South Africa

South Africa

Op-Ed: We all know that Day Zero is a very real possibility – let’s defeat it together

Op-Ed: We all know that Day Zero is a very real possibility – let’s defeat it together

In the event that despite all efforts, we are unable to avoid Day Zero, then I wish to assure you that a massive amount of preparation is going in to ensure that residents have access to 25l of safe, clean water every day. By MMUSI MAIMANE.

This edited speech was delivered on Wednesday by the Leader of the Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, at the launch of the #DefeatDayZero campaign at Joseph Stone Auditorium in Athlone, Cape Town.

It is no secret that Cape Town currently faces an unprecedented situation. It is a scientific fact that we are experiencing the worst drought ever recorded. This is a natural disaster of immense proportions

We all know that Day Zero is a very real possibility. Come with fear and anxiety. We can choose to flight or to fight. We have to give ourselves the best fighting chance. What is true is that humans have triumphed in the midst of great challenges and now we must too.

And unless we act clearly, decisively and immediately, it may arrive sooner than is currently projected.

I am very aware that there is a lot of public unhappiness, concern, and confusion as to how the DA-run City of Cape Town is responding to the situation. I understand what risk it poses for business, for communities, the fear and paralysis driven by a lack of information.

These are extraordinary and unprecedented times.

As Leader of the DA, all DA governments are accountable to me through the federal executive. I am not fully satisfied with the way the city has responded to the drought crisis, its communication, in particular, has fallen short.

This lack of clarity is not what citizens should expect from any DA government.

It’s time for decisive action.

And today I want to share some of the decisive action I have taken.

First, I have taken the unprecedented step of taking political control of our respective government’s responses to the situation.

I have also instructed that the management of the drought crisis at the city be transferred to Ian Neilson and Xanthea Limberg. Unquestionably, they are the best people for the job.

Ian will take the lead role in directing the City of Cape Town’s response to this drought, supported by Xanthea Limberg.

They will form part of the new Drought Crisis Team I have established, who are with me here.

Helen Zille will make sure that the province leads and directs the disaster management response in the event that Day Zero does arrive.

Bonginkosi Madikizela and Anton Bredell will form a core part of directing and implementing the strategy of this team.

Our mission is clear. We must defeat Day Zero. I happen to believe it is possible and I will give my all and they will too.

Whatever it takes, whatever the efforts needed, they will do.

And I am resolute in my determination to ensure that everything – and I mean everything – humanly possible is done to give us the best chance of doing so. Our governments will do whatever it takes

Now is not the time for politicking and finger-pointing. We do not have the luxury of time. We need to unite behind this common mission to defeat Day Zero. Together with the citizens of CT, we can defeat day zero.

Today I am going to share with you the only plan possible to achieve this. And from here on, I promise consistent and regular communication from this team. We will clearly outline where we are in defeating Day Zero.

Today I will update you on the following:

1 Where we are at.

2 What we are doing.

3 What we all need to do.

It is important to start by confirming that as it stands right now, based on the supply and consumption levels of water, Day Zero will arrive on 12 April 2018.

So what are we doing?

There are key factors that contribute to and affect water supply. And I want to update you on where we are at on each of them.


First our dams – the primary source of water for Cape Town. The dam levels are currently at 27.2% as of now with 17.2% usable water left.

Many people I speak to ask why more dams have not been built.

I want to make something very clear on the bulk supply of water. There is a misconception that this is the role of a city and it is a local government responsibility.

Let me be very, very clear. It is not.

It is the constitutional mandate of national government to deliver water to all municipalities.

The city purchases bulk water, in much the same way that it purchases bulk electricity from Eskom.

And therefore the funding for any additional water supply falls within national government. Local governments simply don’t have those kinds of funds or the mandate for bulk water provision.

The Western Cape as a whole needs the national government to play its legally mandated role to ensure greater water security. And I will be taking the fight to national government to make sure that it fulfils this role.

Indeed, both the city and Province are currently considering legal action to compel national government to act. This is not a finger-pointing exercise, it is about ensuring that the Constitution is given effect to and that the rights of citizens and ratepayers are fought for and protected.


What the city does control is the infrastructure that cleans the water and carries it to your homes, businesses, and schools.

Long ago, the city put in place a strategy to reduce water losses from its pipe network, reducing such losses to 14%. The city has been hugely successful in delivering on this strategy, which is well below the international average, and also well below the average of 37% for municipalities in South Africa.


I am often asked how a city surrounded by ocean can run out of water.

Desalination, regardless of what anyone says, is expensive and complex.

And the problem is that there simply isn’t money. Large-scale facilities cost anything up to R15-billion. That is a third of Cape Town’s annual budget. No city can afford such facilities on its own. Especially when their provision is outside its legal mandate.

However, as part of our immediate augmentation plans, we are bringing on board three smaller-scale desalination plants which I visited this week. These are located at Strandfontein, Monwabisi, and the Waterfront.

Our primary focus is on bringing the Atlantis and Cape Flats Aquifers on line.

This is because aquifers provide a much more immediate and cost-effective water source than desalination.

Water supply will also be augmented by transfers from private dams and water reuse.

In total, the city plans to bring 120-megalitres on line by May 2018 as a result of these augmentation efforts.

