It’s not really about water

2014-01-19 10:00

Three more able-bodied South Africans – concerned and active citizens – were buried this weekend. In a dust bowl called Mothutlung, Mike Tshele, Osia Rahube and Lerato Seema were laid to rest.

They died this week as water protests in the Madibeng municipality turned violent. Every day, somewhere in South Africa, residents rise in protest. As we report this week, it’s often about water.

But it’s not really about water if you look carefully. Take Mothutlung, the council area where the three hailed from. The taps ran dry not because there was no water, but because the pumps had allegedly been tampered with.

Residents believe local tenderpreneurs with contracts to run mobile tankers bugger up the taps so they get work. An investigation is yet to be conducted, so cast no aspersions, but Mothutlung’s not burying its sons because of water scarcity.

It is burying them because the council cannot do its work.

As we’ve reported previously, Madibeng is a mess. It overspends hopelessly and underspends as badly on vital commodities like water provision.

The army moved in this week with water engineers, who had the taps running quickly and tankers in to return life’s liquid to a community that had enough of being drip-fed. So it could be done and this showed that it’s not really about water.

It is about inefficiency and corruption. Studies show that cronyism and corruption are directly responsible for poor service delivery, hence protests. And, increasingly, the conundrum for government will be this: people see that when they protest, things get done.

For a few years now, City Press has returned periodically to Meqheleng in Ficksburg, where Andries Tatane was killed, also in a “water” protest. After the attention of the nation, Meqheleng is a changed place. It has water. It has hope. It has leadership. Andries Tatane, thank God, did not die in vain.

But why does it have to be this way? Why must people revolt before they get decent services? Madibeng’s problems have come up in Auditor-General reports, among others.

They should have been picked up by the council, the provincial government and then by the red-alert system supposedly in place at the national government level.

If the system worked, protests would not be necessary and they would not become deadly. But it doesn’t, so they have become an all too common feature of life in South Africa. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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