The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis

CLOSUP Student Working Paper Series
                                                   Number 37

                                                              April 2018

            The Role of National and State Actors in the
                     Cape Town Water Crisis
                                      Grant Rivas, University of Michigan

                                         This paper is available online at

                Papers in the CLOSUP Student Working Paper Series are written by students at the University of Michigan.
             This paper was submitted as part of the Winter 2018 course PubPol 495 Energy and Environmental Policy Research,
                                          that is part of the CLOSUP in the Classroom Initiative.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect
                             the view of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy or any sponsoring agency

                                            Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy
                                             Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
                                                     University of Michigan
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis
                            Grant Rivas
             Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy
               Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
                          April 25th, 2018
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                     1


       A combination of rapid population growth, lack of proactive water management policy,

and prolonged drought have put Cape Town, South Africa on the verge of becoming the first

major, global city to effectively run out of water, a crisis projected to threaten more cities in the

future due to changing climate patterns. This paper analyzes the public statements of officials

from the African National Congress and Democratic Alliance—the two major political parties

within South Africa— to examine how conflict between government actors at both the national

and state level affected the management of the Cape Town water crisis. To study this issue, the

paper specifically examines actors’ discussion of assigning responsibility for the crisis and

identifying potential policy solutions. From this analysis, the paper finds that actors from both

parties attempted to leverage the crisis as a political tool and that their discussion has primarily

revolved around blaming political opponents rather than identifying solutions. These findings

show the importance of collaboration between both discrete branches of government and rival

political parties during crisis situations. It also emphasizes the need for world leaders to

proactively plan against future droughts and other natural disasters potentially worsened by

climate change.
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                 2


       Sub-Saharan Africa has long struggled with water stress and scarcity due to the primarily

dry, arid regional climate. Only 22-34% of the Sub-Saharan population has access to clean

drinking water and much of the region’s supply is largely dependent on both annual weather

patterns and population growth (Tatlock, 2006). A lack of water has been detrimental to the

region’s growth from both economic and human development perspectives because water

scarcity creates public health concerns and threatens agricultural production. In addition, the

recent War in Darfur, Sudan, which has already killed over 300,000 people and displaced

another 3,000,000, was largely started as a result of limited access to clean water (Darfur

Conflict, 2014).

       While this issue is already critical, the scientific community largely concurs that global

climate change will create more extreme, variable weather patterns including severe, extended

droughts and massive heat waves (Infographic: Extreme Weather, 2012). Climate change will

especially impact drought vulnerable areas like Sub-Saharan Africa and exacerbate issues which

already severely inhibit the region’s development. Indeed, the UNEP projects that over 50% of

the African continent is projected to suffer from greater water scarcity and stress by the year

2025 (Africa Water Vision 2025, 2009).

       Many researchers also concur that rapid population growth within countries puts even

greater strain on water availability than climate change (Lall, 2010). Sub-Saharan Africa is

expected to have its population more than double over the next 40 years, making it even more

vulnerable to increased water scarcity (Pflanz, 2013). Organizations like the UN have already

begun to prepare for the effect of population growth on water scarcity by instituting initiatives

like the International Decade of Action: Water for Life, a project focused on increasing the
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                3

amount of available drinking water by addressing issues such as population growth (UNDESA,


         While climate change and population growth will exacerbate the threat of water scarcity

in the coming years, some regions within Sub-Saharan Africa may already be experiencing the

adverse effects of these patterns. Cape Town, the capital and most populous city of South Africa,

is on the verge of reaching so-called “Day Zero”—the day at which the city will effectively run

out of available drinking water. Cape Town has not had historically high rates of access to water,

but severe, unprecedented drought in recent years has left the city in a state of crisis.

Additionally, the city’s population doubled over a 15-year period from 1996-2011, putting even

more pressure on water sources and infrastructure (Peterson, 2016). These factors have lowered

dam levels in Cape Town from over 70% in 2014 to just over 20% today (City of Cape Town,

2018). On Day Zero, the city will run below the requisite 13.5% capacity of supply dams and

shut off water services for almost all of the over four million residents of Cape Town.

Figure 1:

                                                                                     (Bohatch, 2017)

         The local government has already been implementing measures to decrease water

consumption and prepare for the potential of Day Zero. For example, while the government has

long advertised voluntary limitations on water consumption, it has more recently enforced strict
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                    4

water regulations, currently limiting individuals to 13 gallons of water per day. 1 Additionally, the

government has also begun to build water distribution centers outside most major grocery stores

and other local gathering places in preparation for the water shutoff (Winsor, 2018). As

described by the Chief of Cape Town's disaster operations center, Greg Pillay, “We’ve identified

four risks: water shortages, sanitation failures, disease outbreaks and anarchy due to competition

for scarce my 40 years in emergency services, this is the biggest crisis" (Watts,


           Individuals have also taken initiative to avoid Day Zero, mobilizing their communities to

conserve water by doing things like crafting water distribution tools to help locals gather water at

natural springs across the city (McKenzie and Swails, 2018). These efforts have helped Cape

Town decrease daily water consumption by over 60% from 1.2 billion liters to now only 510

liters of water (Winsor, 2018). Although Day Zero was originally projected to occur in Spring

2018, projections now show that Cape Town may have delayed it until early 2019. Moreover, if

the drought ends sometime in the next few years, Cape Town may yet have hope to avoid

becoming the first major global city to run out of water (McKenzie and Swails, 2018).

           While recent results have been promising, it is still too soon to consider Cape Town safe

from reaching Day Zero. Further policy intervention is needed to not only mitigate the continued

overconsumption of water in many wealthy neighborhoods of Cape Town but also identify new,

sustainable sources of water for the city’s future. However, infighting between national political

parties makes identifying and implementing policy solutions a challenge.

           This paper attempts to study how various actors from the two major political parties

within the South African government discuss the water scarcity crisis in Cape Town. It does this

    For reference, Americans use between 80-100 gallons of water per day on average (Winsor, 2018).
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                5

by looking at articles in African newspapers describing the crisis and studying the language used

by actors to assign responsibility and propose future policy solutions. The deviant case of Cape

Town is worthy of academic study so as to analyze and examine the circumstances surrounding a

crisis that many other major cities—including Los Angeles, London, and San Paulo—may soon

face as a result of climate change and population growth (Frisk, 2018).

Literature Review:

       The amount of literature written on policy responses to severe climate and weather is

large and continuously growing. Changing climate and weather patterns have presented new

challenges for policy makers across a number of fields including water resource management.

Articles such as Dai (2013) demonstrate that climate change has increased the number and

severity of global droughts in recent years and show that the number of severe, widespread

droughts is projected to increase over the next 30-90 years. This work emphasizes that it is

important to study current examples of extreme drought—such as Cape Town— as more cities

may face similar changes in future years.

       Gerlak (2006) studies the broader history of water management policy in the United

States, specifically trying to answer how the struggle between federal oversight and local

autonomy affects water management. The author looks at five different “streams” of water

management in the United States and conducts broader case studies about how policy differed

throughout different points in history. From this analysis, Gerlak (2006) suggests that a policy of

pragmatic federalism dominates US water management policy and encourages both collaborative

partnerships between federal and local institutions as well as a problem-oriented approach. This
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                   6

article highlights the importance of the relationship between national and local institutions in

water management policy and the challenges that a non-collaborative approach creates.

       Other papers have begun to research the effectiveness of water management policies by

looking at individual cases like California, which recently experienced a prolonged, severe

drought. Specifically, Palazzo et al. (2017) attempts to answer why 50% of urban water districts

in California did not meet their individual conservation target, despite the overall state reducing

water usage by over 25%. The paper uses a series of regression analyses to compare water

reduction in different districts with other variables. Results from this analysis showed that a

variety of economic, environmental and institutional factors affected districts’ relative levels of

water usage reduction. Among the most prominent factors affecting water usage reduction were

median income, drought severity, and prior levels of water usage. These findings demonstrate

that it is crucial to study how individual actors and communities are affected by drought policy

as there can be great variation among groups.

       Tortajada et al. (2017) also examines the California drought as a case study, using it to

examine how decision-making and resource availability affected resiliency building. The paper

defines resilience in the context of climate change as the ability of social and ecological systems

to adapt and change while still retaining the same basic structure or ways of functioning. The

authors view coping responses and resiliency building as essential for communities adapting to

climate change and looks at responses from actors—primarily in agriculture and government—

during the California drought to examine resilient behavior. The paper overlays agricultural

production and weather pattern data with policy decisions to understand the implications of

various decisions. Tortajada et al. (2017) considers California’s response to the drought to have

been relatively successful and points to decentralized decision making and shared responsibility
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                   7

for water management amongst multiple institutions as among the reasons for this success. It

also calls for advanced preparation for policy and institutional responses for future crises in not

just California but other regions as well, considering the changing global climate.

       Like Tortajada et al. (2017), Crase and Cooper (2017) conduct a case study to better

understand the success of different water resource management policies during severe droughts.