The city will also look to even larger-scale and aggressive augmentation projects to ensure water resilience in the years going forward, using a similar mix of water supply sources.

We must ensure that this situation never confronts Cape Town again. And the city will continue to go beyond its mandate in pursuance of the most effective and sustainable augmented water sources.

Demand Management

I need to be absolutely clear here – the only way to avoid Day Zero in the immediate term is by further reducing demand. There is no silver bullet or augmentation scheme which will in the short term change this simple fact.

Augmentation will only assist greatly in the years to come.

This is not because of a lack of planning or foresight.

It is because of the unprecedented severity of the current drought, the worst in recorded history.

Cape Town has come through previous droughts, because of the steps it has taken to manage and reduce demand.

And this is where, Cape Town, I need your immediate help and decisive action.

The only way to defeat Day Zero is to use less water. All of us. We are part of this continent and we have to work together. The high users will face tariffs but this is a punitive measure,

This is a hard reality. I know from first-hand experience that it is inconvenient, and that a great many households, rich and poor, have taken steps to drastically cut their consumption and now have to do even more.

But now is the time. There is only one last chance, and one last window of opportunity.

If we take this last chance and we rally together, it can be done. This chance will not present itself again.

I understand your frustration with this reality and I often wonder too how my own family can save even more water.

But so many households have managed to dramatically reduce their demand through innovative measures and sheer determination. These families are heroes and we are incredibly grateful for their efforts.

However, despite the large-scale campaigns to communicate otherwise, we estimate that over 50% of residents have not reduced their consumption.

We will unapologetically go after residents who for no good reason exceed their allocation.

Indeed, every week 2,000-2,500 water demand devices are being installed at households across the city who exceed their allowance. This programme will now be accelerated.

The restrictions that will be in place from 1 February means that the city will only be able to use 450-megalitres per day.

This means that every resident of Cape Town can only use a maximum of 50l per day, no matter where you are; at home, at work, at school or whatever the context.

To further aid in our efforts to bring demand to 450-megalitres per day, we are also going to be throttling water supply through pressure reduction.

This may see many parts of the city without water for a period of time, never exceeding 12 hours.

I would ask that this is something that we adapt to, as part of defeating Day Zero.

I must emphasise that if we stick to a maximum usage of 50l per day, we can push Day Zero out.

Every day that we exceed the target of 50l, we will bring Day Zero closer.

Every day, I want you to join me to Defeat Day Zero.

But I’m going to do more. I’m going to ask my wife and two kids to do more. And that is to instead aim to use 40l per day.

It will be hard. But far easier than the taps running dry.

Three things we must do straight away if you aren’t already:

1 Shower for less than 90 seconds.

2 Have two buckets in every bathroom.

3 Use your grey water to flush.

In addition to managing residential demand, we need the national government to play its role in managing demand across the supply system.

In particular, it must more effectively and pro-actively manage demand from agricultural and other users who form part of the broader Western Cape Supply System.

Agriculture draws more or less the same amount of water from the supply system as the city does during the summer months, and it must be noted that agriculture has already drawn down on its supply for the year.

We thus need the national department to accelerate its efforts to manage and restrict this demand if we are to defeat Day Zero.

Accordingly, I will be leading efforts in Parliament to hold the Department of Water and Sanitation and its Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane, to their mandate.

Day Zero

In the event that despite all these efforts, we are unable to avoid Day Zero, then I wish to assure you that a massive amount of preparation is going in to ensure that residents have access to 25l of safe, clean water every day.

The provincial government will work closely with the city to ensure that residents are able to access a daily amount of water: 25l per day, per resident of the city.

There will be identified public distribution points across the city to receive a daily allocation. These will be managed in as fair and orderly a manner as possible.

We recognise that this an area of particular concern for many citizens, and it is clear that these plans need to be expanded and made more robust and clear.

The province and the city are now working on bringing on additional distribution mechanisms, so that we can relieve the pressure on public distribution points, by for example, using systems to deliver water to homes, shops etc.

Already, there has been great co-operation from the private sector, and these discussions will be accelerated in the coming days.

I am grateful for the work that Helen is currently doing in this regard.

I wish to assure every resident of Cape Town that details of these Day Zero plans will be communicated well in advance of this actually becoming a reality.

In addition, it must be noted that informal settlements, schools, hospitals and essential services would still be supplied with water as far as possible.

The city would also seek to ensure that CBD areas across the city are supplied with water so that economic activity can continue.

But Cape Town, let me repeat, we can avoid this and defeat Day Zero.

If we do nothing, we will hit Day Zero on 12 April.

If we stick to 50l per person, per day, we can push Day Zero out and give us a fighting chance to overcome this current crisis.

Going forward, the team and I will hold weekly briefings on progress made in local media and on our social channels. Please also visit the DefeatDayZero website and Facebook page for regular updates and to pledge your commitment to defeat Day Zero.

Cape Town, it really comes down to each of us. And it is in our power to do this.

You have the power to do so. Humans have triumphed before and we must and we can now, defeat Day Zero.

Let’s ensure that each of us, our families, friends and fellow citizens unite together to defeat Day Zero. We can. And we must.

I thank you. DM

Photo: DA leader Mmusi Maimane addresses Cape Town residents on the #PreventDayZero campaign, 24 January 2018: Photo: Leila Dougan


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