Day Zero Plans had to happen years ago, Cape Times, 2nd Feb 2018
I refer to the above article published by your newspaper last Friday in which your correspondent Lisa Isaacs refers to a 1990 report by the apartheid-era Water Commission. It appears the report warned, as did a similar Commission again in 2012 that water supplies would ‘dry up in 17 years’.
The article goes on to mention the late Barry Streek and what appears to be the first record of the issue in your paper during the early 90s. Unfortunately, the writer appears to be uninformed and disingenuous in suggesting that Streek and thus the racialised Water Commission, were the first to write anything at all about the coming water crisis.
I therefore wish to assure your readers that the anti-apartheid movement took a keen interest in water rights, with Earthlife Africa, itself then a newly formed environmental justice organisation, issuing a similar warning. Earthlife Africa “called on the city council to implement a holistic, integrated water management plan for the South West Cape.” The article was published under my own byline in January 1991, during the dying days of apartheid and thus in the runup towards the very first National Conference on Environment and Development and subsequent democratic election, where our constituent assembly proceeded to include the right to sufficient water as a fundamental human right.
The crisis in which we find ourselves today has its root in successive failures by the government and City management to come to grips with climate change. The events which are now occurring were indeed, predicted to occur over the second decade of the new millennium, as was reported not simply by Streek, but also by myself writing in the struggle press and thus subsequent issues of South EcoAction.
Mitigation solutions placed on the table by environmentalists and activists back then, were inter alia, recycling water, desalination and towing icebergs. Instead of playing down such interventions, people should have listened and paid more attention to what the science and evidence provided by ecologists were saying.
Far from being a liberal affair, the history of water usage and the development of water rights in South Africa pre-dates both colonialism and the apartheid state. It it thus pure revisionism on Isaacs’ part to quote the apartheid Water Commission’s own. One should rather turn to DD Tewari of the School of Economics and Finance, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal who in his analysis of water rights thus states: “Prior to colonisation of South Africa, African customary law governed water rights in the pre-colonial society.” Water allocation here was based, not upon ideals of the sovereign individual, rather once contested, ‘it was for the community to decide upon the fair allocation of water.’
The arrival of the Dutch and thus Roman-Dutch law at the Cape in 1652, saw the application of Roman water law, “a primitive system … used to regulate the legal relationships within the farming community along the Tiber River in the Roman Empire about 2 000 years ago.” Roman law as any law student can tell you, recognises 3 classes of water rights: private, common, and public. Significantly the establishment of Dutch control of water resources in the Table Bay Valley came in two phases, Tewari says, first ‘the granting of entitlements from streams in which colonists took control of the streams’, and the next phase in which they declared absolute ownership or ‘eminent domain’ over the water and the land’, as their ‘expansion of sphere of influence’ broadened.
The British period saw the “engineering of change” in all areas including water rights regulation. Whereas during the earlier Dutch rule, water was a very scarce resource relative to land mass and hence Dutch colonists made laws to regulate water use in the interests of the Company. Tewari says “by the time the British came into power, land had become relatively scarcer than water as a result of increasing immigration from Europe and the increasing populations of Trek-Boers and native Africans. All developments in water rights during the British regime thus reflected the predominance of land or agriculture (land-intensive industry) in the economy. Consequently, irrigation development played a major role in the moulding of early water policy, infrastructure, economic and social development in South Africa.”
The tragic situation in which ‘institutions created by the then governments intervened in the development of water resources in favour of the White agricultural community’ played itself out, even through successive periods of drought. While Tewari sees the movement of what became known as ‘riparian rights’ away from the company and state control, towards individual white farmers who could sue those possessed of entitlements upstream, he noted the return to earlier state hegemony and control during the apartheid period.
In 1950, for instance the landmark Commission of Inquiry into Water Matters known as the Hall Commission, was formed to look into drought conditions affecting parts of the country and thus also the general lack of water amongst the population. As a result, the Water Act of 1956 replaced the Irrigation Act of 1912. In brief, the new Act moved away from the riparian rights principle, “which worked well as long as water was used primarily for agricultural purposes” and back again towards the earlier enunciation of eminent domain status ‘of the state through government control areas’. Tewari says: “The distinction between the public and private water from the previous Act was retained and refined further. The idea of public water and its classification into normal flow (which would be divided between the riparian owners) and surplus flow (where, in flood times, riparian owners could take as much surplus as they were able to use beneficially), which was introduced in 1912, was further improved.”
Your correspondent fails to make the point so elegantly put by Tewari: “The colonial water rights policy excluded the Africans who could not compete in the land markets freely and also did not have the resources to do so where such access was possible.” While it is unnecessary to repeat the swathe of legislation and many rules depriving black South Africans of water rights, one feels duty bound to add that it was the environmental justice and anti-apartheid movement and its allies, which sought to correct the imbalance of history. The result is article 24 which celebrates the rights of our Earth viz. vi. the needs of future generations, and article 27 which presents a challenge to both the City and the state in the right to sufficient water for every citizen.
That we are living in a period of water crisis today is due in part, to our nation’s forgetting its genesis in a rights-based culture. Only by remembering our collective history can we hope to survive and surmount the future challenges presented by climate change.
David Robert Lewis
[Letter unpublished due to the religious
nutjobs bigots & apartheid denialists at the Cape Times]
1990 Water Research Commission warns of a 2007 shortage, when all current water resources fully committed (article published by Barry Streek, Cape Times, April 1990)
1991 Earthlife Africa warns of new millennium water crisis, (article published by David Robert Lewis, South Press, January 1991)
1993 Terry Bell of Argus Group writes on impending water shortages.
1994 Post-Democracy Water Dept. under Kader Asmal adopts a comprehensive water conservation and demand strategy.2002 National Water Resource Commission predicts three crisis areas, including Berg and Vaal River, and water deficit of 508 million cubic metres per year in the Cape.
