in this room have realised that together we can do so much more. Government simply cannot do it alone and we need active private sector, community and citizen involvement

Over the next five years we must continue and grow our efforts including – 

  • Firstly we need to work together to improve stream and river-related ecological infrastructure – by clearing invasive alien plant infestations, especially in mountain catchments and riparian areas. And by reinstating, restoring, rehabilitating and maintaining the buffers of natural vegetation along streams and rivers;
  • Secondly we must improving wetland- and estuary-related ecological infrastructure through restoration and rehabilitation.
  • Thirdly we must ensure that we our programme to expand protected areas includes the formal protection of key catchment areas. 

Although South Africa has a lot of experience in implementing many of these interventions, our approaches as government and the private sector remain too dispersed and can benefit from better co-ordination and focus.

Thus, I am happy that the lessons learned from practical interventions are being shared here today and hope that this process will result in identifying common priorities we can all focus on.

I also hope that the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) starts being noticed by other corporates and their risk managers and that the realisation that we all have a part to play in the nation’s water security spurs them into similar investments within a co-ordinated framework. 

We have a collective duty today to make it clear that investments in our ecological infrastructure are not hand-outs, but real investments in business risk reduction, real investments in water security, real investments in our nation and its prosperity.   

In closing, when we talk about no person going hungry in South Africa this also means that no person should suffer from thirst. When we talk about our economy growing at a much faster rate than our population, this implies an economy underpinned by water security. When we talk about two million young people being employed, we know that many young people in rural areas would be happy to work directly on restoring our invaluable ecological infrastructure. To make this a reality takes focused and co-ordinated action by government and the private sector. Let’s start that here today!

Thank you.


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