‘New approach to water crisis needed’

‘Cut out politics from water crisis and realise that things take time to happen’

Dr Oswald Franks, executive dean in the Faculty of Engineering at NMU, and Professor Mike Muller, visiting adjunct professor from Wits University’s School of Governance.
Dr Oswald Franks, executive dean in the Faculty of Engineering at NMU, and Professor Mike Muller, visiting adjunct professor from Wits University’s School of Governance.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

With the country in the throes of one of the worst droughts in decades, the government will have to “decolonise” engineering if it is going to be a water secure nation.

This was said by Professor Mike Muller at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) last night.

Muller spoke at the public lecture, held in conjunction with the South African Academy of Engineering, aimed to provide some perspective – through the lens of water – on the challenges that engineers and technical professions face in the 21st century.

It was the academy’s third annual lecture.

Academy president Truman Goba, who introduced Muller to the audience inside a packed lecture hall, said engineering could hold the key to the water crisis.

The problem was that the issue was being used as a political football.

“We all know that water is a scarce resource,” Goba said.

“We have to cut out the politics from it and deal with the reality of the situation and let decision-makers realise that things take time to happen.

“To provide water, you have to plan well ahead [so] it’s important that the resources are managed properly and that the skills available in the country are utilised.”

Muller, a former director-general in the Department of Water Affairs, described Cape Town’s water woes as “person-made”.

“Every city has different problems – and Cape Town’s is very much a man-made crisis – or, a person-made crisis because there are women involved,” he said.

“[It is the] result of colonial attitudes. “In the Cape Town case, people were using European approaches, had European attitudes and took European decisions in a climate and society that isn’t European and then walked straight into a brick wall, or an empty dam, as a result.

“They thought they didn’t have to build new infrastructure. The Europeans hate new infrastructure, they don’t need it. Africa does.

“[The water problems in] Nelson Mandela Bay, while quite serious, are post-colonial problems.

“And as we talk about decolonisation, we have to look at the problems of the old colonial approaches as well as the problems of the post-colonial era.

“The post-colonial challenge we have in Nelson Mandela Bay is that we now have a democratic government, but we have politicians who don’t seem to understand what their role should be in terms of keeping a city like Nelson Mandela Bay water-secure.

“And so we have to ask the question, what’s gone wrong? This is not the decolonisation we wanted, this is chaos.

“And I think we should think about decolonialising them [politicians] because they’ve still got some colonial perceptions that have seriously damaged the city.

“Nelson Mandela Bay shouldn’t be short of water – yet it is,” Muller said.

The combined dam levels in both Nelson Mandela Bay and Cape Town are under 25%.

X