2012 Water Research Commission repeats its concerns in a report to Parliament. CSIR begins Water Sustainability Flagship.
2017 CSIR publishes report in March “Protecting South Africa’s Strategic Water Resources“, confirms potential for water crisis if climate change continues on its current trajectory. Earlier reports project “Environmental Refugees”.
City of Cape Town announces that it is facing a humanitarian crisis surrounding an ongoing drought and that Day Zero will occur in April of 2018
2018 Cape Town becomes poster-child for Climate Change and a cautionary tale told at Davos. Al Gore speaks out.
Water and Sanitation spokesperson denies there is a “Day Zero”, claims current water supply strategy is sufficient, “our planning is that we do not even have a Day Zero. Our planning is that we do not have a system failure.”
EARTHLIFE Africa warned Cape Town of a water crisis over the new millennium as far back as 1991. While writing on environmental issues for the anti-apartheid press, I was lucky enough to interview both ELA members and the Dept of Water Affairs. Plans mooted back then, included tapping the Atlantis and Cape Flats aquifer, desalination, and “towing icebergs”. South Africa has a base in Antarctica, could towing an iceberg to Cape Town be the solution?.
Here is the story under my own byline.
Cape Town’s Water Crisis
Southside Environment, South Press January 16 – 22 1991
by David Robert Lewis
Cape Town could run out of fresh water by the year 2000 if the city’s scarce water resources are not managed more efficiently, say environmentalists.
According to a document released by Earthlife Africa, water consumption in the Western Cape is about 245 000 megalitres a year. It is estimated this figure will double by the year 2020.
The quest for alternative sources of water is a pressing issue, says the group, yet a lot of fresh water is going down the drain and into the sea. There are plans to bring water from the Berg River to supplement Cape Town’s dwindling supplies.
There is also the contentious prospect of the Lower Palmiet River Scheme which envisages putting the unique fynbos and potential tourist area in the Kogelberg mountains under water.
The area is one of the last intact fynbos strongholds.
A report drawn up by the Cape Nature Conservation Department cites the Kogelberg as a potential World Heritage Biosphere Park.
The damming of the Palmiet would not only destroy the Kogelberg and open the are to invasion by alien species, but would also infringe on some of the most productive farming land in the Cape.
At a public meeting held by the Department of Water Affairs last year, Mr Kobus Esrasmus, the department’s deputy director, conceded the Kogelberg area and the Palmiet estuary could be damaged by the department’s proposal to dam the Palmiet River.
But he gave an assurance the plan would not be implemented without “exhaustive public debate on all alternatives”.
Other options are the introduction of water-saving devices, tapping groundwater sources such as the Cape Flats and Atlantis acquifiers, reusing treated effluent, desalination and towing icebergs.
The Palmiet scheme would be the most economically viable, according to Mr Hennie Smit, planning engineer for the Department of Water Affairs.
Earthlife Africa has called on the city council to implement a “holistic, integrated water management plan for the South West Cape” and believes “the Kogelberg State forest should not be sacrificed in such a plan”.
They also indicated that sea pollution caused by the disposal of effluent as well as run-off from stormwater drains could not be examined in isolation.
All waste water ending up in the sea must be regarded as “throwing away a potential useful resource”, the group said.
A successful pilot water reclamation project using “treated waste waters” had been completed in Cape Town in 1986.
Although the cost of reclaiming water was high, a project report indicated improved technology “would significantly reduce the production cost of a full scale plant.”
It was further contended that the cost of fresh and reclaimed water would be similar in future.
Tapping groundwater aquifers could yield an additional volume of water. Paradoxically, pollution associated with the lack of sanitation in the Cape Flats and the lax water control standards for industrial areas, present the biggest hurdles to such a proposal.
This disregard for the integrity of natural water reserves in the region made a comprehensive water quality plan even more urgent.
According to Erasmus, a series of “public participation exercises” was being arranged by the department culminating in a major workshop where recommendations could be made to the government on the issue of water supply.
Desalination of seawater could in theory provided unlimited quantities of fresh water. The high cost would put such a scheme out of bounds until a cheap supply of energy was found.
It has been calculated that desalination plant capable of supplying Cape Town’s water needs over the next 10 years would require the output of a power station the size of Koeberg 1.
Desalination could be a viable option if introduced on a smaller scale in conjunction with other projects.
Implementing water-saving legislation would ultimately be the easiest and most economic way to alleviate the problems caused by the increase in population in Cape Town.
Providing incentives to industry to reduce their water use while making water-saving devices more economical would reduce the overall consumption of water.
Simple changes in lifestyle for those used to cheap and readily available water could result in extraordinary savings.
In one example given, a family of four showering instead of bathing could save three to four hundred litres of water a day.
Unfortunately, recent decisions such as the one to construct a new marine outfall pipe at Green Point leave little hope that wisdom will outweigh economic shortsightedness in determining the outcome of Cape Town’s water situation in the future.
A YOUTUBE video posted by Adam Spires, substantiates claims that millions of gallons of drinking water are being allowed to escape, flowing downstream from a major dam, apparently to save farmers. Posted earlier this month, the video shows the sluice gates are open at a dam site outside of Cape Town, posing the question why is this happening? With Zero Day approaching, and the water crisis beginning to impact upon households, why are wealthy farmers in the country’s wine estates benefitting? Is this another case of the Stellenbosch Mafia coming first while ordinary citizens’ needs are sacrificed? Why are local media houses publishing incorrect information on water shortages?