Time to speak out on South African water quality issues

14 March 2012

For many years now I have spoken out on the need to attend to the management of water quality in South Africa’s water resources, especially our dams.  Despite offering constructive criticism, backed up by admonishment to roll up sleeves and do something, rather than commissioning more and more studies, there has been very little attempt by the authorities to engage with my message.  Its much easier to shoot the messenger – i.e. ignore them and pretend they don’t exist.

It seems other concerned scientists are feeling the same frustration.  Stellenbosch microbiologist, Jo Barnes, has gone on record in the press on this issue, in a headline article entitled “Water: time for talk is over” (Bolander, March 14).  Interestingly, her comments stem from yet another well-hidden meeting about water issues, namely the “Western Cape Water Quality Summit” – clearly a ‘by-invitation only’ event or the organizers did not have a decent list of who’s who in water quality in this country.

Jo gets a lot of coverage in the press but she observes that:

“People who criticize are inclined to be victimized. We can’t afford for that to happen anymore. Stop silencing the messenger.”

I hope whoever is doing the silencing is listening.  For my troubles, I have been not only ignored (the persona non grata approach) but accused of being myopic, Don Quixotic and not helpful to Water Affairs as “we are doing the best we can under the circumstances”.  My access to research funding for key projects has been strangled.  Strangely, I see that the very people who have ‘disagreed’ with my viewpoints are now actually using my own arguments themselves!

I reiterate my 2010 appeal for a colloquium of concerned water scientists to sit and discuss the water quality issues.  We have no time to wait for the WRC to run another 4 year water resources analysis.  I am not saying that the study is not important, simply that we know enough to get on with turning the situation around. But, as Jo Barnes concludes, and I strongly echo this:

I’m willing to work with any government department to [help solve the problems], but I [alone] cannot make the engine go!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *