Fi­nally, we have a cri­sis on our hands that af­fects all

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

THE ques­tion that has been both­er­ing me for the past few weeks is: When is a cri­sis a cri­sis? Cer­tain is­sues have been be­dev­illing the City of Cape Town for many years, if not decades, but they have never been seen as a cri­sis. I can only think that some­thing is not a cri­sis if it only af­fects poor peo­ple, or mainly poor peo­ple. It be­comes a cri­sis when it starts af­fect­ing mid­dle-class or rich peo­ple di­rectly.

Many is­sues af­fect poor peo­ple daily, but not much is said about them be­cause they do not af­fect those who have ac­cess to greater re­sources. One ex­am­ple is the de­spi­ca­ble sit­u­a­tion with Metro­rail, where trains are al­ways de­layed, leav­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of work­ers stranded. This can be fixed with po­lit­i­cal will and better man­age­ment.

An­other ex­am­ple is the crime and gang­ster­ism on the Cape Flats – a prob­lem for as long as I can re­mem­ber. It was a prob­lem when I was grow­ing up and has only be­come worse. These two is­sues – and there are many oth­ers – seem to not af­fect rich peo­ple di­rectly, so are not de­scribed as a cri­sis in the same way as the drought.

How­ever, they do im­pact on ev­ery­one be­cause they have the po­ten­tial to de­rail the city’s economy in the same way as the wa­ter short­age.

For now, most at­ten­tion ap­pears to be fo­cused on wa­ter, or the lack thereof. This is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing be­cause it is an im­me­di­ate prob­lem that needs ur­gent ac­tion.

The fact that the Western Cape, and in par­tic­u­lar Cape Town, could soon be with­out wa­ter, is a ma­jor cri­sis. Some peo­ple are say­ing ours will be the first city in the world where this hap­pens.

This is un­ac­cept­able in the city that claims to be the best run in South Africa. It is pos­si­ble that our city’s lead­ers have be­lieved their own spin.

Ac­cess to wa­ter is a hu­man right and our city lead­ers should have years ago put in place con­tin­gency plans to ob­vi­ate the cri­sis that is hap­pen­ing now.

But it is not the time to point fingers be­cause, in some way, ev­ery­one is to blame. Most of us have had a waste­ful re­la­tion­ship with wa­ter. We as­sumed it would never run out and ig­nored those who warned us to be more pru­dent.

It is im­por­tant to get through the next few weeks and months be­fore there is any re­al­is­tic hope of rain, but even then, the win­ter rains might not be enough to change the sit­u­a­tion dra­mat­i­cally, at least not for the next few years.

It is likely that by April most of Cape Town’s es­ti­mated 4 mil­lion peo­ple will have to queue at the 200 wa­ter points set up by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, where each of us will be en­ti­tled to re­ceive 25 litres of wa­ter a day.

This is not some­thing new for many peo­ple liv­ing in in­for­mal set­tle­ments. When I was a young boy, and we lived in an in­for­mal set­tle­ment, one of the du­ties as­signed to my sis­ter and me was to fetch wa­ter from a tap a few blocks away. We would carry the buck­ets of wa­ter us­ing a broom stick as lever­age. There are many peo­ple who still do this to­day.

As soon as we are able to get to some sort of nor­mal­ity, we need to se­ri­ously look at how this sit­u­a­tion hap­pened and what we need to do to avoid it in future.

One of the first lessons one learns in po­lit­i­cal strat­egy is that one should never waste a cri­sis.

The DA seems to have re­alised this (al­though be­lat­edly), the ANC is be­gin­ning to re­alise it (but might also be too late), and some civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions are look­ing at po­si­tion­ing them­selves to ben­e­fit from the wa­ter cri­sis. Some busi­ness peo­ple are also look­ing at ways they can make money from this un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion.

Call me a scep­tic but I strug­gle to trust politi­cians, ir­re­spec­tive of their po­lit­i­cal party.

Most politi­cians have one eye on the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions and are look­ing at ways in which they can ex­ploit the wa­ter cri­sis to win votes.

The best way to deal with the wa­ter short­age is to com­mit per­son­ally to use as lit­tle wa­ter as pos­si­ble, to en­cour­age oth­ers to do the same and to re­port those who abuse this valu­able re­source.

Let the politi­cians worry about politics. We have more se­ri­ous busi­ness to worry about. Like whether it is safe to not flush the toi­let and whether we can get by with only one shower a week.

Fisher is an in­de­pen­dent me­dia pro­fes­sional. Twit­ter: @ry­land­fisher

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