Let communities act on water crisis

Originally published by The Star on 09/11/15.

 

As announced by Minister Nomvula Mokonyane just over a week ago, South Africa is in a severe drought. This is particularly affecting KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State. However other areas are under considerable water stress. These include the Waterberg, North West as well as northern Limpopo and parts of Mpumalanga.

The Northern Cape is also vulnerable, while the Western and Eastern Cape have received rains.

The impact of the drought is causing stock losses for farmers and they cannot plant.

The sugar industry has experienced a crop failure with concomitant jobs losses. Entire rural villages have no access to water and rely on water tankers to provide them with water.

These are unreliable and often cannot provide for the population. Going to rivers and streams to collect water is dangerous for the women and girls delegated with this chore, as they are vulnerable to attacks by rapists.

Yet the Department of Mineral Resources has not thought to put the issuing of Mining and Mining Exploration rights to companies that are applying to mine and frack in all the above areas on hold. These companies’ rights, to exploit our mineral resources, are being given higher priority than the welfare of the affected communities. These communities’ constitutional rights of access to clean water are being denied.

Photo: Boxer Ngwenya

Photo: Boxer Ngwenya

Both mining and fracking use excessive amounts of water. Furthermore, the returning water is highly polluted and toxic. In many cases, because of inadequate enforcement of regulations, the polluted water finds its way into rivers, aquifers and, as happened at Carolina, the municipal water supply.

In Carolina, the communities had to take action through the courts before anything was done. Even then, action was slow to say the least.

It has to be accepted that South Africa’s climate is changing radically and that mining and fracking are not options. There is a growing need for the government to align with the constitution, NEMA, the Water Act and all other legislation.

So, what are the solutions?

For starters, we need to bring biodigester technology into not just the rural areas, but into urban areas and new larny developments. By asking developers in those spaces to initiate these solutions, we will immediately reduce the stress on our waste water infrastructure. The compost and methane gas produced from these solutions can enable food gardens and lighting. If production is high enough, it can be turned into electricity. However, gas-powered lighting and cooking is a valuable input.

Next, we have to fix our infrastructure and cut water losses both in the metros and the other municipalities. We have to start giving the rivers and streams back to the communities around them, so that they realise that they are vital to their lives and the lives of others. We have to work in true ubuntu. The invasive plantations have to be replaced with water-wise hemp. The other invasives have to be removed and replaced with the indigenous plants which nurture our land.

Most of all, we have to tackle mining waste everywhere with a passion. In the West Rand, we have a Chernobyl, where people live and suffer. How can we, under the new dispensation, tolerate the residue of gold mining without holding the mines to account? Without challenging the Chamber of Mines’ lack of willingness to even apply its mind to how solutions can be arrived at which do not tax people and which, instead, hold the mining companies accountable?

The scandals of Aurora, Marikana and Blyvooruitsig come to mind – people left destitute; the pattern repeated again and again with impunity, giving rise to questions about our government’s commitment to our constitutional rights.

What else can we do?

Bring other local sustainable technology to our communities. Come off the grid, suburb by suburb, community by community. Create local power houses, which the residents maintain and grow. This also offers jobs and skills creation. How about training young people in plumbing or other fields required within communities? Stop making it hard for the elderly to be supported – some points can be given for workers or trainees to offset their “fees” by helping them. They will be giving back and giving real honour to their elders.

We require more food gardens, more community input. No, communities have to be heard and allowed to act. They know what they need and how to address it. Over-control is frustrating them, their voices are not being heard. We are sitting on top of a pressure cooker that will explode.

The government has to let go. It has failed dismally. Its expensive, grandiose plans are shattered in the face of economic meltdown and a terrifying drought.

It is time for change and embracing solutions that are completely different from central control.

We have to drill down into suitable and local solutions run by the communities themselves.

They are willing to be accountable and they can use funding far better than local uninterested municipal structures can.

The monoliths that have been created are completely divorced from their constituencies. They do not understand their clients and they abuse them with the granting of development rights, mining rights and the removal of communities from where they don’t want them.

We allow the bottling of water from our aquifers, but don’t ensure that nearby communities can access water. There is something very wrong.

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