Suspended water researcher speaks out

The suspension of a senior researcher by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has not stopped him from speaking out.

Dr Anthony Turton’s keynote presentation A Clean South Africa was due to be delivered at the CSIR’s Science Real and Relevant conference in Pretoria last week, but he was instead charged with insubordination and bringing the council into disrepute.

In his presentation, Turton was to have warned that the country could be headed for a crisis in the water sector, which could fan social instability.

“For us to remain silent is bordering on the criminally negligent,” Turton told Talk Radio 702 on Tuesday morning.

He said he was not an “alarmist” but simply wanted to “bring the facts to the surface” to inform decision-makers “before things get out of control”, reported the Times on Tuesday.

On Monday, the Democratic Alliance called on the CSIR to reinstate Turton to his post.

Turton also told the Zoopy video website that he felt frustrated and that ‘internally, no one listens to us anymore”.

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”.

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

The CSIR said a statement posted on its website that it acknowledged that South Africa was facing huge challenges regarding water quality and management.

It said it had invested ‘significant amounts of resources in an attempt to ensure that these challenges are addressed” and it was their view there is a need for ‘rigorous analyses of data in order to understand the root causes of problems in water provision, water quality and water infrastructure”.

It said Turton’s paper was withdrawn ‘due to certain statements that were made in the presentation, which could not be sufficiently substantiated, as well as the depiction of burning victims, which could have offended sensitive members of the audience”.

‘Dr 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. An internal investigation has been started and Dr Turton was suspended on Friday November 21 2008”.

Interview with Anthony Turton

Turton said in the paper ‘that South Africa has lost its dilution capacity, so all pollutants and effluent streams will increasingly need to be treated to ever higher standards before being discharged into communal waters or deposited in landfills”.

‘Either we need to change our current developmental trajectory and accept that the targets specified in the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa [Asgisa] are simply unobtainable; or we have a radical rethink about how to mobilise the science, engineering and technology capacity of the South African nation in a concerted effort designed to support the targets specified in Asgisa.”

The presentation (PDF)

Read Anthony Turton’s presentation

‘The decision is not actually difficult to make, because if we accept the former option, then we can say, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that social instability will grow and South Africa will slowly slide into anarchy and chaos.”

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