An imperfect storm

The past two years have been challenging for the residents of the Western Cape. The drought has wreaked havoc across the province and its aftershocks be felt for many years to come.

As I write this, Day Zero has been set for mid-June. If something miraculous does not occur, we will face something unknown to any major city in the world.
And we have been told that if we work together we can get through this and ‘Defeat Day Zero.’ If we consume less than 50 litres a day, we can stave off that dreaded ‘D’ word. We can wait for the aquifers and desalination plants to come online and assist with the grid. But this disaster has had a parallel issue running next to it, which has enhanced the problem. This is, of course, the political issues which we face on the municipal, provincial and national level.
However, before we begin with the political situation, let’s look at the timeline of events that led to this. After good rains in 2013 and 2014, 2015 saw a dry winter due to the El Niño weather pattern, as well as our old friend, climate change. From 70.1% in 2014, our dam levels went down to 50.1% in 2015. Some minor restrictions were put in place during those years, but it was only in the beginning of 2017 that we entered into Level 3 water restrictions. And it then took another 6 months to go to Level 4b, and eventually Level 5 in October, restricting us to 87 litres a day. Now, en route to Day Zero, we are restricted to 50 litres a day.

But at the same time as these issues were coming to the fore, political manoeuvers had been in motion. Now we begin the blame game. The first is the national government. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Anthony Turton, a professor at the University of the Free State, states that our newly formed democracy in 1994 was one of the causes. The Constitution separated government into three tiers, national, provincial and local, so that none could interfere with the other. He explains, “(t)his resulted in a culture of impunity and a systemic failure from many municipalities to pay their water bills. The commission of inquiry into water — which decades ago predicted exactly what is happening today — was also discarded.”

David Olivier from the Global Change Institute at Wits University, explains that the two DA-led governments (municipal and provincial) have gone above and beyond the call of duty. However, he says, the system failed at a national level. Olivier explains that the bureaucracy of national government has failed the Cape and its current water crisis. Their wasteful expenditure in the national Department of Water Sanitation, “erroneous water allocations to agriculture and a failure to acknowledge or respond to provincial and municipal calls for help obstructed timely interventions.” Some say this is due to the city and province being led by the DA and the ANC obstructing any sort of solution, which one has to hope isn’t true. And now the ANC and its government are finally speaking about how they may intervene (which may be a bad thing due to the terrible mismanagement of the department by Nomvulo Mokonyane et al).

However, the major issue for me was the political machinations within the DA-led City of Cape Town. While the rest of the Cape Town population was trying their utmost to come to terms with this most difficult of crises, the DA’s blue wave became a tsunami of uncertainty and chaos. Mayor Patricia de Lille is now out of power when it comes to the handling of the crisis, with Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson now at the coalface. Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the DA, said (on 12 February) that the De Lille saga has gone on for too long. I understand the complexities of politics and that a party which touts itself as one of accountable governance has the prerogative to do this, but it comes at an extremely inopportune time. With a motion of no confidence coming up, one which would strip de Lille and her Mayoral Committee of their powers, it gives the citizens of the Mother City very little comfort in their time of need. It is also very difficult to negotiate how the DA’s leader, Mmusi Maimane, has now become the spokesperson for the Cape Town water crisis, finely crossing the lines between party and government (something which they have criticised the ANC of doing many times).

The situation is depressing. I do not know where my Point of Distribution will be for my potential 100 litres of water per day. I can’t predict how the city’s citizens will react when we do reach Day Zero (BH we won’t). But I know that there is this shadow hanging over all of us (and unfortunately for now it isn’t a rain cloud). We need strong leadership to guide us through the stormy waters of the drought and provide clarity where we need it.
So, until then, use your water wisely. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. Use hand-sanitisers instead of soap when washing your hands. Do all the other suggested things. But most of all, be kind and empathetic to all Capetonians’ needs — we all need water. It’s our basic human right — don’t be the one to deny someone’s right to life-giving water.

Let’s ‘Defeat Day Zero’ together!


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