University of Michigan Gateway Ford School

The Role of National and State Actors in the Cape Town Water Crisis

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June 2018

Grant Rivas


A combination of rapid population growth, lack of proactive water management policy, and prolonged drought have put Cape Town, South Africa on the verge of becoming the first major, global city to effectively run out of water, a crisis projected to threaten more cities in the future due to changing climate patterns. This paper analyzes the public statements of officials from the African National Congress and Democratic Alliance—the two major political parties within South Africa— to examine how conflict between government actors at both the national and state level affected the management of the Cape Town water crisis. To study this issue, the paper specifically examines actors’ discussion of assigning responsibility for the crisis and identifying potential policy solutions. From this analysis, the paper finds that actors from both parties attempted to leverage the crisis as a political tool and that their discussion has primarily revolved around blaming political opponents rather than identifying solutions. These findings show the importance of collaboration between both discrete branches of government and rival political parties during crisis situations. It also emphasizes the need for world leaders to proactively plan against future droughts and other natural disasters potentially worsened by climate change.

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