Guest Column

DA's political currency destroyed by water crisis

2018-01-30 09:29
Water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane addresses the Cape Town Press Club on #DayZero. (Paul Herman, News24)

Water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane addresses the Cape Town Press Club on #DayZero. (Paul Herman, News24)

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Simon Grindrod

Something primitive and instinctive has triggered inside us as a response to the impending water disaster. Our safety and lives now feel threatened. Water is life. We die without it. Human nature is kicking in with very powerful signals.

When faced with the prospect of having no water, our most powerful instinct is to survive – whatever it takes. It screams at us to fight or escape. Heart beats faster, brain in overdrive, senses sharpened.

It is happening now, in different degrees, to every citizen facing the incomprehensible truth that the society we have foolishly taken for granted, and our place in it, are facing catastrophe.

South Africans have long since become used to mediocrity in government. Obstructive and confrontational two-party politics has been the normal discourse since the opposition won the Cape Town metro in 2006 and the Western Cape in 2009. Inter-governmental relations have worsened every year since.

But this time is very different. This time the clash of egos and power-plays are threatening the welfare our children, our vulnerable, the economy and our entire society. This time, they have all gone too far.

I deeply resent that we even have to seriously contemplate the fear and uncertainty of what a Day Zero practically means. The consequences have still not yet been fully articulated. I resent that children now have to be afraid of not having water. Our little 'water warriors' are far more aware of saving water, they do not deserve this.

Our Constitution guarantees the human right of every citizen to drinking water. Even in a war torn city like Damascus, Syria, the citizens have water. How this Cape Town crisis happened is now secondary to what the hard consequences are for every single citizen having to pay the price of this negligence.

We tell ourselves the worst case is impossible. We reassure ourselves that our government has a plan. We lie to ourselves that it will last only a few days. Denial is a temporary comfort. How can it be avoided if it doesn't rain enough in the next few weeks to significantly lift the dams? An empty dam is an empty dam.

The human mind is an incredible organ, messages we were not conditioned to process suddenly become very relevant, urgent and overwhelming.

Visions of army on the streets. Riots, burning government buildings, United Nations tents, helicopters overhead, screaming, looting, blackouts. State of Emergency. Foreign warships evacuating citizens. Automatic gunfire. Disease, cholera, typhoid. Terrified families, mobs ransacking houses searching for bottles of water. Mass evacuations.

Will you fight to defend your small stock of drinking water? Will you fight to steal precious drinking water for your children to survive? The thin veneer of civilisation crumbles when matters of life or death face us.

At first we dismiss such thoughts as being silly or inspired by watching too many disaster movies. It's madness, calm down. We're being over dramatic.

It is called panic. At first it manifests as mere irritation as we discover bottled water is running short at the supermarkets. It heightens to doubt over whether we have done enough. We fear that others are better prepared. What else can we do to protect ourselves?

At first I was intrigued by the spectacle of the ping-pong of political blame. Now I just don't give a damn. An entire 3-tier multi-trillion rand system of government has failed in a truly devastating and historic way. A bumbling, incoherent, uncoordinated mess of excuses and hindsight. If they cannot keep water in the taps they have lost any credibility to even govern.

Let us never again be insulted by slogans like "Better Life for All" or "Best Run City" or "Best Run Province". Who the hell were they kidding? We have been cheated and have every right to feel badly betrayed.

The DA based an entire strategy on convincing us how utterly useless the ANC government is. The ANC has proven it time and time again. Thus, by definition, there was never much hope of salvation from national government. If the Western Cape knew this, why didn't they take action themselves years ago?

Why wait, like a startled rabbit in the car headlights, to get flattened? It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The currency of the DA was the promise that they were more efficient. They were not.

It is true that millions of our compatriots live on 25 litres a day or much less, and have been doing so for all their lives. But it doesn't soften the blow, nor lessen the anxiety, for those who have been fortunate enough never to have experienced it. 

And yet, in the final minutes before we fall into the abyss of the unknown, we see frantic efforts by the architects of this catastrophe to extricate their sorry careers from the mess they have created.

Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane cheerfully pops down to Cape Town to inspect the efforts of Capetonians to save water. Why does it take a media briefing for a premier and a minister to exchange views on a crisis? Do they not have mobile phones? Whatsapp each other if you can't be adult enough to meet up. 

The executive mayor, who has been spearheading efforts for the last two years, is stripped of her powers by a deputy mayor who cannot answer a single question on Day Zero. A political party leader jumps in to take charge, eclipsing his premier only three days after she took charge.

We see the bow-tie wearing director general of water affairs, like some kind of 'Chemical Ali' during the Iraq invasion, explaining that the battle is being won even as bombs explode all around him. 

South Africans are tolerant. Cape Town and its people are warm and caring people with a sense of humour to match, but we are now in real danger of experiencing a disaster which will damage the City, and its people, for many years to come. 

When this is all over, citizens must take action together to seek redress, compensation and even court action to bring those responsible to book.

It is time all our leaders are held personally accountable for the terrible price, human and otherwise, of their failures.

- Grindrod is the former deputy leader of the Independent Democrats. He writes in his personal capacity.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    patricia de lille  |  nomvula mokonyane  |  cape town  |  day zero  |  drought  |  water crisis  |  da
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