SANDF to guard Cape Town water

SANDF - []

The army is ready to deploy soldiers to protect water sources, water-carrying trucks and collection points if, as is expected, Cape Town’s supply runs out within the next six months.

Part of the army’s contingency plan also includes going off the water grid by drilling boreholes in the province.

The SANDF told Weekend Argus in an exclusive interview that people would in the near future line up with containers to collect their daily allocation at watering points, under the eye of soldiers and other law enforcement agencies.

The City of Cape Town subscribes to this scenario, having said if water isn’t used sparingly this situation would become a reality.

The city recently released a three-phase Critical Water Shortages Disaster Plan:

  • Phase 1: has been activated with water rationing through extreme pressure reduction (throttling).
  • Phase 2: has been termed the disaster stage and plans include the presence of the city’s law enforcement and policing resources and SANDF to be deployed to ensure general safety throughout the city. Residents will be allowed to collect a “predefined quantity” of water from collections sites.
  • Phase 3: the extreme disaster phase. This is when the city is no longer able to extract water from its dams. Non-surface supplies sourced from groundwater abstraction will be available for drinking purposes only.

Colonel Keith Aarons, officer commanding the Joint Tactical Headquarters Western Cape, and Lieutenant Colonel Adriaan Lotriet, staff officer for operations, said the SANDF’s role in the water crisis was clear.

“From our side the plan is there.”

Aarons said they had had numerous meetings with the city, province and national department, to discuss the crisis.

He said the SANDF’s primary task was to ensure that it be self-reliant should the taps run dry.

“The first thing is to provide for ourselves and then to support the city and provincial disaster management systems. We first look at our own resilience. How can we get off the bulk infrastructure by harvesting and reuse?

“We have to look at our own augmentation with the proposed drilling of boreholes and desalination. We are busy with that assessment to see which areas the SA army engineering formation can come and provide the resilience to our own members. We need to do this for self-sustainment.

“If things get worse, how will we operate if we don’t have water?”

He said they planned to be off the grid by December and urged other government departments to do the same.

The army’s contingency plan included protecting water routes, storage and collection points, escort duties, providing a limited supply of tankers as well as assistance to police in general crime prevention.

The SANDF would also offer support to government departments.

President Jacob Zuma’s spokesperson Dr Bongani Ngqulunga said the presidency had not received a request from the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans to deploy the SANDF.

Aarons said should there be an urgent need to deploy the SANDF it might activate local military resources for the first 72 hours.

Lotriet said the SANDF would not only be deployed during Phase 2 of the city’s plan, but at any time water storage facilities or shops that stock water become targets or are at risk.

When this happened, “the fact of the matter is that it won’t be business as usual”, said Lotriet.

Aarons said: “If God forbid we get to the point of water points, you as citizen X would arrive there and you will most probably see private security, metro police, SAPS and the SANDF.”

He said all SANDF personnel would receive training before being sent out on any operation and all foot soldiers and riflemen on the ground would be briefed on the rules of engagement, “so that they know what he or she may or may not do”.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services, confirmed that the role of the SANDF would be to assist the SAPS with maintaining law and order, and with logistical, transport and water distribution operations.

The engineer corps would provide water purification capacity at additional water distribution points, assist with humanitarian support and providing operational support at water distribution stations.

He said security agencies were prepared for a number of scenarios, “including having contingency plans for social disorder and public intolerance” as well as the outbreak of disease.

Mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy, Xanthea Limberg, said Phase 2 would be implemented based on the total surface water storage. 

“If and when the total available surface water storage in the city’s allocation for the Western Cape water supply system reaches a point where intensive daily rationing is required to ensure the city has enough water supply to safely reach the next rainfall season or activation of non-surface water augmentation. Water rationing will be aimed at maintaining human life and critical services.”

She said there would be a large number of businesses and homes that would not be able to access drinking water from the water system as usual.

They would “be able to collect a predefined quantity of water per person per day from these collection sites”.