Specifically, Crase and Cooper (2017) attempt to determine the direction of contemporary water

management interventions by studying different policies introduced by the Australian

Government during the Millennium Drought from the mid 1990s-2010.The paper primarily

studies the country’s water policies and the drought’s impact on them rather than the new

policies implemented to directly address the drought. It utilizes a framework that examines a

number of areas such as urban, agricultural, and environmental water use and ultimately argues

that increased connectivity between water users with varying levels of demand—such as farmers

and urban dwellers—has the potential to increase adaptability among consumers and reduce the

impact of water scarcity. This study again demonstrates the value of studying the relationship

between different actors and suggests that more communal solutions to crisis may help limit the

impact of droughts.

       Unlike other case studies, McLeman et al. (2008) does not look to modern examples of

climate change, but past deviant climate phenomena. During the mid-1930s the state of

Oklahoma experienced a disastrous mix of harsh drought and heavy rain that caused widespread

crop failure, economic collapse, and general hardship in rural communities. By using a variety of

primary and secondary sources, McLeman et al. (2008) examines how communities responded to

extreme climate changes paying particular attention to the scale of adaption, the roles of various

actors, and limitations of adaptation. The paper’s findings suggest that rural communities may
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                 8

have more adaptive potential than is generally perceived and that government should play a more

active role in supporting at-risk communities both in advance of and during extreme weather

situations. Although this case may seem slightly outdated, identifying the successes and failures

of past policy makers after requisite time is given to fully understand the implications of their

decisions is valuable for approaching climate change related challenges. In the context of new

research, McLeman et al. (2008) is also valuable as a framework for examining the role of actors

and community in adapting to extreme climate.

       Specifically looking at past droughts in South Africa, O’Farrell et al. (2009) uses a case

study to look at what policies the South African government and smaller institutions adopted

during previous droughts to better understand historical approaches to these crises. Considering

droughts are only expected to become more frequent in future years, this paper also asks what

past practices suggest for the future of drought management. To answer these questions, the

paper uses a framework that studies how actors evade, respond to, and endure droughts as well as

context for how broader, racial challenges in the country have contributed to these policies.

Based off its analysis, O’Farrell et al. (2009) suggests that policy makers must urgently address

drought preparedness given the state’s current inability to adequately address the issue and

global weather patterns. Among other proposals, they suggest that South Africa must build social

and institutional capacity, strive for a broader culture of sustainability, and embed drought-

coping mechanisms into land restitution policies.

       The literature both emphasizes the importance of research into drought management

policy and the role of individual actors in setting the policy landscape (Crase and Cooper, 2017

and McLeman et al, 2008). In addition, it suggests that a collaborative relationship between

government bodies is essential to effective management (Gerlak, 2006 and Tortajada et al, 2017).
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                 9

This paper uses past research as a framework to build upon the existing literature and study how

the role of national and state actors affects the Cape Town water crisis. In conducting this

analysis, the paper not only furthers understanding of the role of government actors and

institutions in managing drought crisis but also applies current theories to what may become the

most severe and drastic instance of drought in modern history.


       As discussed in the introduction, the current water crisis occurring in Cape Town, South

Africa is exceptional and worthy of academic study given broader changes in the Earth’s climate

and population growth patterns in the region. This case study into the crisis attempts to answer

the following research question: how does political conflict between government actors affect

policy outcomes in crisis situations? To answer this question, I will use a framework that studies

how South African government officials from both the African National Congress (ANC) and

Democratic Alliance (DA)—the two major political parties of South Africa—have discussed and

responded to the crisis.

       Similar to that described in Seawright and Gerring (2008), this paper is an example of a

deviant case study. A deviant case is one that strongly differs from normal outcomes and my

case qualifies as deviant because Cape Town may well become the first major city on the planet

to effectively run out of water. By analyzing this deviant case, I hope to draw conclusions about

how Cape Town might have avoided this outcome, what the city might do moving forward, and

what steps other major cities can take to avoid similar situations.

       I look at newspaper articles to collect data and better understand how relevant actors are

talking about the crisis. I give local Cape Town newspapers priority over international
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                              10

publications to give the most accurate and comprehensive view of political actors’ opinions. A

variety of major South African newspapers were sourced in this research to limit editorial bias by


       South Africa is governed as a parliamentary republic, where the democratically elected

Parliament of South Africa nominate a President, who serves as both the head of state and head

of government. Additionally, the nine provinces of South Africa each have their own provincial

parliaments, led by a Premier. In terms of actors, this paper will be looking at the two major

political parties in South Africa, the African National Congress and Democratic Alliance.

Members of the ANC serve as Premier in eight of the nine South African provinces. Cyril

Ramaphosa, the new President of South Africa, is also a member of the ANC and leads their

strong majority in the National Parliament. While the DA is the minority in Parliament, they

control many senior government positions throughout the Western Cape—the provincial home of

Cape Town—including Premier.

