Ominous warnings abound
We pay little attention as people suffer silently while the crisis grows
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. email@example.com