FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Don’t wait for water shedding to change your behaviour


Hardly a day passes by without comment from someone influential about the implications of Eskom not sorting its mess out soonest.

It is easy to see why. Electricity is the lifeblood of the economy and no nation can hope to prosper without it. Talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is idle when people still need candles and paraffin lanterns to illuminate their houses.

How I wish we had similarly passionate conversations about the water situation in South Africa.

Unlike with electricity, water is not a nice-to-have. If electricity is the lifeblood of the economy, water is life itself.

The situation in many parts of the country, such as parts of Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and the Northern Cape, has given us a sneak preview of life without water. It has become normal for people in towns like Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) and Butterworth to plan their life without water.

In some instances, the quality of water distributed to some of the communities where taps have run dry is substandard and has led to new health problems.

While some of their challenges are climatic, most of them are administrative. They have been caused by bad governance, incompetence, indifference and greed.

They are enabled by governments that are so complacent that they believe they cannot be voted out and by a people who have lived with hardships for generations, they take it as a way of life.

While the state must play its role and clean up its act, you and I must also look into our own behaviour towards water.

Many of us, especially those of us in urban centres where water is only a tap away, do not treat it as the precious commodity that it is.

Water use at home and at work leaves a lot to be desired, especially for a water-scarce country like ours.

In some cases, having your car washed every day is part of management perks.

Many of us use showers as heaters and stay longer than we necessarily have to. The ideal of a scented foam bath being a reward for a long day keeps being sold as something to aspire to.

The price of water is a political curse here. It’s a curse because it is so low that some of us think nothing of spending an afternoon absent minded with a running hose and a garden in front of us.

No political party that wants to be elected (or re-elected) will even think about raising the price of water to levels that will make users think twice about wasting it.

It is time for a new civilisation. In this new order, the smart and sophisticated people will no longer be known for their apparent discerning of good food, accent or not confusing artists Monet and Manet, but by their engagement with the natural environment.

This means caring about the fate of the rhino, as it is for why we use clean drinkable water to flush our toilets.

If electricity’s unreliability has caused us inconvenience, we must shudder to think what water unavailability will do to humanity.

There is no question that the state must do its part and citizens must hold it responsible when it does not raise its game, all of us must reset our attitude to water management. We can do this on our own, or wait until we have ‘water shedding’ become as normal a word as ‘load shedding’.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.