A lackadaisical response across government
Farmer Anton Smit raises his left arm into the air as he cradles his widebrimmed hat against his chest. Surrounded by residents of Beaufort West, he bows his head and prays to a higher power for rain. And, Lord knows, the Western Cape town needs all the help it can get as it approaches “day zero” when water officially runs out.
It’s easy to think prayer is the answer since the ongoing drought has largely been blamed for water shortages. But that doesn’t paint a complete picture. The fact of the matter is that government — locally, provincially and nationally — just has not reacted fast enough.
Water researcher Anthony Turton described the lack-of-rain argument as “purely spin”.
We’ve long known that we’re a water-scarce country
“I don’t like to get into the blame game … but there’s enough blame to go around,” he said.
Some of that blame should be shouldered by the ANC-led government, with bulk water provision a competency of national government. Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille complained that Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba was dragging his feet in signing off on permission for the city to alter the budget to allow them to fast-track alternative water sources.
But, said Turton, blame should be placed also on the DA in the Western Cape, which “had not really woken up and smelt the roses” until it was in near-crisis mode. While the severity of the drought could not have been directly planned for, attempts to find other water sources — something Turton said a commission he sat on 10 years ago identified — should have been pushed faster and sooner.
All of this points to a completely lackadaisical approach across government spheres, especially since we’ve long known that we’re a water-scarce country.
While the Western Cape might just escape the crisis, unless we change the mindset, fix the leaks, find new water sources and get the right people in charge, it is only a matter of time before we’re in this mess again.