Global faith-based conference calls for water justice

issued by the Water Justice Conference held at St George’s Cathedral


A global conference on water justice, held at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, from 23rd to 25th March 2017, has called on faith communities and governing authorities to work for water justice as a matter of urgency. “Freedom is worth nothing if you can’t deal with sewerage and provide clean water”, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba told the conference.

Presentations given at the conference by WWF-SA and University of Cape Town academics clearly showed how dependent people are on our life support systems of clean air, reliable climates, fertile soil and water. Without these, humanity – and much of life – cannot survive. “We know we cannot live without water. Water is sacred. It is a gift from God. All life depends on water. We therefore must care for and look after our water resources”, the Archbishop stated.

We heard of the alarming decline of freshwater resources globally, with population growth continuing to increase. Notably for those in Cape Town we heard that by 2030 we could have a population of 8 million people. Given our current water crisis, it is clear that we need to care for our water resources and sources. We heard that desalination is an extremely costly source of water. We also heard of the Cape Flats Aquifer at Philippi. We believe that it is an essential priority to protect, preserve and care for this unique water source. We note with alarm intentions to allow further building over the aquifer, which not only threatens the future of this water source but threatens an essential source of food for the people of Cape Town. We must not only preserve our aquifers. We must stop pouring sewerage into the ocean, polluting and threatening sea life. Instead we must regenerate this water and utilise the nutrients from sewerage.

 Large cities like London have been doing this for many years and we must care for our rivers so that clean water can flow, allowing all life to flourish, and improving our water resources at the same time. “The destruction of our natural environment is the human rights challenge of our time”, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu told the conference by video. What is required is three-fold justice – environmental, social and economic. We cannot flourish where there is environmental destruction, social dislocation and economic inequality. This is seen in informal settlements here in our beloved country and around the world with lack of sewerage and clean water, violence, conflict and unemployment.

Our immediate call to the Cape Town City authorities is to desist from any further intention to allow the zoning to be changed from agriculture at the Philippi Horticultural Area. It would be morally wrong and irresponsible for the City to allow further building on the Cape Flats Aquifer and it would prove that the City is more committed to financial profit than the well-being of people and planet. “What does development mean if it destroys the water and destroys the food?” Archbishop Thabo asked the conference. We fully support development, but in the right place.

 We believe there is eleven thousand hectares of land in the City where the necessary housing and schooling developments could take place. Infrastructure is already in place and this would reverse the injustices of Apartheid’s group areas which is a cause of so much suffering for the people of Cape Town today. We must densify, not continue to house people far from the centres of employment. We have to warn the authorities that we will use all the resources at our disposal to prevent the destruction of the Philippi Horticultural Area. Just as the churches opposed racial segregation in the Apartheid era, so we now oppose environmental destruction. We will not allow the destruction of the natural environment and our natural heritage.

Once you build over the natural environment, you destroy it forever. We in the Western Cape have a quite unique and magnificent natural environment with exceptional natural resources. It is this that attracts millions of tourists and South Africans. We dare not destroy it in the name of ‘development and progress and profit’.


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