ERWAT’s role as Ekurhuleni’s dedicated wastewater service provider is critical in supporting major infrastructure programmes within the metro, which are designed to attract investment and meet rapidly growing population requirements. ERWAT is now ramping up its presence within the country as well as outside South Africa’s borders.

Joining ERWAT in September 2016, managing director Tumelo Gopane  has implemented a series of processes to streamline efficiencies, which includes the way in which the organisation integrates with its major stakeholder, Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality to effectively meet development goals.

Gopane says one of the main shifts has been the move to a more proactive approach in terms of how the city’s current wastewater model is managed. “ERWAT has an outstanding record for downstream quality efficiencies, but needs to move with the times in terms of future spatial development planning, particularly when it comes to the rising pressure of urbanisation,” he points out. “Without the basic fundamentals like water, power, sanitation and roads, our infrastructure goals cannot be realised.”

ERWAT operates 19 plants, of which 13 are now registered as being over capacity, a clear indication of the rapid socio-economic expansion experienced across Ekurhuleni. This is now being addressed through intensive infrastructure planning and ERWAT has classified its plants into three categories in terms of its intervention framework, namely red, yellow and green. Red plants are clearly the priority, since these are defined as above
100% capacity. Three plants are defined as yellow and are within the 80% to 100% threshold; with three plants defined as green, or within 80% of capacity at present. The ideal time to commence with feasibility studies is between 80% to 100% in order not to go beyond 100% capacity.

Only 4 of the 19 plants are interlinked via pipeline connections; the rest are standalone facilities. The reason for this is that the Ekurhuleni metro was formed through the amalgamation of a number of small towns, many of which operated their own independent wastewater treatment plants.

“That’s why we’re now rationalising and regionalising these plants so that the ones we retain within the ERWAT wastewater system are all interlinked via a dedicated pipeline network. This will require a substantial capital outlay, but will reduce operating costs in the long term,” Gopane expands.

Fifty-year master plan

Tumelo Gopane, managing director of ERWAT

ERWAT’s plant and conveyancing regionalisation and 50-year master plan will be completed by the end of 2019. When finalised, the entire existing and proposed ERWAT network will be overlaid on to Ekurhuleni’s Spatial
Development Framework.

“In the meantime, we’ve responded to the immediate challenges with a detailed five-year capex plan that’s now actively in progress and we’re currently taking a number of projects through to completion,” says Gopane.

For the 2017/18 financial year, ERWAT has an approved capital expenditure budget of just over R300 million. From the 2018/19 financial year, the proposed annual capex provision ramps up to around R1.4 billion for the balance of the initial five-year plan. A 20-year capex plan is now also in progress.

Red plant upgrades

Priority plants, namely Vlakplaats, Welgedacht, Waterval and Ancor have been identified for design upgrade interventions (refurbishments and expansions) from 2017/18 based on the use of existing conventional systems. The balance of ERWAT’s other plant feasibility studies will explore the introduction of new proprietary technologies. Prime examples already under way include the imminent commissioning of a Nereda technology solution at ERWAT’s Hartebeestfontein facility; and the HYBACS system being installed at Tsakane, which is now in the implementation phase.

Across the board, stricter environmental measures are being introduced, which starts with what Gopane refers to as a water management “river-to-river” philosophy. “As the leading wastewater treatment company in South Africa, and probably Africa, ERWAT’s newly reviewed wastewater tariff could well serve as a pilot for other metros and municipalities on how to implement sustainable life-cycle costing models that don’t compromise the environment by cutting corners on treatment interventions. It’s about balancing revenue collection with non-negotiable environmental compliance standards.”

Backing these and other initiatives is a renewed investment in research and development. ERWAT has established a technical forum, and will, in the future, be participating across all Water Institute of Southern Africa streams (and not just the water stream).

“We are focused on boosting our ongoing capabilities, which means greater quality and competency. Our immediate plan is to obtain ISO 14000 certification, and within the next three to five years ISO 9001, and ISO 55000, the latter focusing on maintenance and asset management.”

Industrial outsourcing

ERWAT is also actively pursuing opportunities in the private sector. Some of the existing FMCG clients include Heineken, Nestlé, and Kellogg’s. ERWAT is also moving into two new areas, namely mining and specialist industrial manufacturing, particularly for those industries needing to dispose of paint and chemical-type products.

“We’re actively encouraging industries to outsource their non-core waste water treatment component to ERWAT, which now offers on-site dedicated operations and maintenance packages, including laboratory services. Outsourcing wastewater treatment minimises the business risk of penalties for non-compliance and, over and above this, ensures that operations are positively contributing to the preservation of our ecosystems. We cannot allow non-standard processed wastewater to be pumped back into our rivers and ERWAT is here for the market,” he expands.

ERWAT will be exhibiting at the IMESA 2017 Conference in October and the Mining Indaba in February 2018, among other key expos, which demonstrates its desire to engage with industry and to reposition ERWAT as a national and multinational state-owned company. “The added revenue stream will help to make ERWAT more self-sufficient and thus enable Ekurhuleni to channel funds into non-revenue areas, like roads and stormwater. We could even become a cash cow for the city.”

Memorandums of understanding

ERWAT has recently concluded a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Department of Public Works, and the first target is to assess and improve the wastewater treatment plants housed within the Department of Correctional Services.

An MoU has also been concluded with Lepelle Northern Water, headquartered in Polokwane, to collaborate with them in upgrading, operating and maintaining their wastewater treatment plants to bring them up to compliance levels.


Proposed public-private partnership opportunities in wastewater reuse are included in ERWAT’s 50-year master plan. As previously stated, ERWAT’s rationalisation process seeks to reduce the number of plants currently in operation, while at the same time increasing the capacity and efficiency of the remaining facilities. Some of these plants could potentially be identified for self-sustainable PPP ventures, based on the city’s future spatial development framework and planned residential and industrialisation nodes.

ERWAT is also addressing Ekurhuleni’s pressing informal settlement needs, of which there are currently an estimated 120. Here, the introduction of off-grid package plants provides the best and most immediate response. This plug-and-play wastewater treatment solution is also well suited to low-cost housing developments planned for construction in the immediate future. Eventually, these off-grid plants would be replaced by formal wastewater treatment networks as Ekurhuleni embarks on its megacity developments in the coming decades.