The overloaded infrastructure is close to collapse according to city officials, with lack of funding mainly to blame.

Councillors have now raised fears that they are sitting on a typhoid time bomb as conditions in the sewers that serve the city of 4 million continue to deteriorate.

In 1999 a study into the infrastructure commissioned by the city council recommended at least R150 million (£13.5 million) per year be spent to maintain and upgrade the 22 wastewater plants and three marine outfalls.

That cash was not forthcoming and the city’s Cllr Willem van der Bijl, himself a civil engineer, has now recommended private enterprise be allowed to move in and build their own treatment plants to alleviate the backlogs.

The suggestion is likely to meet with some resistance, however, as handing over water management to industry would be something of an embarrassment for one of the wealthiest cities in Africa, which has witnessed how other privatisation schemes have run into problems elsewhere on the continent (see related story).

Options may be limited, however, with Cape Town’s water services director Sipho Mosai warning councillors they are sitting on a ‘typhoid time bomb’ and many samples taken from the network show signs of potentially harmful bacteria and do not comply with national standards.

He said that while the city’s population has risen rapidly in recent years, the infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth and large quantities of waste water are leaving the system untreated.

The city has accepted the urgency of its predicament and is currently considering a rescue package outlined by Mr Mosai which would need an additional R74 million to R130 million (£6.5 million to £12 million) spent on infrastructure every year for the next ten years.

By Sam Bond

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