OPINION | Spirit of ubuntu needed now more than ever
When the City of Cape Town warned of a “looming Day Zero”, South Africans from all over the country went into panic mode.
East Londoners were equally concerned about the possibility of Cape Town being without water and many lent a hand by collecting water for it to be delivered to the Mother City.
There were many campaigns, with citizens joining hands with the Western Cape government to avoid it completely being without water.
While the drought had hit Cape Town hard and water use had been high, the truth of the matter was that so-called “Day Zero” was a communications strategy to scare residents into using water sparingly. It proved to be a master stroke. The saying “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” became part of residents’ daily lives.
Cape Town is now one of the best water-saving cities in the world. Bravo for that as this scarce natural resource must not be wasted. Every single drop is important.
Around the time of the much-publicised Day Zero campaigning, Cape Town deputy mayor Ian Neilson denied that they had lied to residents as a way of scaring them into saving water.
“The city would never jeopardise this city and its residents, businesses and economy unnecessarily by faking a Day Zero projection just as a scare tactic,” he said. Obviously he would never admit to it.
While Day Zero never arrived in Cape Town, it did not mean the city did not have a water problem as it was badly affected by a drought that had persisted since 2015.
The danger was there – and Cape Town bosses were clever enough to devise a strategy to avert it. This was good leadership.
More than 1,000km away, hundreds of thousands of people are without water in the Eastern Cape.
There is no threat of dams running dry – they already dry in Centane, Willowvale, Dutywa, and Butterworth.
The six dams that are completely dry are: Qwaninga scheme, which supplies more than 26 villages;
Dwesa scheme, which supplies more than 15 villages;
Cwebe scheme, which supplies about eight villages;
Mendu scheme, which supplies about five villages;
Willowvale electric dam, which supplies water to town; and
The Xhora/Tshinira dam, which supplies more than 26 villages. Makhanda is also in the same boat as the university town’s water woes have been well documented.
This sad state of affairs was inevitable as the Eastern Cape has been hard hit by drought. Aging and poor infrastructure, which leads to frequent pipe bursts, has only exacerbated an already dire situation.
Broken pipes can take a long time to fix – in some instances up to a week, a month or more in some extreme cases. And while the wait for burst water pipes, hundreds of thousands of clean, drinkable water literally goes down the drain.
This is where the state needs to improve. Pumping millions of rands into drought relief programmes such as drilling boreholes is one solution, but everyone needs to play their part in saving water. We also desperately need rain – and a lot of it.
But the point I want to make is how society has hardly reacted to the more than 80 Eastern Cape villages completely without water.
It begs the questions: where are the “do-gooders” who campaigned for water to be delivered to Cape Town?
Is it a case of them being ignorant and not knowing that people from their birth province are without water?
Is it a case of those in the villages, of which the majority are poor, are not considered “important” enough to get the same support as those in Cape Town?
These are some of the pertinent questions that I feel must and should be answered.
While we ponder what we are doing to help those in need, we should hang our heads in shame because of how the 80 villages have been treated – like second and unwanted cousins.
As a people we need to do better for our fellow men.
It is at desperate times like these where the spirit of ubuntu should thrive.
We need to come together as South Africans – black and white; rich and poor – to help the villagers before lives are lost.
Since the drought started, we have been bombarded with stories of how the economy will take a knock if farmers are not supported by the state.
It is well and good to support farmers so that they will continue producing, but people who want water to drink and cook equally deserve to have access to clean, drinkable water.
While farmers can afford to drill boreholes, Madlamini who shares a rondavel with her five grandchildren in Mbhangcolo village in Willowvale, has few options when dams run dry.
She is forced to collect dirty water from stagnant water streams, which poses a health risk and exposes her and her family to many illnesses.
I am not saying farmers should not be supported, but it cannot all be about them. We also have subsistence farmers who have lost scores of livestock because of the drought that bedevilled the country.
But most importantly for me is how human lives are at risk as some will start falling ill should they go days without the important natural resource.
Let us not look at government and expect it to do everything.
The same spirit of ubuntu that we saw during the much-publicised Day Zero that was not to be in Cape Town, is also needed right now...