A lack­adaisi­cal re­sponse across gov­ern­ment

The Times (South Africa) - - Opinion&letters -

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.

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