       Since universal suffrage was established in 1994, the African National Congress has been

the national ruling party of South Africa and generally held consistent control of most South

African provinces. The party of Nelson Mandela, the ANC has maintained prominence for

decades and was the leading opposition group during the apartheid era. While the party does not

have much provincial authority in the Western Cape, it still maintains control over national

resources and agencies relevant to crisis management. While there are fewer notable actors from

the ANC than the DA in relation to the crisis, Nomvula Mokonyane, the former Minister in the

Department of Water and Sanitation, and Cyril Ramaphosa, the new President of South Africa,

are amongst the most relevant leaders in the crisis.
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                 11

        The Democratic Alliance has controlled the Western Cape province and Cape Town for

much of the past decade and its current leaders are largely those who have been in power since

the beginning of the crisis. The DA is considered to be the successor to the apartheid National

Party and has a substantial number of white elites among its base. The three most relevant actors

of the DA are Patricia de Lille, Mayor of Cape Town since 2011; Mmusi Maimane, the party

leader of the DA; and Helen Zille, current Premier of the Western Cape as well as former DA

leader and Mayor of Cape Town. While these three actors are the most prominent in regard to the

crisis, this paper will also examine the view of some secondary actors within the Democratic


        As described above, my framework will specifically study the opinions of these actors

across two specific elements: assigning responsibility and identifying future policy solutions. I

define assigning responsibility as who groups perceive as most liable for allowing the current

crisis to become so dire. Assigning responsibility was chosen to be one of the elements

researched because it will best demonstrate how political conflict inhibits the government’s

ability to adequately address the issue. It also provides valuable historical analysis about who

different actors perceive as responsible for the mistakes that ultimately resulted in the current

water crisis.

        I define identifying policy solutions as the policies actors believe the government should

implement to ameliorate the situation. Identifying policy solutions was selected as the second

element because it will best demonstrate the opinions of party leaders about next steps and

highlight how political tension affects policymaking. I am curious how differences in opinions

about what needs to be done both between and within parties will affect the government’s ability

to respond to the crisis.
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                               12


African National Congress (ANC):

Nomvula Mokonyane:

       Nomvula Mokonyane served as the Minister in the Department of Water and Sanitation

from May 2014 through January 2018 and was a prominent cabinet member in former President

Jacob Zuma's government. As Minister in the Department of Water and Sanitation, she oversaw

the agency within the national government most responsible for addressing the Cape Town crisis.

Mokonyane was the senior stakeholder within the ANC responsible for managing the Cape

Town crisis for almost four years and was one of the leading voices working to prevent Day Zero

(Cruywagen, 2018a). Mokonyane notably holds an optimistic perspective that Day Zero can be

avoided and that the city does not need to take a fatalist approach towards the crisis, instead

arguing that it can be avoided if proper action is taken (Chambers, 2018a). She has been heavily

criticized for this comment as well as for not making the issue a greater priority in her

department earlier (Deklerk, 2018).

       Mokonyane places blame on Mmusi Maimane (the party leader of the DA) and Helen

Zille (current Premier of the Western Cape) claiming that they have misused appropriated funds

for desalination plants and that the crisis is largely a result of government mismanagement rather

than natural disaster. She argues that the DA-led Western Cape government is to blame and that

her national agency has taken the appropriate steps to support the province (Jordan, 2018).

Mokonyane also explicitly notes that she does not hold Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille

exclusively responsible for the crisis and believes that DA leadership is using her as a scapegoat

for their mismanagement (Cruywagen, 2018a).
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                              13

       As noted above, Mokonyane views mismanagement as the biggest cause of the crisis and

thinks that better policies directed at limiting mismanagement will be most effective in

mitigating the crisis. Prior to leaving her role as minister, her most notable decision was to

support the Berg River-Voëlvlei Augmentation scheme as outlined in the National Water Act

(Speckman, 2018). This scheme would divert some water from the Berg River to provide

drinkable water to the Western Cape (Department of Water Affairs, 2012). Additionally,

Mokonyane has approved some plans for desalination plants in the Western Cape (Deklerk,

2018). Mokonyane frequently makes broad requests of the city to limit wasteful

overconsumption and do the little things that will save water. Despite these efforts, she has been

highly criticized on many fronts for focusing too much on long term solutions and not taking

short term considerations of citizens seriously enough (Chambers, 2018b).

Cyril Ramaphosa

       Cyril Ramaphosa recently assumed office as President of South Africa in the wake of

former President Jacob Zuma’s corruption scandal. Ramaphosa has been an influential member

of the ANC since the apartheid era and was notably Nelson Mandela’s choice for President in the

1990s (Parker, 2018). He most recently served as Deputy President of South Africa from 2014-

2018 until being voted in as President by the National Assembly in February 2018. Although

Ramaphosa is new to his leadership position, he has made Cape Town’s crisis one of his premier

issues (Mabuza, 2018).

