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Archbishop of Cape Town speaks out about water "inequality"

Posted on: February 7, 2017 1:34 PM
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
Related Categories: Abp Makgoba, Southern Africa, water

[ACNS] The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has said the problem of water supply and sanitation illustrates why South Africa “is one of the most unequal countries in the world.” The Archbishop also described the problem of drought as one of the biggest risks facing South Africa’s businesses – causing food shortages, price increases and the loss of jobs for casual workers.

Archbishop Thabo was giving the keynote speech at the launch in London of an international church initiative to raise awareness and activism about water. Cathedrals and churches on four continents have come together in a project that aims to draw attention to the issues around water supply - whether these challenges are flooding, drought, rising tides or access to fresh water and sanitation. The initiative has been organised by St George's Cathedral (Cape Town); St Paul's Cathedral (London); St Paul's Cathedral (Melbourne); and Trinity Church Wall Street (New York).

Archbishop Thabo said a water crisis back home, with only three months’ supply left, because of diminished rainfall, had concentrated his mind "on how precious water is and on how devastating the effects of scarcity can be.”

Using the theme of “water justice”  Archbishop Thabo said the distribution of water is based on inequality: “Many of the threats to water are coming from companies who pollute rivers with industrial pollution. We suffer a lot from acid mine drainage affecting our water systems. The shareholders of mining companies make a profit, but the local communities are left with water degradation. As a church we stand firmly against fracking, since for short-term profit there is a danger of water systems being polluted for decades. Large corporate farms are also responsible, as the run-off from artificial fertilisers and pesticides pollutes the rivers” he said.

Explaining why he had entitled his speech “Water is Life, Sanitation is Dignity,” Archbishop Thabo said problems around access to water and sanitation illustrated inequality in South  Africa: “Whereas one family waters their vast lawn and fills their swimming pool, another shares a single tap with 20 neighbours. Whereas one family has four bathrooms, another shares a communal toilet with dozens of people.”

The Archbishop said poverty and power relations are reflected in who has access to control over water: “I have experienced this myself in the Kingdom of Lesotho, which has vast dams of water for South Africa, yet the country's own people are suffering severe water restrictions. In Lesotho, you bathe with a basin, yet when you travel to the neighbouring city of Bloemfontein, the taps run freely and the water sprinklers are keeping lawns green and the pools full.”

In response to all of this, Archbishop Thabo summed up with some recommendations: taking personal responsibility for using water more carefully, greater care for oceans and rivers, reducing meat consumption because of the amount of water needed for livestock production and the necessity of fighting climate change.