The great greedy unwashed are the source of the water and power crisis – time for some people shedding

The great greedy unwashed are the source of the water and power crisis – time for some people shedding
Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu. (Photo: Frennie Shivambu / Gallo Images | Unsplash and Vecteezy)

The spokesperson for Rand Water says people have caused the water crisis by using too much – and Eskom couldn’t agree more. But worry not, committees are being formed as we speak.

Senzo Mchunu is a nice guy, so he’ll probably forgive us for rolling about laughing when he asked Parliament to have confidence in him and his department – that of No Water and Bad Sanitation – to solve the water supply problems besetting South Africa and, in particular, the “economic powerhouse” of Gauteng.

Yes, we laughed. We took the opportunity for a little light relief between queuing up at the municipal water tank and lying around at home waiting for that sweet spot when there’s electricity and water and we can wash some of our clothes and linen that have been quietly rotting for three weeks now.

It did strike me, parenthetically, that Mchunu wasn’t speaking to the nation, even though the nation is supposed to be represented in Parliament. He was probably speaking to members of Parliament, in which case he had a very pliant audience. The ANC has a majority in Parliament and the vast bulk of those MPs are quite happy to have confidence in the executive; in fact, they are quite happy to let the executive do whatever the hell it likes, as long as the executive keeps paying their bloated salaries and handing out all those free perks.

And, speaking of perks, the President gifted his ministers and deputy ministers with free water and electricity for a short time, in case you missed the controversy. For a few glorious days, they were mandated to use as much of those precious commodities as they liked without having to pay a cent. That was the result of a revision to the famous ministerial handbook, the one that allows ministers to spend many millions on fancy cars and gives them umpteen free flights on our bankrupt national airline. But, sorry, the public outcry led the President to rescind that free grant of water and lights and reinstate the ministers’ obligation to actually pay for something. Let it not be said the President does not listen to the cries of pain emanating from his sorely tested nation. Oh, yes, he hears – but, like God in answer to prayers, sometimes the answer is simply no.

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He may even have been listening to Mchunu, who has had extensive meetings with role players and stakeholders and suchlike to try to get a handle on the water crisis. The President will surely have approved of Mchunu’s commitment to set up a “water room committee” to ascertain the way forward – the President is very fond of a committee to ascertain precisely what the problems are, particularly the problems the people have been screeching about for a decade or two.

Unfortunately, the committees he’s so fond of don’t seem to last long enough to come up with any solutions, or perhaps it’s that the solutions contradict state policy, so they’re ignored.

Mchunu asked for six to nine months to deal with the water crisis, by which point we will all have died of dehydration.

Perhaps he should have taken a leaf from Makenosi Maroo’s book. That interestingly named person is the spokesperson for Rand Water, which she was representing when she said the main problem underlying the water crisis is that the populace uses too much water.

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Indeed. Here we have a clear and concise analysis of the problem. Why did Minister Mchunu need days of meetings to pinpoint this? We, the people, use too much water. It’s as simple as that.

Instead of washing in five litres, we should be washing in three. Come on, “the great unwashed” is not simply a metaphor any more. And we certainly shouldn’t be drinking two litres a day, whatever the health experts tell us. No, we should be drinking zero litres a day. Instead, we should be drinking beer, which would at least help to prop up a huge national industry. Beer, unlike water, is too big to fail.

Power guzzlers

But Maroo’s analysis can be taken much further. It’s not just that consumers consume too much water. They consume too much electricity, too, which is why Eskom is on its knees, and has had to cut our electricity supply.

Unfortunately, it now has to charge us more for what little electricity we have, so that it can pay its vast debts, run up in the billions as it increasingly failed to do its job and had to borrow more money to keep going – meaning we’re paying more than twice for the same service or non-service. Hence a paradox: we pay more because we use too much electricity, but we also pay more for the electricity we don’t use.

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We have too much power, then. But, the populace might moan, you gave it to us! That is, the developmental state rolled out electricity supply across the country, setting itself the ambitious goal of electrifying all those townships and villages hitherto denied access to the pylons by the apartheid regime. So the state spread all that electricity around, and now we’re blamed for using too much!

Typical citizens, the state might reply. Give them an inch and they’ll take a yard. That’s the problem with citizens. The state just gives, gives, gives, and the citizens just take, take, take – and then they think their citizenly duty is fulfilled by going once every few years to vote! That seems wrong. The ruling party (and what a marvellous party it was) hands out T-shirts, hands out free chicken meals, and talks itself blue in the face about what a glorious future we will have – and all it gets from the citizenry is a miserable vote.

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In fact, it seems clear that there are too many citizens. There are certainly too many consumers, consuming too much, and surely in this age of neoliberalism we can assume that the citizen and the consumer are one. Usually consuming too much is a boon to neoliberal regimes, but of course South Africa is the embodiment of neoliberalism of a special type.

So we must cut down the citizenry. If it can’t learn to get by on three litres of water a person a day, it must be reduced. The state has a responsibility to cut down consumption of precious resources such as water, and if the only way to do that is to cut down the citizenry, then that is how it must be.

And one has every confidence that the state will live up to that responsibility, by whatever means necessary.

Go on, form a committee! DM168

This satirical column first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    There are simply too many people in South Africa. Curb population growth now and we might have chance to address this problem. See above, “DM 2022-10-24 The greedy unwashed caused the power crisisand must be shed” see also other articles in DM

    • William Stucke says:

      Somehow, Gordon, it always seems that those who say that we need to curb population growth are always talking about “them” and never about “us”.
      In reality, the simple solution to population growth is an increase in living standards and education. Strangely, where those have improved, population growth has dropped worldwide. So much so that most “developed” countries are now experiencing negative population growth and would fail as societies if young immigrants didn’t shoulder the burden of doing all the jobs that the retirees can’t.

  • Peter Holmes says:

    Shaun, a compliment: you are the DM’s answer to Times Live’s Tom Eaton (which publication, with the exception of Tom Eaton and Jonathan Jansen is, in my opinion, now a bit of a rag).

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The ignorance…nay stupidity of the ruling party is sometimes just too much!

  • Gregory Scott says:

    Spot on, satirically speaking.
    Me thinks we have too many pretend chiefs

  • virginia crawford says:

    People-shed the useless politicians!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Cutting down the citizenry is already happening through a massive exodus taking place right now.

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