Omi­nous warn­ings abound

We pay lit­tle at­ten­tion as peo­ple suf­fer silently while the cri­sis grows

Weekend Witness - - Opinion - BAR­BER­SHOP GIRL Ran­jeni Munusamy

THERE is an omi­nous­sound­ing ra­dio ad­ver­tise­ment that warns that the next world war will be fought over ac­cess to wa­ter be­cause of the scarcity of the re­source.

Few peo­ple pay at­ten­tion to it, be­cause, like so much else in our coun­try, we take warn­ing signs for granted un­til a cri­sis erupts.

This week, the deaths of three peo­ple at Mothut­lung in North West Prov­ince high­lighted the des­per­a­tion and in­hu­man­ity of liv­ing with­out wa­ter.

Peo­ple were un­able to wash or flush their toi­lets, and de­spite high poverty lev­els, had to buy drink­ing wa­ter.

The deaths oc­curred, how­ever, not be­cause of the scarcity of the re­source, but be­cause of the in­ef­fi­ciency of the Madibeng Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, which is sup­posed to ser­vice the Mothut­lung town­ship; van­dal­ism of the wa­ter pumps and the mur­der­ous ten­dency now preva­lent in the South African Po­lice Ser­vice.

It is a dan­ger­ous cock­tail of be­hav­iour of a range of peo­ple in­volved, who dis­re­spect each other and hu­man rights. Ac­cord­ing to the au­di­tor­gen­eral’s 2011­2012 re­port, the Madibeng Mu­nic­i­pal­ity un­der­spent its mu­nic­i­pal in­fra­struc­ture grant by more than R70 mil­lion.

“The mu­nic­i­pal­ity has not achieved its ob­jec­tives of pro­vid­ing ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices, max­imis­ing job cre­ation and skills de­vel­op­ment, up­lift­ing the life of com­mu­ni­ties and pro­vid­ing poverty al­le­vi­a­tion,” the re­port stated.

Me­dia re­ports this week also found that in 2013, the Madibeng Mu­nic­i­pal­ity was au­dited and about R1 bil­lion in as­sets were un­ac­counted for or miss­ing.

The town­ship, there­fore, looks like count­less oth­ers around the coun­try — ram­shackle, dirty, with bad roads —and frus­trated res­i­dents were forced to take to the streets to protest.

As has be­come cus­tom­ary, it is the po­lice rather than elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives who were de­ployed to deal with the protest ac­tion and they re­sponded with brute force. While the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the SAPS is to pro­tect the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion, it views it­self as en­forcer and de­fender of the state. Be­cause there have been no se­ri­ous con­se­quences for po­lice bru­tal­ity in other ar­eas around the coun­try, po­lice of­fi­cers ap­par­ently think it ac­cept­able to kill peo­ple in the course of their du­ties.

Two peo­ple, in­clud­ing a lo­cal pho­tog­ra­pher, were shot dead on Mon­day, and a fi­nal­year elec­tri­cal engineering stu­dent died af­ter al­legedly be­ing pushed out of a mov­ing Nyala.

As a re­sult of the pub­lic out­rage over the three deaths, na­tional min­is­ters ar­rived at Mothut­lung to in­ter­vene and calm ten­sions. The Po­lice min­is­ter, Nathi Mthethwa, flanked by the na­tional po­lice com­mis­sioner Riah Phiyega, con­veyed to them that the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice In­ves­tiga­tive Direc­torate would in­ves­ti­gate how the deaths oc­curred. But nei­ther of them could pro­vide any as­sur­ance that the po­lice would stop killing peo­ple dur­ing protests. Wa­ter and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Edna Molewa promised that the wa­ter sup­ply would be re­stored by yes­ter­day. The wa­ter sup­ply had been in­ter­mit­tent since Au­gust last year. Ac­cord­ing to the min­is­ter, the pumps were van­dalised, caus­ing the dis­rup­tions. The van­dals did not con­sider the con­se­quences of their ac­tions and the mu­nic­i­pal­ity could not be both­ered to re­pair the pumps. It took three peo­ple to lose their lives for of­fi­cials from the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, the pro­vin­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion and the na­tional depart­ment to act so that wa­ter could be­gin flow­ing to Mothut­lung house­holds again.

It has now emerged that sev­eral other ar­eas in North West Prov­ince are un­der­go­ing sim­i­lar wa­ter short­ages. Un­til this week’s deaths, th­ese peo­ple’s suf­fer­ing went un­no­ticed. Only now has the pre­mier, Thandi Modise, un­der­taken to act. There should be lessons learnt from the tragic events at Mothut­lung. Sadly there will not be. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties will con­tinue to op­er­ate in­ef­fi­ciently and pub­lic ser­vants will con­tinue to ne­glect their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Crim­i­nals will con­tinue to dis­re­spect pub­lic prop­erty. The po­lice will con­tinue to act with im­punity, with lit­tle re­gard for peo­ple’s rights. And politi­cians will con­tinue to evade ac­count­abil­ity. Per­haps most wor­ry­ing is that the rest of us will con­tinue to dis­re­gard the alarm bells ring­ing around us of a so­ci­ety in de­cline. • Ran­jeni Munusamy is a po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist and com­men­ta­tor for the Daily Mav­er­ick. ran­

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