       Thus far, Ramaphosa has blamed climate change for the crisis, pointing out how the

sustained drought is proof for any remaining climate change deniers that they must take the issue

seriously (Cyril Reassures, 2018). His discussion of the crisis has not focused on finding blame

in past leaders but rather on uniting policymakers around shared goals. Ramaphosa has not yet
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                               14

put forth major policy proposals to address the crisis, but has rather used vague, general language

describing how he is building working teams and prioritizing the issue with his cabinet. For

example, in an interview given on CNN shortly before he assumed the presidency, Ramaphosa

stated, “I'm going back home and I'm going to corral as many people as possible to put our heads

together and see exactly what we should be doing, not only in the immediate term, but also in the

long term” (It’s Cyril to the Rescue, 2018). Ramaphosa has also inserted new leadership to

address the crisis at the national level, appointing Gugile Nkwinti as the new Minister in the

Department of Water and Sanitation and making Nomvula Mokonyane the new Communications

Minister (News Just In, 2018).

ANC Leadership:

        Having led South Africa for the vast majority of the crisis, former President Jacob Zuma

has notably said little in relationship to the crisis 2. He had frequently been asked by both

constituents and critics to declare the crisis a state of emergency but ultimately failed to act

(Laing, 2018a). Other ANC leaders, including provincial chairperson Khaya Magaxa and Former

health MEC Theuns Botha, blame the opposition DA's leadership for the crisis, specifically

criticizing Mmusi Maimane, Helen Zille, and Ian Neilson (ANC Wants Zille's Head, 2018). Des

van Rooyen, Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, revealed that the

Western Cape government spent only 24% of funds allocated towards drought relief. While he

did not assign blame to specific individuals in the party, he claimed that this underspending was

unacceptable and inhibited his ability to lobby for additional resources from the National

Treasury (Reasons given for drought relief underspend, 2018).

  Jacob Zuma served as the fourth President of South Africa from May 9, 2009 to February 14, 2018. He resigned
from office after facing a vote of no confidence in Parliament and is currently being prosecuted for corruption
charges (York, 2018).
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                15

The Democratic Alliance (DA):

Patricia de Lille:

        Patricia de Lille is the current Mayor of Cape Town and has historically been viewed as

one of the most revered politicians in South Africa due to her investigation of a controversial

arms deal (du Plessis, 2010). However, she has drawn strong criticism for handling of the Cape

Town crisis. In an op-ed for Business Day: South Africa titled “Lack of Rain Not My Fault”, de

Lille argues that the administration should not be criticized for the crisis in Cape Town as the

administration has implemented many policies that have helped Cape Town drastically reduce

the amount of water consumed (de Lille, 2018). Ultimately, she argues that she cannot make it

rain in the city and that she is limited in her ability to fully address the crisis.

        De Lille has resisted blaming any groups or constituencies for creating the crisis and has

urged the city to identify united solutions rather than focus on assigning blame. Representatives

of her administration have largely supported the mayor’s position, although some officials,

including Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson, have accused agriculture businesses, of exacerbating the

crisis (Kahn, 2018).

        The Mayor has been taking steps for years to encourage conscientious use of potable

water and has increasingly placed water restrictions on citizens up to the current limit of 13

gallons per day (De Lille: Save resources, 2017). She has emphasized policies focusing on

“building resilience” and shifting away from surface water dependency to new options like water

re-use, groundwater alternatives, and desalination (Water Scarcity, 2017). However, while the

mayor has been devoting funds towards desalination, she does not believe that this is a

sustainable long-term solution for the crisis (Deklerk, 2017). De Lille has noted that recycled
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                              16

water may be an especially important alternative for businesses that depend on water like

manufacturing and construction companies (Taking Major Steps, 2017).

       Some initiatives supported by de Lille, specifically a proposed tax on wealthier

individuals with higher water usage levels, have not been implemented due to resistance from the

City Council (Phakathi, 2018a). As is further discussed in the following section, in-party fighting

has made it challenging for de Lille to act on the issue, having been removed from her role as

head of managing the water crisis (Mzantsi, 2018). Political conflict has risen to the point where

de Lille now plans to write a “tell all” book discussing political infighting within the DA in

relation to the Cape Town crisis (Nombembe, 2018).

Mmusi Maimane and Helen Zille:

       As the two most prominent leaders in the DA, both Maimane and Zille frequently work in

lock step and hold similar stances on issues. Both consider the crisis to be of the utmost

importance with Zille going so far as to say it “exceeds anything a major city has had to face

anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/11” (Chambers, 2018a). Although both

hold substantial roles in the government, they have rarely taken responsibility for any blame,

instead primarily directing their criticism at Minister Mokonyane, Mayor de Lille, and the

broader national government led by the ANC (Jordan, 2018).

       Specifically, the DA’s leaders have criticized Mokonyane and her Department of Water

and Sanitation for failing to update infrastructure and provide augmentation schemes to prevent

water shortages. In regard to Mokonyane and the broader ANC’s handling of the situation, Zille

claimed that the crisis demonstrated how out of touch the national government is with the day to

day experience of citizens and questioned what authority they had to intervene in the issue.

Mokonyane deflected these claims by arguing that Zille and Maimane were trying “to shield the
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                              17

province and their organization from accountability on the water crisis by shifting blame on the

issue to national government” and that her main priority was preventing Day Zero (Deklerk,


         They have also greatly criticized de Lille for not creating more stringent water

restrictions sooner and have removed her from her role as lead of the drought response team

because she withheld key information from both counselors and the party (Praise, criticism from

DA, 2018). After the ANC proposed a vote of no confidence in de Lille’s leadership, the DA

shockingly supported their motion (Phakathi, 2018b). However, this ultimately resulted in the

ANC withdrawing their motion, as ANC leadership did not want to allow DA leadership to

scapegoat De Lille and defer responsibility of the crisis onto a single representative.

         Maimane’s role as Leader of the DA does not give him any formal government role and

he has been criticized for overstepping his bounds and interfering in the day-to-day operations of

addressing the crisis (Cruywagen, 2018b). Maimane has also been for his lack of specific,

“advanced solutions” (Maimane has ‘No Advanced Solutions’, 2018). Thus far, Maimane has

only publicly suggested that conserving water is key in preventing Day Zero (Cruywagen,


         Zille has also not strongly endorsed particular policy solutions as much as demanded

change from government actors in their approach to the crisis (Praise, criticism from DA, 2018).

For example, Zille was a noted critic of the National Treasury for only allocating roughly 500

million USD to drought relief, claiming that the funds were relatively insignificant given the

scope of the crisis (Drought Relief Allocation, 2018). Additionally, while she has not truly

offered alternative solutions, she has been highly critical of the desalination plants proposed by

Nomvula Mokonyane, impeding the development of these projects (Govender, 2018). Zille has
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                  18

also devoted many of her comments to discussing management plans for when the city does run

out of water instead of discussing potential strategies to avert the crisis. Some of these plans

include stationing soldiers at all water distribution points to limit disorder (Soldiers to guard,

2018). Furthermore, Zille has infrequently promoted strategies for conserving water, such as

exclusively using grey water in toilet cisterns (Cape Town Water Crisis Persists, 2018).

DA Leadership:

       While Patricia de Lille, Mmusi Maimane, and Helen Zille are the three actors within the

DA most responsible for managing the crisis, other party members within the provincial and city

government are also working to address water scarcity. JP Smith, the Head of Safety and

Security in Cape Town, did not assign blame to either party, but rather noted that residents in

affluent areas have not significantly cut back on their water usage. He believes that getting

wealthy residents to stop watering their lawns among other strategies would drastically reduce

the amount of water needed in Cape Town (Laing, 2018b). City of Cape Town deputy mayor Ian

Neilson frequently notes how reduced water usage by citizens provides the best opportunity for

preventing Day Zero. Additionally, Nielson is cautiously optimistic that winter rains will

alleviate current concerns (Pather, 2018).


       As summarized in Figure 2 below, analyzing the discussion of ANC and DA leaders

around assigning blame and identifying potential solutions demonstrates that there are divergent

opinions among senior South African political leaders. To further academic understanding of

how political conflict between government actors affects policy in crisis situations, this paper

now examines what the data specifically suggests about the effects of both partisan conflict and
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                              19

federalism on policy outcomes. Additionally, it studies what this discussion implies about the

future of the Cape Town water crisis.

Figure 2: Summary of Opinions of ANC and DA Leadership
 Actors          Party Position              Assigning                 Identifying Policy
                                             Responsibility            Solutions

 Nomvula         ANC     Former Minister     Mismanagement by          Berg River-Voëlvlei
 Mokonyane               in the              DA-led city and           Augmentation scheme,
                         Department of       Western Cape              limited support for
                         Water and           government                desalination plants

 Cyril           ANC     President of        Climate Change and        Broad solutions, ie
 Ramaphosa               South Africa        drought                   building working teams

 ANC             ANC     -                   Financial                 Better management of
 Leadership                                  mismanagement by          government funds
                                             DA Leadership

 Patricia de     DA      Mayor of Cape       Resisted blaming          Conservative water
 Lille                   Town                others                    usage by residents

