Cape Town’s blame game

No finger pointing allowed, except at those responsible, writes Andrew Donaldson


SOME years ago, my partner and I were walking the dog along the Liesbeek and were greatly surprised to come across a person of reduced circumstances defecating under a tree.

He did not seem at all concerned that we should find him thus compromised and he smiled at us rather cheerfully. His apparent good nature filled me with unease. Dear God, I thought, he probably wants to have a chat as well; maybe tell us about the strange noises he sometimes hears…

You should understand that there’s a psychiatric hospital nearby. Outpatients roam the neighbourhood like extras in a zombie movie. Many do not take their medication. Over time we have learnt it is best to avoid eye contact and under no circumstances engage them in conversation.

Now, if there’s anything in what we’ve been hearing at the Mahogany Ridge these last few days, it is likely that come mid-April we shall all be doing our business down at the river.

The chatter here has been especially dire. The staff delight in reminding us the drought will be a great leveller; that we are to shortly experience life as it is in the informal settlements.

It will be truly awful. Those, if I may put it this way, of a more plumberly bent have been gleefully explaining what will happen to the city’s sewage systems when the water runs out. They do so at every opportunity and without hesitation or invitation.

What should be fluid one-way traffic, they say, will be stopped in its tracks, the now dry pipes will heat up and become home to all sorts of bacterial mutationsand we risk personal invasion by nasty goggas and entities so unspeakable that only biology professors will look at them. 

There could even be powerful explosions in our bathrooms as a result of the methane build-up. One spark could set off a violent chain reaction reducing every bog in the street to rubble. Fortunately — at least for the privileged who live close by — there will always be the Liesbeek.

More noisome, however, is the persistent need by the great unwashed to find a scapegoat for the crisis. Right now, the Democratic Alliance is getting it fat in the neck; smelly folk are already warning that, come the elections next year, the ANC shall retake the city after a campaign largely based on the failure to plan for the drought.

It may be opportunistic, but it does appear to be a winning strategy, doesn’t it? It was, after all, mayor Patricia de Lille who last year dismissed concerns about falling dam levels with blithe guff about well-run cities not running out of water. 

This, mind you, after leading an interfaith service on Table Mountain to pray for rain. Such unseemly hokum is never good; the pantheons invariably don’t listen and the jeering afterwards is especially cruel.

But now that supplication has failed, Patsy is blaming the citizenry. This week she told a news conference, “Despite our urging for months‚ 60% of Capetonians are callously using more than the 87 litres per day. It is quite unbelievable that a majority of people do not seem to care and are sending all of us headlong towards Day Zero.”

This, in turn, was followed by a meeting in Athlone in which both DA leader Mmusi Maimane and Premier Helen Zille laid the blame on Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane.

As Maimane put it, “I want to make something very clear on the bulk supply of water. There is a misconception that this is the role of a city and it is a local government responsibility. 

“Let me be very clear. It is not. It is the constitutional mandate of national government to deliver water to all municipalities.”

Not that anyone was resorting to cheap politicking here. As Zille helpfully explained, “There is a difference between finger pointing and pointing out who is responsible in these situations.”

As far as you and I are concerned, that difference may be wafer-thin. But it was good of the Premier to remind her audience that it is bad mannered to point at others, even if they’re wrong.

It is a little premature to suggest the drought will cost the DA the city. 

How dry does it have to be for us to forget that the ANC is the party that gave us Jacob Zuma and then pigheadedly insisted on keeping him in the top job despite such rolling catastrophes as the Guptas and state capture, the Marikana and Life Esidemeni tragedies, the meltdown of the parastatals and the universities — and, of course, mishandling the national water crisis?

A version of this article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.