DA's Day Zero rapid changes too hard to swallow

There is a disease that seems to afflict many supposed public servants in South Africa. They struggle to take the public into their confidence and often do things that are not in the public interest.

This is nothing new. Public servants - and I include elected political leaders - have been lying to the public for many years, probably for as long as politicians have been around.

One of the biggest scandals of the apartheid era was the Information Scandal, which revolved around the government ploughing millions of rand into a huge misinformation campaign, including starting an English-language newspaper aimed at breaking down what was seen as the English media’s opposition to government. That newspaper still exists.

More recently, we have had scandal after scandal, including ones involving the millions spent on Nkandla and many involving the Gupta family.

“Smaller” lies have been perpetuated by people such as Malusi Gigaba, the Home Affairs Minister who did not know who had been granted citizenship, and former Public Enterprises minister Lynne Brown, who claimed to have been given wrong information by state-owned enterprises who reported to her, information which she then shared with the public.

The examples are too many to mention in a limited space such as this.

Now it seems the people of Cape Town might have been fed a huge lie by the DA for the past few months.

I have thought about the water crisis in Cape Town from all angles and, the more I think about it and the way it has been handled, I can’t help but conclude that the DA has been using the water crisis to sort out internal political issues.

If that is the case, then the DA should be ashamed that they have sunk as low, if not lower, than the ANC which they love to criticise.

How do you explain that “Day Zero”, a term probably coined by Tony Leon’s public relations company, has shifted so much in the space of a few months?

In October, mayor Patricia de Lille said Cape Town could run out of water by March this year, if Capetonians did not reduce their daily personal water consumption.

Then DA leader Mmusi Maimane became involved in the crisis at the end of January, side-lining De Lille in the process.

“Day Zero” - then calculated to be in April - was first brought forward and then, within weeks, shifted weeks and then months later.

Now, it appears, in the words of Maimane, “provided we continue consuming water at current levels, and we receive decent winter rainfall this year, Day Zero will not occur in 2018”.

A few weeks ago, everyone in authority was still complaining about the millions of residents who were not complying. How did that turn around so quickly?

There are not many examples in the world of consumer behaviour changing so radically and in a matter of two months. Yes, some of us changed our behaviour, but definitely not most people.

There is no doubt that the water crisis facing the Western Cape is the biggest it has faced, at least in recent history.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realise the dam levels are at their lowest in years. One only has to drive around in the rural areas to see farms dying and dams, such as Theewaterskloof, virtually empty.

Desalination plants and “importing” water from surrounding municipalities can help, but not to the extent that the crisis will almost disappear, which it has, if Maimane is to be believed.

There can only be two explanations for what transpired this week: either the crisis was not as big as originally thought or the DA has decided there are other more important things that need its focus.

From where I am sitting, it appears the DA has realised it needs other, bigger, issues if it is to have any hope of beating the ANC in next year’s national elections. There can be no other explanation.

The water crisis was nothing more than a huge crisis that the DA could exploit to show up the ANC’s inefficiencies. Their messaging throughout this crisis has always been about how the city is in crisis because national government (code word for the ANC) was not doing its work.

In typical public servant mode, they refused to accept responsibility for their own role in manufacturing this crisis.

What this crisis has taught me is that, given the opportunity to rule, any opposition party will quickly adopt some of the bad habits of typical ruling parties, and that includes lying to the people they are supposed to represent.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 10 May 2018)