 Mmusi           DA      Party Leader of     Mismanagement by          Limited policy
 Maimane and             the DA and          ANC (Mokonyane)           proposals. primarily
 Helen Zille             Premier of the      and de Lille              focus discussion around
                         Western Cape                                  managing water
                                                                       distribution after Day

 DA              DA      -                   Overconsumption by        Conservative water
 Leadership                                  wealthy residents         usage by residents

Partisan Conflict and Federalism

       The data clearly demonstrates that there is a strong difference in opinion between ANC

and DA leaders around who is responsible for allowing the crisis to become critical. As shown

above, Nomvula Mokonyane suggested that local government mismanagement is most
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                 20

responsible for causing a crisis situation. Des van Rooyen further argued that the Western Cape

government has not fully allocated funds intended to address the crisis. These comments are in

direct contradiction to those of Mmusi Maimane and Helen Zille, both of whom view

Mokonyane’s department and the broader national government as having done too little too late

to help the nearly four million Cape Town residents threatened by water scarcity.

       While South Africa is far from the only country that suffers from partisan conflict, it is

important to note the contextual factors driving high levels of politicization. The Western Cape is

the only province consistently won by the DA, and the ANC views the water crisis as an

opportunity to take over a DA stronghold and further political control over South Africa. The DA

brands itself as the party of good governance and limited corruption, further explaining why the

ANC has shown willingness to attack them for their mismanagement (ANC Hatches Plan, 2018).

Conversely, in the wake of President Zuma’s scandals, the DA believes they have an opportune

window to take national power if they are able to properly frame the ANC as incompetent and

corrupt (York, 2018). These factors have created a political environment in which leadership

members from both parties devote substantially more of their public comments to blaming

political opponents rather than discussing practical policy solutions.

       As discussed in several reviewed articles, many Capetonians perceive this “blame game”

between the ANC and the DA as a direct cause of the government’s inability to adequately

respond to the crisis (Deklerk, 2018 and Jordan, 2018). Despite both parties’ attempts to divert

responsibility, the perception that they are playing politics rather than solving issues has

damaged their legitimacy among voters, especially in the Western Cape (DA’s Day Zero, 2018).

Gerlak (2006) and Tortajada et al. (2017) highlight that effective collaboration between federal

and local governments is most effective in addressing drought crises, and the failure of South
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                21

Africa’s political leadership to set aside political concerns in favor of implementing effective

policy ignores lessons learned from previous droughts.

Furthermore, there is clear intra-party conflict within the DA that mitigates their ability to

effectively govern Cape Town during the crisis. Mmusi Maimane, Helen Zille, and the broader

DA leadership direct any criticism of their party’s governance toward Mayor Patricia de Lille,

who they believe has been ineffective in her management and leadership. Conflict between these

two wings of the DA forced policy makers to devote much of their time towards initiatives such

as removing de Lille from office instead of focusing all efforts on the crisis. Nomvula

Mokonyane also noted how Maimane and Zille’s willingness to scapegoat de Lille rather than

take accountability for their mismanagement creates further conflict and shows how DA

leadership has prioritized their own personal popularity over good governance. Again, Gerlak

(2006) and Tortajada et al. (2017) note how collaboration between institutions is essential in

drought management, and in-party fighting within the DA further inhibits different branches of

the South African government to jointly craft policies.

       The Cape Town case also highlights the importance of clearly defined roles between

national and provincial governments in a federal model. Mmusi Maimane, Patricia de Lille, and

Nomvula Mokonyane have all simultaneously been criticized for overstepping the scope of their

positions and not doing enough to address the crisis (Praise, criticism from DA, 2018 and

Cruywagen, 2018b). This shows how the blurred line between what different institutions are

responsible for in relation to the drought has created confusion around accountability.

       As shown in articles such as O’Farrell et al. (2009), South Africa has long known that it

was threatened by the potential of prolonged drought and an inability to hold specific politicians

and institutions accountable for their mismanagement inhibits Cape Town’s ability to make
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                 22

progress in addressing water scarcity. A lack of clearly defined roles also prevents both the

federal and provincial government from implementing practical solutions because branches are

not able to take full ownership of policy outcomes. This is best demonstrated in how

disagreement between Nomvula Mokonyane, Patricia de Lille, and Helen Zille about the

viability of desalination plants prevented South Africa from taking a clear stance on this policy

proposal (Govender, 2018). While Cape Town is less than thirty years removed from apartheid

and still an evolving democracy, more clearly defined division between the responsibilities of the

provincial government and national ministries would better enable actors to create policy


Cape Town Going Forward

       In addition to the partisan and federal conflict described in the previous section, leading

actors have proposed surprisingly few policy solutions thus far. As shown in Figure 2, leaders

such as Cyril Ramaphosa have only proposed broad ideas such as building teams to address the

crisis. Other actors such as Ian Neilson and Patricia de Lille have not put forth many proposals

about how to increase water supply, but rather focused their attention on how to curb

overconsumption. Mmusi Maimane and Helen Zille most notably proposed almost no policies

intended to prevent the crisis, instead primarily discussing how best to manage water distribution

if Day Zero does arrive. Even when legitimate policy proposals are discussed, a lack of clear

direction and agreement from ANC and DA party officials prevents full implementation of

projects such as desalination plants (Govender, 2018).

