News / Opinion / Columns

William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
3 Feb 2018
8:50 am

Day Zero is just for starters

William Saunderson-Meyer

For much of SA, disaster will strike in hundreds of dorps, towns and cities, without the fanfare that has accompanied Cape Town’s high-profile pain.

Picture: Thinkstock

It is a refrain throughout our history.

This is the jewel in the crown: Cape Town, the Mother City. Its beauty and bounty have for centuries lured visitor, settler and investor.

And, if its often smug inhabitants are to be believed, the city is also the natural repository of most of this nation’s culture, charm, wit and intelligence.

You might earn your fortune sweating in Gauteng’s money mills, but Cape Town is where you spend it.

Certainly not in infra dig KwaZulu-Natal! Capetonians know that in our hearts we’d all really much rather be there. Much like Premier Helen Zille’s “educational refugees” swamping Western Cape schools, we’re all secretly looking for asylum in the well-run, corruption-free Cape of Good Hope.

Capetonians should understand that the drip-torture of their sense of superiority has left their fellow citizens with inferiority complexes and a deep-seated envy.

So, it is with mixed feelings that we have watched them muddle towards Day Zero.

Sure, upcountry leaders and talking heads mouth platitudes about this being not a local but a national disaster, but behind the comforting words runs a wide streak of schadenfreude.

But for once the talking heads are right.

This is a national disaster. And like every national disaster, while misjudgments and blunders at various levels have contributed, ultimate responsibility lies at the top.

It lies with the inept, corrupt and paralysed government of President Jacob Zuma and, specifically, with the dysfunctional Water and Sanitation ministry.

The ANC, steeped in anti-democratic Marxist-Leninist notions of being the sole authentic voice of the people, has found the DA’s success in the Cape difficult to accept.

It is happy to see the DA failing and won’t throw available national resource at the crisis.

It is only now, with the intervention of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, that things are belatedly changing. Water and Sanitation’s failure to act timeously is no surprise.

Kadar Asmal in 1994 took a department with high levels of expertise and shaped it into one that worked to deliver clean water to the masses.

It has been downhill since. It is now a textbook example of institutional paralysis.

This week, Water and Sanitation tabled SA’s water management master plan through to 2030.

Laughably titled Ready for the Future and Ahead of the Curve, it paints an apocalyptic picture of virtually irretrievable structural collapse and water contamination.

More than a third of households don’t have access to safe water; supply reliability is worse than in the apartheid era; 41% of municipal water earns no revenue; 56% of waste water treatment works and 44% of water treatment works are in a poor or critical condition. It is also an ecological disaster.

Half of SA’s wetlands have been lost. Of those remaining, 48% are in a critical shape. Cape Town’s Day Zero is just an opening act.

For much of SA, disaster is imminent and will strike in hundreds of dorps, towns and cities, without the fanfare that has accompanied Cape Town’s high-profile pain.

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer