Blamestorm erupts over parched Cape Town

But all the hot air does not bring the much-needed rain as Day Zero approaches

28 January 2018 - 00:02 By BOBBY JORDAN

If only political storms brought rain, Cape Town would be saved.
Sadly, the hot air and bluster billowing above the city is man-made - a new war of words over who is ultimately responsible for the rapidly unfolding water crisis.
The escalating blame game this week spilt into social media after Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane took to Facebook to pin the blame on the DA-led City of Cape Town administration.Social media was also abuzz after a Facebook exchange between Mokonyane and journalist Charlene Smith. Mokonyane claimed the DA had squandered government money earmarked for a desalination project. She claimed the money had been used instead to fund a water-awareness campaign led by a company chaired by former DA leader Tony Leon.
"We were ready to desalinate but it got stopped this past Friday," Mokonyane said. "We, through National Treasury as part of disaster management, appropriated funds to the city and they opted to fund Tony Leon's project on awareness raising."
Mokonyane's spokesman, Mlimandlela Ndamase, confirmed he was aware of the post but did not comment further.
Smith, who once wrote an authorised biography of Nelson Mandela and now lives in the US, posted that affected residents needed to see past political squabbling.
"The blame game allows divide and rule. Please stop it. There are already great forums about water, and you can identify important voices on this thread that haven't descended to name-calling, blaming or hysteria - those are your people. Start ... The time is NOW."
Mokonyane's comments follow Zille and Maimane's intervention in the drought crisis, previously handled mainly by Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille - now sidelined.
On Monday, Zille called on President Jacob Zuma to declare the drought a national disaster in order to obtain state resources to help avert Day Zero - the April 12 cut-off point when the city plans to turn off household supply.
In a letter to Zuma, Zille said the drought, now affecting the Northern Cape, Western Cape and Eastern Cape, had escalated "from a threat to an imminent crisis".Officials from across the government spectrum are scrambling to explain why a city the size of Cape Town is on the brink of running out of water despite detailed, long-term planning after a similar crisis in 2005. It appears the infrastructure programme approved at that time underestimated future domestic demand.
The city council did not respond to queries about Mokonyane's Facebook post. However, deputy mayor Ian Neilson insisted city officials had been trying to drive down water consumption for years.
"The city and surrounding municipalities voluntarily imposed water restrictions by January 2016, before being officially required to do so out of concern due to the very low 2015 winter rainfall. Prior to the onset of the drought, the city was using water well under its registered allocation from the bulk water schemes," Neilson said.
The Department of Water and Sanitation did not respond to queries.
Leon denied any involvement in the water controversy via a company contracted to work with the city on water awareness. "It is complete rubbish. Dragging my name into it might sex up the minister's headline but it really has nothing to do with it," he said.
“The premier ... is not a meteorologist or a scientist‚ therefore we would be interested to know who her sources on climate change and the role of weather services are.”—The SA Weather Service in response to Helen Zille’s comments about weather predictions —which Zille said had been misreported

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.