Court sequel to Day Zero crisis
Publish date: 13 March 2018
Issue Number: 547
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Inimical party politics became evident last week as the ANCYL took the DA to court over Cape Town's approach to staving off Day Zero – the day the city's taps were expected to run dry, writes Legalbrief. Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, provincial legislature Speaker Sharna Fernandez and Environmental Affairs MEC Anton Bredell were hauled to court over their alleged failure to manage the water crisis in the province. A Cape Argus report notes that the Western Cape High Court yesterday (Monday) dismissed an urgent application by a member of the ANC Youth League against the alleged failure to prepare for the water crisis. ANCYL Dullah Omar Region spokesperson, Advocate Winston Erasmus, took the matter to court, choosing to be the applicant to avoid costs incurred by his party. Erasmus asked the court to declare that Zille failed to act in accordance with the Constitution. In court papers, Erasmus requested that voting, scheduled for today for the budget of Department of Environmental and Development Planning’s Western Cape Appropriation Bill be postponed. However, Judge Ashley Binns-Ward dismissed the application, saying the ‘urgency was of self importance’ to the applicant only. Erasmus later said it was a sad day for the environment and for matters of public importance, adding that he was planning to appeal the matter. Erasmus accused the provincial government of not testing for a bacteria, and other pollutants before planning for desalination. ‘Section 71 places obligation on government that it should establish a commissioner for environment. It is disappointing that the DA is not doing this,’ he said. Zille’s spokesperson, Michael Mpofu, said: ‘It is disingenuous of the ANC to claim that the notion of a commissioner would have had any powers related to the augmentation of water under the current water crisis.’ Mpofu said the function of a commissioner, as envisaged in the Constitution, had been performed by existing organs of state. He said an Amendment Bill to remove the provision of establishing a commissioner for environment in the Constitution had been published and was out for public comment.
Confusion abounds over the date of Day Zero following DA leader Maimane’s announcement that it will not happen this year, while the city council has pencilled in the dreaded day as 27 August. A Cape Argus report notes that Maimane said Day Zero would not be implemented this year should Capetonians continue saving water and if the province received sufficient rainfall. In stark contradiction, the city council said Day Zero could arrive on 27 August if water users don’t adhere to the restrictions and if there was no decent rainfall. Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for water and informal settlements, said restrictions would not be lifted. ‘That’s why we believe Day Zero can be completely avoided if consumption levels remain low. Water restrictions will remain at Level 6B until we have a clearer understanding of rainfall and once we get more new water into the system from our augmentation schemes,’ she said. ACDP councillor Grant Haskin said just 16 days ago Day Zero was pushed out from 4 June to 9 July. ‘But in the past 16 days, even longer, no significant amounts of new water has been added to the system. It is massively suspicious and thoroughly undermines the city council’s and the DA’s credibility and ability to govern honestly and transparently.’ ANC provincial chair Khaya Magaxa said it was clear Day Zero never existed. 'Maimane thought he could fool the people of the Western Cape. They have taken people for a ride. They have used scare tactics against the people of this province. Instead of working on the problem and asking the national government for help, they decided to do things on their own. They have failed dismally,' he said.
Cape Town, however, has received praise for its water-saving efforts. Cape Town is setting a global standard for reducing water consumption. That’s according to research conducted by Wesgro, which indicates that according to new data the city council is now using 515m litres of water a day. A Cape Argus report notes that in February 2015 the city council was using 1.2bn litres of water a day. In only three years, the city council has therefore reduced its consumption by more than half. Average residential consumption is approximately 87l per person per day, down from 209l in February 2015; and total consumption including commercial, industrial and government is now at approximately 124l per person per day, down from 298l in February 2015. This is a reduction of almost 60%. ‘The very severe drought in the Cape has legitimately been a cause of concern both at home and abroad. But there is another, even more compelling story… about Cape Town’s remarkable reduction in water consumption, which is likely unmatched by any other city in the world. This reduction is world-class in its own right, and is now setting the benchmark for countries around the world,’ said Wesgro CE, Tim Harris.
Billionaire and former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, has warned that the extreme drought in Cape Town should be an international wake-up call for all who think climate change is a far-off threat. A Cape Argus report notes that, Bloomberg, appointed as the UN Special Envoy for Climate Action, toured Theewaterskloof Dam last week with UCT’s Future Water Research Institute, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and city leaders and said the world should prepare for future water insecurity. ‘We cannot let droughts like this become common around the world. It’s already here, it’s making droughts and storms more dangerous. We have to do more to keep it from getting worse. Cities and businesses are helping to lead the way, but all levels of society in all countries – on all continents – must take bolder actions,’ urged Bloomberg. Dr Kevin Winter from UCT’s Future Water Research Institute agreed, saying: ‘There has been a widely held perception that the onset of climate change would be slow, less erratic and that it would allow more time to prepare for drought. In reality, the impact has been rapid, unpredictable and more far-reaching than expected.’