Dear MyPE and fellow South Africans
It’s great to be here in the Eastern Cape – a province with so much untapped potential. Under the right government, the Eastern Cape could really shine. It has the resources, it has the natural beauty and it has the people. All that’s missing is committed and honest leadership. And I assure you, we’re working on that too.
But right now, there is another shadow hanging over this province. The drought that has gripped large parts of the country threatens the lives and livelihood of many people in the Eastern Cape. Four years of below-average rainfall has had a devastating effect on farms and towns here. We are reminded of how we live our lives at the mercy of nature, and how carefully we need to manage this precious resource.
Defeating this drought will take a committed and united effort. What we don’t need now is sideshows and distractions. I see the Premier and his government are once again proposing a name change for the province. He should know that this cannot possibly be a priority now, as taps run dry and farmers lose their livestock and crops. A new name will not bring water to people’s homes and feed starving animals. Changing Grahamstown to Makhanda did nothing to ease the crippling water shortage there. Right now, the only priority should be avoiding the disaster of dry taps and an agricultural collapse.
I welcome Premier Mabuyane’s decision to declare the entire province a disaster area. This should have been done much earlier, and the DA here in the Eastern Cape has been calling for this declaration for months. But now that the declaration has been gazetted, national government can make urgent drought relief funding available to the province.
But this declaration alone, along with the R120m that has been set aside by the province for drought relief, is not enough. As we learnt in the Western Cape, and particularly the City of Cape Town, it took the whole of society to defeat Day Zero. And it required of the leaders in the City and the Province to reach out to every single sector of society in order to harness their cooperation.
It is disappointing that we are yet to see this kind of teamwork here in the Eastern Cape, where the threat of running out of water is every bit as real as it was in Cape Town. When multiple towns run out of water at once, the logistical challenge of getting water to these communities is extremely hard. It needs all hands on deck.
I remember how so many people told us the DA was over-reacting in Cape Town – how we were scaremongers, whipping up panic unnecessarily, and that Day Zero was not real. At the same time, many others were accusing the DA of not doing enough – of not panicking soon enough. That is when you need to trust the calm heads in your governments, and know that they are working with the best experts in the field to manage the situation.
Cape Town and the Western Cape’s response to the three year drought there was a lesson in disaster management, and is today widely regarded as a blueprint for cities facing similar water threats. It only worked because every single sector of society was engaged and made to be part of the solution. From government to business, and from civil society to ordinary residents, everyone was involved in either managing supply, providing alternative sources or reducing consumption.
That is what is required here in the Eastern Cape too, and urgently. We need the Premier, Mayors, opposition leaders, the business community, farmers and civil society to put their heads together and plan an effective response. And this has to be the only priority right now.
I would urge Premier Mabuyane to shelve the name change for now and concentrate on the crisis. I would also urge him to pick up the phone and speak to the people who have just guided their own city and province through a similar crisis. Inside the governments of Cape Town and the Western Cape are people who have learnt a huge amount about water resource management in the past three years. They would be more than happy to share their learning.
If ever there was a time for cooperation across party lines, it is now.
John Steenhuisen MP
DA Parliamentary Leader
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