World War III could be a war over water

Published Apr 11, 2024


Mabila Mathebula and Aifheli Manwatha

Deputy President Paul Mashatile is heading a top-level ministerial task team to solve the water crisis in South Africa.

To achieve his aim, he will be compelled to take over the provision of water responsibilities from our moribund municipalities. He is also willing to reach out to farmers, trade union Solidarity and its affiliate, AfriForum.

As a leader, he is willing to sacrifice all his principles for a greater principle – the provision of clean water to all South Africans, regardless of their colour or creed. He has never adopted an attitude of a barber but an attitude of a seasoned strategist. For example, when a razor has seen long service and refuses to hold an edge, the barber puts it away for a few weeks and the edge comes back of its accord.

Mashatile realised that under the current dispensation, the service delivery razor would not hold an edge. Mashatile’s collaborative approach will enable the service delivery razor to hold an edge at the right time. What a rainbow nation! What a nation of collaborative thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our national edges!

There is an invisible world war raging like a hurricane; a war over water resources. The water war is an ancient war which is proving impossible to solve globally.

The Bible records: “Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the mountains of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Madianites, and seize from them the watering places as far as Bery Barah and the Jordan. Then all the men of Ephraim gathered and seized the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.” Our watering places are also seized through unscrupulous trade deals.

The former president of Mozambique, Samora Machel, once said: “For the nation to live, the tribe must die.” We may safely say that for our water resources to be preserved for posterity, ignorance, sabotage and selfishness must die. For example, most people look worried when their roofs leak but they are not worried about leaking water pipes at their homes. They believe that their leaking roofs deserve urgent attention but are careless about leaking water pipes. They do nothing to preserve the water resources they consume daily.

At university, we naively enrolled for economics 101. Our lecturers taught us that the fundamental problem of economics was scarcity. However, by then, water and electricity in South Africa were in abundance and not at a premium. Government is an institution rooted in an ethos of scarcity. Government regulates, allocates and controls on the assumption it must do so because resources are limited.

Only certain classes of citizens and urban communities had access to the unlimited resources during times of abundance. Our lecturers failed to zoom into the future to foresee that water and electricity, which have traditionally been regarded as business and domestic expenses, could become nationally and globally scarce resources. Globally, water is a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce and developed countries are taking advantage of the developing countries’ ignorance. Most people believe that the trigger for World War III will be weapons of mass destruction. Little do these people realise that there is a subtle World War III being waged – over water resources.

South Africa, like most countries, has a water challenge. Since water is life, it drives the economy as well our social activities. According to the World Bank, water availability in most Middle East and North African countries is only 1 200m³, around six times less than the world average of 7 000m³. It is palpable that our available water resources cannot sustainably meet our water demand. For example, South Africa receives around 400mm to 600mm of rain annually. If this situation is taken into account, the country does not have enough water to service its Industries, irrigation, urbanisation and general use. Our water status is in a crisis and could be resolved only by all patriotic South Africans, the national government, state-owned entitles, NGOs and the private sector.

With regard to livestock farming, domestic animals, as well as wild animals, consume a lot of water. For example, China imports around 397 00 herd of cattle, with a view to saving its water resources. Strategically, it has saved 2.9 billion litres of water a year by importing meat. Mashatile’s project should also focus on the uncontrolled population of animals that consume our water resources innocently at the cost of our scarce resources.

When it comes to farming, water use is determined by the type of product and irrigation system used, for example, summer crops need little water (dry farming depends highly on rain fall). Dry farming produce, such as soya beans and sunflowers, have the high nutritional value for humans and animals. Depending on the nature of crops to be produced, other crops require a weekly water attention for the first month and, thereafter, less water towards harvest time. With this, water use estimations could also be calculated and saving methods applied.

As a country, our attitude towards water use must change. We must take a leaf out of a farmer’s book who detests seeing even a drop of water wasted. He instead channels it to a plant. In that way, we will be building a greener and greater South Africa and preserve water for posterity.

Mashatile should start what we call a “water consciousness” campaign, whereby all South Africans must be taught how to preserve their water resources and how other countries have taken a decision to save their water resources by importing meat and doing farming from developing countries.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in construction management; Aifheli Manwatha is a farmer

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