CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – As April enters its second week, Capetonians are breathing big sighs of relief. It was only a few short months ago that April was marked as the estimated time for “Day Zero” – the day when the city would shut off municipal water supply through private taps, requiring all residents to queue (line up) at public locations to collect water rations for their cooking, cleaning, drinking and hygiene needs.
As you may have heard, Day Zero has been repeatedly delayed, at first to May, then to June, then to July (the height of the Cape’s rainy winter season). On March 7, Day Zero was moved ambiguously into 2019, effectively eliminating the threat of a true Day Zero. Water conservation efforts continue, as the city maintains its Level 6B restrictions on residents, but it seems this battle has been temporarily won.
As I suggested in my previous post, this drought has had effects which vary significantly, depending dramatically on one’s socioeconomic status. There are citizens, particularly residents of the apartheid-era townships, which are hardly affected by the stringent restrictions because their water consumption is inherently low absent any crisis, just based on accessibility and cost. At my international student orientation, a UCT student speaker expressed the situation poetically when he said, “it’s been Day Zero for Black people since 1652,” that being the onset of colonialization and marginalization of native peoples. The legacy of systematized oppression is visible in my everyday experiences, and the water crisis is a keystone example.
Some locals are convinced the water crisis was never a crisis at all. A few Uber drivers have offered to me their theories that the crisis was just another clever plot of a corrupt government to exploit the people through increasing water prices while simultaneously decreasing consumption. However unlikely these theories may or may not be, concerns of corruption and exploitation are valid and well-grounded.