IMAGINE you are sending your child off on her first day of school. You have packed her satchel and given her a kiss – and after that, all you can do is hope she’ll keep safe. That’s because one out of every three South African schools do not have access to clean water, placing learners at risk of waterborne diseases – an issue Murendeni Mafumo is determined to address.
The water crisis doesn’t end there: more than six million South Africans lack access to clean water. Murenendi, first became aware of the problem while working at Joburg Water; a post he’d taken up after several years as a water scientist at the City of Cape Town. Murendeni had long been fascinated by water, having focused on water systems research and development while studying Chemistry at CPUT. “I was working for municipalities when I noticed the wide gap between high income and low-income communities when it comes to access to safe drinking water,” he explains.
From the time Murendeni first established Kusini Water, the company’s aim was to “bridge the gap”, a goal Murendeni first addressed by providing individual water filters which allowed families living in low income communities to filter water from any source. Since then, Kusini Water has developed water treatment systems, based on a combination of nanotechnology with macadamia nut shells, which have been implemented at 16 rural and peri-urban sites in South Africa. As Murendeni points out, these sites are significant: apart from supplying clean fresh water, they have also had an impact on job creation and, by extension, poverty. But, of course, the primary focus is water, and with three million litres of water treated each month, Kusini Water is well on its way to achieving its objective of delivering five million litres of water to five million people in five years.
Impressive though these achievements may be, Murendeni admits that Kusini Water has faced a number of hurdles. Chief among these is access to capital, an issue that has been addressed through bootstrapping. “It works, and not just for scaling quickly,” Murendeni maintains, explaining that his strategy for expanding the product line has hinged on supplementing outside funding with grants and monies earned through competitions. This approach has seen Kusini Water grow 100% year on year.
The high cost of the advanced engineering skills needed for developing and rolling out projects has also been problematic, leading the company to invest heavily in skills development.
These efforts have paid off, with Kusini Water taking part in a number of initiatives that have gone on to have a significant impact on nearby communities. The company’s partnership with DHL South Africa is a case in point: Murendeni explains that to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary of doing business in South Africa, the organisation joined forces with Kusini Water to bring water filters and storage solutions to 50 communities. Beneficiaries were chosen by local DHL employees, which is how Nora Tyres Creche – a creche in Cloetesville, Stellenbosch – came to be part of the project. “The DHL Stellenbosch branch manager chose StellCare as a beneficiary. Nora Tyres Creche falls under the ambit of this organisation, which provides family services to communities in Stellenbosch and the surrounding areas, and so we installed rainwater, filter and storage solutions for the creche.” This has made it possible for the creche not only to provide clean water; it is also able to recycle water for use in a food garden, making it possible to nourish more of the learners.
The partnership with DHL South Africa is also seen Kusini Water supplying water to other Western Cape communities in an effort to mitigate the effects of the province’s drought. It is, moreover, building a full solar desalination plant in the Western Cape.
These are all exciting initiatives, but Murendeni considers Kusini Water’s success in bringing water to a Heidelberg community that had previously never had access to be the company’s greatest accomplishment. “It was our first – and flagship – solar project, launched in partnership with the provincial government,” he recalls.
Going forward, Murendeni is planning to introduce a pay per use system for small municipalities. This will be a major step forward for service delivery, as Kusini Water will fund the infrastructure, leaving the municipality to pay per kilolitre.
A move into other African countries is also on the card, he adds.