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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Controversy over water report

from Doberman @ I luv SA blog

Two fellow contributors have mentioned this incident where a researcher was suspended for producing a report on the state of the water supply in South Africa. I thought it interesting to find out what was so offensive in the man's report that merited his suspension. Indeed, as you will see below, Dr Turton did a big booboo - he dared to tell the truth.

Dr Turton essentially states that South Africa faces a water shortage and the social ramifications of the lack of water could lead to the locals once again turning on foreigners whom they perceive as stealing their resources. As Mr Spock would say, that's a logical conclusion, Captain Kirk. But instead of raising a red flag and initiating debate, the CSIR suspends the man and seals his report.

I can recall the myriad of reports that were produced for Eskom that the authorities also chose to ignore with the resultant catastrophic consequences but unlike electricity which is not strictly a life and death issue, water is essential for survival and basically what this poor fellow was trying to convey was that we should pay attention to the handling of this vital resource. See the posts in the past that we've done listed below.

Now whom do you believe?
Parasites in the water
Rivers of filth across Kwazulu-Natal
Protests Over Delivery Likely to Grow
Water crisis? What crisis?
Yes, it was bad water
More than 131 babies die in water contamination
Minister admits to dirty water problem
Millions in Durban exposed to dirty water

The full presentation of Dr Turton can be found here (image is actual front page of report).
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research suspended its researcher, Dr Anthony Turton due to offensive statements in his presentation, it said on Saturday.

"Certain statements that were made in the presentation, could not be sufficiently substantiated," said CSIR spokesperson Christa van der Merwe.

Turton was suspended on Friday over a presentation he was to deliver about South Africa's water crisis during the CSIR's Real and Relevant conference in Pretoria on Tuesday.

This included the depiction of burning victims in his presentation, which could have offended sensitive members of the audience.

"The CSIR encourages its researchers to publish their findings...Turton elected to engage with the media on the matter of the withdrawal of his presentation, despite internal avenues that are available, and in contravention of organisational policy," said van der Merwe.

The Saturday Star reported that the council executive of the CSIR charged Turton with insubordination and bringing the CSIR into disrepute.

He was forbidden from delivering his keynote address because it contained "unsubstantiated" facts, according to the executive, as well as photographs of this year's xenophobic attacks, which, the executive added, "may disturb people".

It was reported that in his presentation Turton was to have said that South Africa had run out of surplus water, with 98% of it already allocated.

He was also apparently to have said that because most rivers and dams were highly polluted they had lost the ability to dilute effluents.

Poor water quality was threatening economic growth, Turton was also reported to have planned to say his presentation. Turton was also to have said the government needed to accept that the development targets of the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for SA were simply unobtainable, or a radical rethink of how to mobilise the country's science, engineering and technological capacity was needed.

"If we accept the former option, we can say social instability will grow and SA will slide into anarchy.. .the xenophobic violence is a taste of things to come if we follow this trajectory...do we wish to avert the water crisis now before it happens or are we to be content with the status quo, happy to deal with it after it has been thrust upon us like the electricity crisis was?," Turton was quoted in the Saturday Star as saying.
Van der Merwe said an internal investigation into the matter has started.