When we visited my great-grandfather’s old farm, Thomaston, in rural Griqualand-West in South Africa all that remained to indicate that anyone had lived there was a bare husk of a house with some scattered papers in the corners. There was no water on the farm. None. My great-grandfather had boreholes and also collected water in tanks. When the boreholes ran dry sometimes he trekked miles and miles for his herd to drink or bought water from a neighbour’s farm. It was a hard life, a life that most of South Africa had to live and many still do. Once he got old and left the farm, no-one else moved into that house. That desolate and abandoned farm haunted me presenting a worrying dystopia of a life without water.
This is the reality we are now facing in Cape Town after an unprecedented three-year drought has introduced severe water restrictions (50 litres per person per day) and the impending Day Zero (the day the taps are turned off except to critical areas such as hospitals). I grew up in Cape Town and remember the wettest of winters with sheets and sheets of heavy rain. So much rain that Cape Town’s current drought situation is still inconceivable to me. It requires some kind of paradigm shift to accept the water shortages and process the reality of Day Zero. I am anxious about our water crisis every single day and it’s not only me. You can’t even find bottled drinking water in our shops as people scramble in mass panic to stockpile water.
It starts by not being in denial about the water crisis, saving as much water as you can and making a plan for Day Zero. Those who have money will be able to buy their way out of it. The rich people will tap into their boreholes on their land. They will ship in water from other parts of the country or the world. They will buy those fancy machines that turn air into water. But that’s not how it will be experienced by the rest of us and we will struggle because we have never experienced this sort of lifestyle before. But the reality is that this is how many people currently live. I have found much help and hope from speaking to my friends and family. Getting water-saving tips and encouraging each other to save more.
I was really influenced by my friend Rumbi’s writing on the water crisis and her confusion about the situation in questioning the extreme outrage felt by people at this way of life. Her point about the bigger picture of this water crisis really resonated with me because of our consumeristic culture of consumption and how we are wasteful with our resources. We were warned about global warming and yet we have made minimal changes despite it radically shifting our weather causing droughts, fire and floods. We have not changed our relationship with plastic or significantly recycled. We were asked to save water and yet we still continued to use and use. Sadly, even our water crisis doesn’t seem to be the red flag or the flashing neon sign to get us Capetonians to change our behaviour.
Cape Town is my home and the water crisis has broken my heart. This is primarily because this situation has brought out the worst in people. People have turned against each other in a cycle of blame and self-preservation. I would have hoped that the crisis would promote responsible citizenship and uniting us all into being more compassionate and caring towards each other. But being in survival mode always boils down people to their core. I don’t know what the future holds for the City of Cape Town but I have always believed that there are more good people in the world than bad and now is the time for us all to shine.
So here are my tips on making that paradigm shift:
- Don’t be in denial about the Cape Town water crisis. It is real and we need to save water now.
- Don’t waste energy playing the blame game. But if you would like to go down that path acknowledge that less than 4% of the water usage in Cape Town is attributed to informal settlements. The majority of water usage in Cape Town is used by houses. Houses with gardens, pools, multiple cars, dishwashers and washing machines.
- Realise that your gardens and pools are luxuries and let them go.
- Be aware that living with water shortage is how many people in South Africa and around the world currently live.
- Meet your neighbours and talk about water solutions in your area such as available bore holes or springs.
- Talk to your friends and family about saving water. Encouraging each other to save more.
- Make a plan for Day Zero. How you will collect water. How you will use water in your homes from drinking, cleaning yourself, going to the toilet, to washing dishes and clothes.
- Should Day Zero arrive think about how you can help other people especially those who are old, ill or don’t have other family members.
- Accept having water via a tap in your home is a luxury and realise that we will have to continue to save water going forward. As many people have been calling it, this is the “new normal.”
- Think about the bigger picture which is the environment. Try to find ways that you can consume less and recycle more.
- And most importantly be kind. Be kind to yourself as you try to deal with this crisis and be kind to others.