Melanie Veness: PCB CEO
Margaret Thatcher said: “Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides”. Mrs Thatcher was a smart woman.
My job often calls for me to play a liaison role between government and business, which certainly keeps life interesting. Sometimes I’m called on to communicate with the wider community, particularly when there is an issue that impacts all of us, like electricity or water shortages, and that’s even trickier.
We currently have critically low water supplies in our catchment area, and if we fail to save water and continue to use it at the same rate as we have been, then we will in all likelihood run out by November. This is assuming that we don’t have rain during winter, which we usually don’t have, so it’s a pretty sound assumption.
I don’t think that anyone believes that this will actually happen, because behaviour patterns are just not changing sufficiently.
Umgeni Water, realising the seriousness of the situation and recognising that people are simply not reducing their consumption, has reduced the total supply to our city. This has meant that our water and sanitation department has been put under extreme pressure to try and balance what supply we do have and various areas are being affected as reservoirs run dry.
I have to say that I have been directly affected, so I am not without sympathy for the plight of residents. Thankfully Business has not been severely impacted as yet. Having no water is not for the faint-hearted. Having grown up in game reserves and on remote farms, I can tough it out with the best of them, but I wouldn’t choose to do so. I don’t even willingly go camping. I get how horrible it is, but I also battle with the public reaction – I’ll tell you why.
I have a great amount of sympathy for our current water team, who are doing their best in very trying circumstances. I appreciate their challenges, because I deal with them on a daily basis, and I see first-hand what they have to face and how hard they are working to address the problems. This small leadership team inherited infrastructure that was in very poor shape. To their credit, they didn’t run away screaming after they discovered how bad things were. They knuckled down, put a good plan in place, and are busy implementing it. Burst pipes, while not as frequent as they used to be, are still a regular occurrence.
The infrastructure has not been adequately maintained. This is true. It is also true to say that the water department is woefully under resourced. I can’t argue with people who claim that the call centre is largely dysfunctional. I think that it is. Those employees need training.
But finger pointing isn’t going to help. In fact it just demotivates the poor people who are trying to resolve the problems. We’re all in this leaky boat together, and giving council the bird because they haven’t maintained the infrastructure and aren’t getting to the leaks in time isn’t going to end well for any of us. So, my suggestion is, let’s rather be part of a solution. Let’s play our role in saving water and let’s help where we can.