‘The ideological attraction of our government to authoritarian Iran perhaps lies in the unquiet grave of past history’

Here is a tale of three countries. Let‘s call them A, B and C. Country A is experiencing its worst drought in living memory.

Last year, according to one report, country A recorded its lowest rainfall “since comprehensive records began in 1904”, largely because of an El Niño-induced drought.

Its government reckons that its maize harvest will be 27% lower than it was last year. Despite having eased restrictions on genetically modified crops, it will have to import at least 14million tons of maize just to feed its people.

This is happening at a time when its moribund economy is already importing far more than it exports and it has a dangerously high current account deficit, one of the triggers for its sovereign credit rating being imperilled.

An entire town of 100000 in the centre of country A will likely this week run out of water completely, even though it is on the banks of a river.

Country B also experiences severe droughts. Its water authority spokesman described how, just six years ago, “we were very, very close to a situation in which if someone opened a tap somewhere in the country no water would come out”.

But in country B today, the same spokesman says “the fear has gone”. This is largely because country B undertook a major national effort to desalinate its sea water and to recycle waste water.

Although it, too, is in the midst of extreme drought, its “revolutionary methods” of water recycling and reusing means that more than half of its households, agriculture and industry receive water that is now artificially produced. It is today an acknowledged world leader in innovations in scarce water situations and crises.

Country C also suffers from extreme water scarcity. Like country B it is surrounded by desert and it, too, has embarked on ambitious water-transfer projects.

But its record in this area is far more mixed than in Country B, for a range of reasons — geographic, technical and political. Two gurus on the subject, writing of country C‘s efforts, noted that C‘s own experts object to it on “economic and environmental grounds”. Furthermore, wherever C had applied its project, “scarcity reappeared just years after each project was finished”.

Given this brief summary, logic and sensibility suggest that country A should, at this time of national crisis, literally and figuratively, tap into country B rather than country C to help relieve its extreme drought.

But if you now learn that country A is South Africa, B is Israel and C is Iran, you will see that logic has nothing to do with it.

So, while the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, presents road shows here on how Israel has harnessed technology to make its deserts bloom, South Africa, at an official level, looks the other way.

Or, rather, looks towards C, Iran.

The ideological attraction of our government to authoritarian Iran perhaps lies in the unquiet grave of past history. But heedless of risk, and surely doubtful of result, never mind track record, that is where Nomvula Mokonyane, Minister of Water and Sanitation, went in May to sign an agreement.

She proudly announced, “We‘re ready to go full steam with Iran in reducing our over-dependence on surface water.”

No matter that there appears to be no single case of Iran, with its contested water programme at home, supplying one other country with its desalination programme.

I suppose this is one better than the cynics in ruling party circles who were outed in a recent Sunday Times exposé as suggesting that, if the water supply in areas outside Pietermaritzburg was cut off, then the appearance of water trucks would “prove” that municipal services were being delivered.

But that town in country A, Kroonstad, is in the midst of a life and death crisis due to water shortage. Viewers of Carte Blanche last month would have seen the terrifying consequences of what happens when a town‘s entire water supply dries up. Its situation on the Vals River, which is now dry, offers no respite and this week it is estimated there won‘t be a drop of local water left to drink.

But if you want to understand how ideology around here always trumps logic and even basic necessity, look no further than the ANC in the Western Cape for a clue.

Actually, a fair question to ask is: What would you do if you had the nightmare job of devising a strategy for the party in this opposition stronghold?

Your provincial leader is embroiled in a sex scandal, or series of them. You are up against a ruling provincial party that boasts the country‘s best and cleanest service delivery system. Your municipal manifesto launch is aborted due to infighting … and so it goes on.

Why, there is always Israel! Shock and horror, according to the party‘s provincial secretary, Faiez Jacobs. He issued an outraged statement denouncing the DA in the Western Cape for daring to attend the Israel-South Africa Water Week hosted by Israel‘s ambassador in Cape Town.

Apparently this proves that the DA, along with COPE and the ACDP, has been captured by “Israeli lobbyists”. If this sounds like something out of the conspiracy playbook of Donald Trump, you would not be far off the mark.

Poor Jacobs suggests that, “true to its values, ANC leaders never attended this pro-Israel event”. Apparently, to have done so would have “compromised our values”.
Actually they might have learned something of practical use and direct application. Never mind the strange loss of values by the ANC closer to home.

I am sure that this uncompromising assertion of values and morality would be quaint, though a brief glance at the human rights record of Iran would suggest otherwise, as would Nkandla.

But it is of cold comfort to the deprived residents of Kroonstad and other places reeling from water shortages and worse. They want solutions, not posturing and endless plans set way in the future.

But then it‘s about ideology, which is never as simple or as straightforward as ABC. It is just a pity for the people in whose name the party governs. — The Times