Zama Siqalaba

Capital projects and infrastructure manager, PricewaterhouseCoopers

 As a child, Zama Siqalaba found herself mesmerised by the ocean the first time she went to a beach. Caught between a desire to bury herself in its intense saltiness, and a fear of so much moving liquid, she has been in awe of water ever since then.

But it took a long time for that to turn into a career. Siqalaba studied to be a psychologist, driven by an endless fascination with people and what motivates them. In her second year, she was recruited by a water consulting firm as a part-time secretary. That meant doing a lot of work to juggle both a degree and work. But, having been raised by a single mother, she learned early on that she needs to earn her keep.

This paid off and after finishing her degree, she was offered a full-time job. Her psychology focus brought something critical to the water sector, together with an ability to work with communities to get buy-in for water infrastructure projects.

In 2010 this meant she was part of the team that built projects in Sebokeng and Emfuleni to reduce water losses. Like most municipal water systems, the two were losing huge amounts of water from leaking pipes. Siqalaba grabbed the attention of community members by listening to their concerns, and then involving them in fixing the problems that came up. By reducing the pressure in the systems, the project was able to make big water savings. A case study for other municipalities, this project won an Africa Energy Award for Best Demand Side Management Project. Siqalaba took this project forward and, in 2012, co-authored a study into water losses in municipalities.

Its findings, that R7-billion worth of water leaks out every year, are the most authoritative of their kind in the country. That morphed into the creation of government’s No Drop programme, aimed at stopping leaks in municipalities. Now she ’ s a manage r at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ capital projects and infrastructure division. That allows her to advise government on doing the tough work of implementing water legislation, and ensuring water gets to people. That’s a challenge she relishes; waking up every morning knowing she’ll be exposed to problems that have no obvious solutions. Sometimes it takes a really good hike and sweating to think of those solutions, and Siqalaba revels in the outdoors. That’s not when she is tucked into a good thriller, or romantic novel. But even then she gets dragged back to trying to solve South Africa’s biggest problem: its lack of water.

As one of the world’s driest countries, there is still has massive disconnect between water policies and getting them implemented, with community involvement. Solving that could well become her life work, as she aims to start a company that designs and implements water and environmental education programmes. The future could very well depend on people like Zama ensuring that the water flows.

— Sipho Kings