       It is clear from these actors’ discussion of potential policy solutions that there is not one

clear path to preventing Day Zero. However, while there may not be a singular policy that will

fix the Cape Town water crisis, there are still lessons that both current and future policymakers
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                   23

should take away from this analysis and the literature reviewed. As noted by Deputy Mayor Ian

Neilson, affluent residents have not mitigated their water usage in light of the crisis. Palazzo et

al. (2017) discussed how there have been other past examples of wealthy communities not

limiting their water usage in drought crises and continuing water intensive practices such as

maintaining front lawns. This is problematic because less affluent communities are

disproportionately required to adjust their lifestyle during droughts. Especially when considering

South Africa’s history of apartheid and the DA’s perceived role as the party of white elites, the

South African government has an obligation to implement policies that ensure at-risk

communities are not disproportionately responsible for limiting Cape Town’s water usage.

       While the data demonstrates that is there are a limited number of plausible, impactful

policy options available to current actors in South Africa, this does not mean that there are not

steps governments can take to prevent water scarcity crises in light of climate change. As argued

in O’Farrell et al. (2009), proactive drought preparedness policies are most effective in limiting

damage caused by droughts for countries in already water-scarce regions such as South Africa.

Policymakers in other countries should take note of the limited options available to Cape Town

and appropriately take steps to improve infrastructure, promote resilience building in

communities, and develop a culture of sustainability prior to the onset of droughts.


       By specifically examining the case of the Cape Town water crisis, this paper furthers

academic understanding of how political conflict between government actors affects policy

outcomes in crisis situations. In analyzing divergent opinions of leaders within the African

National Congress and the Democratic Alliance, it demonstrated how actors’ tendency to play

partisan politics rather than address key issues prevented the South African government from
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                               24

implementing effective policy solutions. However, this research was conducted as the crisis was

ongoing, creating limitations in its findings and a need for future research. The dynamism of this

case made it difficult to continuously monitor the opinions of key actors, especially when

considering that many were removed from office during the course of research. Indeed, President

Zuma’s removal from office drastically altered the South African political landscape and, at the

time of this paper’s submission, there is heavy speculation that Patricia de Lille may be forcibly

removed from office before the end of the week (Dentlinger, 2018). Additionally, over the past

two months, the date of Day Zero was pushed back at least six times.

       Despite the limitations created by studying a current case, this research provides a

valuable, historical perspective of how actors and journalists perceived the crisis as it was

ongoing. Future research into the crisis should expand on this paper’s methods as new actors and

proposals enter into the policy arena. Furthermore, researchers should also study how political

conflict between actors affects water management policy in countries other than South Africa to

better understand how crises are affected by different government models. Cities ranging from

London to San Paulo are projected to face similar crises in the near future and it would be

valuable to understand how countries with differing levels of development and institutional

maturity cope with water scarcity (Frisk, 2018). Finally, it would be valuable to look back and

examine who past actors in South Africa viewed as responsible for preventing crises and what

policies they proposed to limit the threat of drought. Researching their opinions and failures

would help policymakers in similarly water threatened countries avoid the same mistakes made

by South Africa.

       The scope of this paper was not intended to compare different potential policy solutions

and thus, does not make specific recommendations about what policies South Africa should
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                                 25

implement to address the crisis. However, it does identify clear takeaways that both current and

future policymakers should recognize in regard to the policymaking process and broader water

management policy. This case study clearly demonstrates the tangible, negative impact that

political conflict has in relation to instituting impactful policy measures and exemplifies how

damaging it is to use a crisis situation as a political tool. Partisan politics are unavoidable in most

any country, but in natural disaster situations with the potential for catastrophe, policymakers

would be most successful in setting political differences aside and focusing on collaborative

solutions. This principle applies to both inter and intra-party conflict. Above all, this paper

highlights how desperate a situation becomes when policy makers are not actively strategizing to

address water scarcity in advance of a serious drought. With so many cities throughout Sub-

Saharan Africa and many other regions of the world at increased risk of water scarcity due to

changing climate patterns, policy makers should be proactively working to identify new sources

of water and implement progressive water resource management programs before they face the

same challenges as Cape Town.
The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis                             26

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