Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 25 January 2018

Hashtags and new websites are not going to stave off #DayZero

The answer to confronting the water crisis, climate change and the failure of the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape Government and the Department of Water and Sanitation will not be resolved by hashtags or town hall meetings.

The events unfolding in Cape Town and the Western Cape are not simply puzzling but also highlight what appears to be systemic failure by government to anticipate a crisis as well as the failure and inability of that government and its leaders to confront issues around Cape Town’s worst drought in 100 years. Sadly, the crisis facing the Democratic Alliance with the Cape Town City Council caucus and Patricia de Lille has highlighted the inability of the elected government to prevent the crisis that will unfold as Day Zero approaches for the four million Cape Town residents.

The solutions to dealing with Day Zero do not sit solely with Nomvula Mokonyane or the Department of Water and Sanitation. The answer to this crisis is that Cape Town and the Western Cape must become resilient in the face of climate change and this is not going to simply be made possible by building more dams and water storage facilities. The answer to confronting the water crisis, climate change and the failure of the City of Cape Town, Western Cape Government and the Department of Water and Sanitation will also not be resolved by hashtags or town hall meetings in Athlone where the Democratic Alliance has decided to blur the lines between party and state and has deployed infographics and polished messaging to convince South Africans that it is fit for purpose.

It is important to remember that the messaging that Cape Town is a world-class city, which messaging has always been flawed, has also been revealed as a farce in one of the most unequal cities in South Africa. A city with one of the better administrations, together with the Western Cape, has been unable to confront the water crisis sufficiently. This is also not the time for the blame game. South Africans, and residents of Cape Town, did not need Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, to hold a town hall meeting in the same vein of a political rally focused more on protecting a brand than dealing with the crisis that confronts four million people.

It is not enough to say that more dams should have been built by national government. The messaging from this hashtag rally in Athlone on Wednesday has failed to introduce any new information or solutions but instead has repurposed messaging that has been issued by Patricia de Lille and the City of Cape Town over the past couple of months. This is a prime example of the ineptitude and incompetence that has been navigating the water crisis these past couple of months. Surely the solution to avoiding Day Zero cannot be reduced simply to a new hashtag and a website? It would be interesting to know whether the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape Government or the Democratic Alliance paid for the creation of those “solutions”.

The answers put forward by the governing party in Cape Town and the Western Cape were simply to tell residents of Cape Town to save more water while the same augmentation plans are on the table. The lacklustre thinking is troubling as these solutions have not avoided the inevitability that appears to be looming on 12 April.

The “water drops” or champions put forward by the Democratic Alliance on Wednesday to prevent Day Zero are Mmusi Maimane, Ian Neilson, Xanthea Limberg, Anton Bredell, Bonginkosi Madikizela and Helen Zille, with the obvious exclusion of De Lille, the Executive Mayor of Cape Town.

De Lille, and her administration, have been speaking to and proposing solutions to the water crisis in Cape Town for months; however, there has now been a shift to move the messaging from government to the political party instead. The Democratic Alliance has made the choice to exclude the elected leader responsible for leading the administration of the City of Cape Town. The decision speaks volumes when the very messaging it relies on in this hashtag-infused nonsense is the exact thinking and wording of De Lille, and which has already proven not to have resulted in a shift in water use across Cape Town.

The answer put forward to residents in Cape Town was presented by the political party that must be held accountable at the ballot box in 2019. There is no political answer to this crisis but that is what we were offered on Wednesday. The issues swirling around De Lille may be important to the Democratic Alliance, but they have highlighted the fractures and failures of its government as the problems and allegations around De Lille cannot simply be isolated to her persona. There have been governance failures and those failures cannot simply be reallocated to De Lille or to Nomvula Mokonyane.

Another step in the plan put forward by the Democratic Alliance was that legal advice currently being taken by the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government to hold national government accountable would provide some relief. However, that too will not provide any immediate solutions to the inevitable crisis that this region will need to wrestle with over the next 30 years.

Climate change, the changing rainfall patterns and the scarcity of water must be accepted as fact and if there is any doubt then perhaps those politicians pushing this new hashtag should use some of the free wi-fi spots throughout Cape Town to look into the impact of climate change on this region and apprise themselves of the fact that to rely on rainfall in Cape Town is not the answer. Cape Town has not been provided with any answers or real solutions to the changing reality that we will all encounter in the immediate term and over the next 30 years. No reassurance was provided that Cape Town is ready to deal with the reality of Day Zero and that is deeply troubling as the inevitability becomes more and more real.

South Africans and residents of Cape Town will need to accept the fact that simply saving water will also not be the answer; looking to assign blame will not and neither will the optimism of waiting for the winter rainfalls. Day Zero in itself is simply a stop-gap measure, which simply entails reduced water supply at various collection points, a logistical and operational nightmare that has been designed to wait for the winter rainfalls and the hopeful supply from the various augmentation plans across Cape Town such as the desalination plans and tapping into the aquifers.

We can no longer simply look at measures to manage our already dwindling supply, wait around and pray for winter rainfall to arrive. There has to be a fundamental shift in behaviour for millions of residents in Cape Town that has not yet been demonstrated by the vast majority of users that continue to waste the dwindling supply of water in our dams. However, the City of Cape Town administration, and the governing party in this region, has to accept and prepare for the inevitability of a more arid Western Cape and not simply rely on new hashtags. DM

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