One cannot exaggerate the opportunism of politicians. The Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane has announced that there will be NO Day Zero this year. The normal Tuesday announcement by the City of Cape Town administration of the dire level of the city’s supply dams was delayed, so that the leader of the city’s governing party, the DA, could make this important announcement on Wednesday
All one can say about it is that the DA may have already thrown the political baby out with the Day Zero bathwater, if one is to mix a few metaphors. The political handling of the water question in the City of Cape Town has been a political abortion.
First, the national leadership blamed Mayor Patricia de Lille for the poor City performance over the drought crisis. Under her leadership the City had mis-communicated the drought message, Maimane charged. He then went on to report exactly the communication which was spewed out on a daily basis by the City’s communication department.
Maimane went to Athlone for a live-stream of his important contributions to the water supply problem. He was booed by the crowd, so much so that he had to be rescued by his then communications handler. Although it was a little cheeky, a Cape Town newspaper reported that there was No Plan for Day Zero. Some said this was fake news, but it captured the essense of the event: There was absolutely nothing new in what Maimane had to say.
Now he praises his Drought Crisis Team – including Premier Helen Zille and Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson – for a job well done. We don’t have a Day Zero any more. Not this year anyway. Why? Because Capetonians have been good little consumers; they have massively dropped their consumption. Along with those farmers who have stopped their uptake of water.
It is all a bit of a mess. Even AgriSA has immediately commented on the debacle which is the water saving strategy of the City of Cape Town. It said its use (and now withdrawal) of the Day Zero scenario “creates the impression the City may have cried wolf too soon and that the agricultural sector now has to pay for that action”. One thing they did not say was that it is totally inappropriate for a national leader of a political party – who is not an office-bearer in the City of Cape Town – to hijack an operational function of the city of Cape Town.
His party may – tenuously – have control over the City of Cape Town, but this does not mean he should have the power to demolish the barrier between party and state, in this case, the City government.
He is not the Mayor of Cape Town.
Meanwhile, he has not achieved his aim of ridding the City of the real Mayor, Patricia de Lille. Whatever can be said against – or indeed for – De Lille, she remains the mayor, despite all the attempts by Maimane and his boys to remove her.
Neilson, the rather embattled deputy mayor, has taken over political management – to the degree that he is allowed to by the national leadership – of the drought strategy. He, however, floundered badly on a televised interview when confronted with the news – which he clearly did not know about – that the City had plans to provide special drought exemptions to business areas.
If any politician is constitutionally entitled to intervene, it should have been Zille. The Premier should have been the political office bearer to take charge of the drought crisis. She is the most senior government official in the Western Cape – and she happens to be a DA politician, however tenuously, as well.
Recently in the dog-house with the party she once led – over unfortunate tweets about colonialism – she is now praised by the leader for her role in the Drought Crisis Team. If anyone should have taken over the role of crisis management of the drought in Cape Town, it should have been her – not Mmusi Maimane.
On top of it all, she is a former Mayor of Cape Town, a job which some would say she carried out with distinction.
It is extremely concerning that Maimane does not recognise that his hijacking of the communications process of the City – and also of elements of its operational work – is highly problematic.
It is the sort of thing one would expect from ruling ANC politicians. But they are not the ones that constantly preach about the cast-iron divisions between church and state, between government and political party.
It is the DA – supposedly a liberal party that upholds constitutionalism – where we witness interference by a national political party leader, sitting on the opposition benches of parliament, who issues instructions to City government officials.
Maimane, who at the time of his taking charge of the Cape Town water crisis was in the midst of moving the DA party headquaters from the City of Cape Town to Johannesburg, has placed his party in a political bog of note. The DA is drowning in its own confusion.