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Cape Town’s Water Crisis: Is this the deadliest failure of the DA government?

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

When the City of Cape Town was asked by an environmental writer in July 2009, “How long will Cape Town’s water supplies last?”, the city responded that the the Berg River Dam will provide enough water until 2020. Posed with the same question, the national Department of Water and Environment Affairs said the city will run into shortages by 2012. What might the City have done had they listened?

Clive Justus, then Cape Town mayoral committee member for utility services, took issue with the comments by the National Department of Water Affairs, published in the Cape Times in July 2009, that the Berg River Dam’s supplies would last until 2012, by which time water demand would meet supplies. “It should be noted that the recently constructed Berg River Dam will extend the need for implementation of further new water projects to about 2020 and not 2012, as stated in the article,” Justus said.

However, Water and Environment Affairs stuck to its story that if Cape Town did not start using less water than it does now, it would run into shortages by 2012. Then deputy director general Helgard Muller said the latest information from the department’s water resources planning section was that “if significant scaling down of the demand does not happen, Cape Town may run into shortages, that is, restrictions by 2012”.

Mike Muller, a member of the National Planning Commission, and other experts outside the DA inner circle of self-indulgent expertise continued to say Cape Town would need another water augmentation project by 2016 – even with “effective water demand management practices” such as water conservation. “Even if all dams are full, and we managed to stretch supplies beyond 2012 or 2016 without restrictions, this will only obscure water shortages and result in the inhabitants of Cape Town getting the false impression that all is fine until the next drought strikes,” Muller told us back in 2012.

Surprisingly, some writers and experts, like Mandy de Waal, oppined in 2012 that Cape Town was predicted to start having demand of water not being matched by supply, that they were busy focusing on Limpopo, where they were saying provincial largesse, that ANC patronage and cadre deployment had bankrupted the region, with communities facing a terrible drought. They were lamenting that water shortages were carrying on for days, weeks and even years. The DA and its white independent experts forgot to ring the alarm in Cape Town until it was too late and today we are faced with a grave possibility of great loss of life and the destruction of the country’s ecosystem.

What might the City have done had they listened? With many of the water catchment areas ruined, the City would have started recycling all of its water if it was to survive. Local municipalities are losing anywhere near half of their water in leakage. In 2013 the WRC released a report on a study, conducted on 132 municipalities, which said that about 36.8% of water use brought in no revenue. Of this, 25.4% was lost to leaks. This was similar to the estimated world average of 36.6% but was high in comparison to other developing countries. Water losses from ageing networks could be as high as 30%-60%. Just focusing on fixing existing pipelines would make it less urgent to build new dams.

Even more troublesome is the question of the economy that is built on externalising all the costs of industry. But now these costs – environmental, social and water damage – are coming home and future industry and taxpayers are going to have to include these costs in everything they do. With many of the water catchment areas ruined, the whole country would have to start recycling all of its water if it was to survive.

If the City of Cape Town had been hands-on, water would have been a key economic business risk discussed in boardrooms, rather than the “green issue” it had been categorised as previously.

South Africa receives 48-billion cubic metres of total rainfall every year, the total amount of water available in our dams has hoovered around 38-billion cubic metres, and the demand for water will be 63-billion cubic metres by 2035. To solve this the country would have to recycle all its water 1.6 times. “Our dams also need to be desludged to maximise capacity… For example Hazelmere Dam is said to be 30% full, but that’s not true because about 15% is sludge,” said environmentalist Di Jones.

Benjamin Franklin once said: “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” It’s 2017, and Cape Town’s dams are sitting at 11%. Experts have always told us that the bottom 10% of water should ideally not be taken out both for ecological reasons and because it needs extra purification. This effectively means the well in Cape Town has run dry and the worth of water has shot up to the top of every Capetonian’s serious concerns. How did we not see this coming?

Mike Muller pointed out that the length of time the city’s water supplies would last depended also on whether it experienced more wet or dry cycles. The City of Cape Town, against all rationality and prudence, decided to depend solely on the very wet season to answer its water challenge that Muller had highlighted as uncertain. Today we are holding our breath, waiting for the rain, like fools who thought nature was in our control. Climate change scientists at UCT told us even then that their modelling showed that the western part of the province will become hotter and drier as the effects of climate change intensify.

DA-leaning experts are still relentless in misguiding the DA on the water question. Kevin Winter, a lecturer in Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Cape Town, blames the water shortage on population growth of 55% since 1995, from about 2.4-million to an expected 4.3-million in 2018, while dam storage has increased by only 15%. Winter then commends the DA by saying: “Had it not been for good water consumption management by the City, the current crisis could have hit much earlier.” Reading Winter’s opinion has reminded me of the philosopher John Dewey when he expressed irritation over the unquestioned expert knowledge a long time ago, chiding that experts were but “a class” with “private interests and private knowledge”.

First, the biggest consumers of water is industry, then agriculture and then households. Any analysis that does not look at the growth of industry and agriculture but on households seeks to mischievously perpetuate this racist and separatist view of the DA that has always sought to blame South Africans’ movement to wherever they so wish to live as somehow something responsible for everything wrong under the Cape sun, instead of what it is, a threat to white privilege and livelihoods in their exclusive Cape enclaves.

The one characteristic of the DA is that they have never wanted to govern any place that needs to be built from the ground up, they have always targeted the already established places where citizens are independent and do not really need much from government so that they can use that to sell a false image of a government that is delivering. For example, in 1994, 85% of the Western Cape population had access to electricity for lighting, compared to 93% in 2011. Seventeen years and only an 8% increase in electrification. But if you look at Limpopo, where they started with a base of 39.2% in 1994, and increased to 87.3% in the same period. Who has changed the lives of the people for the better for the last 20 years? In 1996, 89.4% of the Western Cape had access to piped water, while only 70.4% had the same access in the Free State. In 2011, only 88.4% in the Western Cape had access to piped water while the Free State made a huge leap to 89.1%. Who has changed the lives of the people for the better for the last 20 years?

The DA does not know how to govern where the Human Development Index is too low. They have been pretending to be good managers, with the ultimate prize as clean audits. We have the clean audits, we don’t have water.

We are undone. DM


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