Cape Town Water Crisis: DA Will Be Judged Harshly Say Analysts

"There are different factors [that] play a role in this crisis, but from my experience, the DA are not carrying the blame for this."
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille talks to media at a a borehole the city was drilling in Mitchells Plain earlier this month.
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille talks to media at a a borehole the city was drilling in Mitchells Plain earlier this month.
AFP/Getty Images

With stricter water restrictions now imposed on Cape Town residents and Day Zero looming, the management of the water crisis in Western Cape is under the spotlight now more than ever.

The city's municipality issued a stern warning on Thursday, saying that the situation has reached a "point of no return". It is scrambling to put measures in place to provide water to its residents when the reserves run dry – predicted by April 21.

Analysts say the Democratic Alliance (DA), in charge of Western Cape and Cape Town, will be judged harshly on how they manage the water situation.

Depending on whom you ask, they will say either the national government, the local municipality or climate change is to blame for the city's taps running dry. Focus has now shifted to effectively managing the situation after Day Zero, and preventing its occurrence in the future.

According to the Water Act of 1998, national government is the trustee of the country's water resources and has the power to regulate the flow and use of all water in the country. But the daily management of a city's water is the responsibility of the municipality.

Last year, News24 quoted DA MPL Beverley Schäfer saying the Western Cape government only received 2.5 percent of the national department's R16-billion budget, which was a "slap in the face" to six-million people. Meanwhile, internal squabbles in the party are exacerbating the issue.

Last week, News24 reported that the DA Cape metro executive said the party's councillors should vote against the city's proposed drought levy, which was proposed by the DA-run administration at a council meeting in December.

Politics expert Daniel Silke said the DA is fortunate that its only major opposition in Cape Town is the ANC, who are in "constant disarray in the province".

"It is unlikely that disgruntled DA voters will cross the floor to the ANC, and this provides the DA with a sort of political cushion," Silke said.

"There are irregularities in governance in Western Cape [that] voters don't pay much attention to now, but as we move towards Day Zero and the real fear of empty taps becomes more tangible, then the emotional connection can become a political risk for the party. This can lead to social destabilisation and can also be used for political ends by other parties."

Silke said there is potential for deep frustration and alienation of voters from the DA.

"But while people are looking for someone to blame – which will be the incumbent – there is nobody else to vote for in Cape Town... [Depending on] how the party manages the situation, their leadership will be brought into question now more than ever before. This will severely test the DA," he said.

Political analyst Professor Dirk Kotze said that by his reckoning, most Cape Town residents are not linking the water crisis to mismanagement by the DA – but the party will be judged by how they handle the situation.

"There have been reports to the mayoral committee which predicted this situated. One the other hand, many are saying this is an act of nature. There are different factors [that] play a role in this crisis, but from my experience the DA are not carrying the blame for this," he said.

"They will be judged in the end by their supporters [on] how they handle it. I expected a much more direct accusation against the party, but it doesn't appear so at this stage. But when it reaches a critical point, that may change."

Water expert Kevin Winter said the blame "is lost in the dust".

"It is now about tracking the management of the issue. The focus should immediately be on strategy. The immediate strategy should be to control the amount of water being used in the city," he said.


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