Be kind to each other in times of crisis

(This article was first published on 27 January 2018 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper distributed in the Western Cape, South Africa.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

As a Capetonian, I really hope we can be a bit kinder to each other during this water crisis. And that should start with our political leaders.

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille should refrain from calling residents “callous” when the city under her watch really has failed us. When I asked city officials why they have not installed water tanks at least a year ago at various sites to use grey water for other uses, their response was trivial.

Xanthea Limberg, charged with running the city’s water, replied: “This cost of doing so would not justify the amount of water this would yield.”

And then the other night I was shocked at Western Cape premier Helen Zille’s tweet in response to someone who indicated that townships residents have lived with Day Zero since birth.

Zille responded coldly: “It must be a relief that you weren’t burdened by the legacy of a colonial wiping system”.

Helen Zille’s uncaring response.

And to make matters worse, the Democratic Alliance appoints its party leader Mmusi Maimane to run the water crisis campaign when this is a crisis requiring local government leadership. He handed out water buckets this week to people who are wasting water – and who can afford buying their own buckets.

Mmusi Maimane with water buckets.

Politicians employed and paid to solve the water crisis have failed and now point fingers and turn it into a show for an opportunistic politician.

I’m among many other Capetonians currently preparing for potential water cuts come Day Zero and it’s just not that lekker.

It’s not that many of us don’t want to save water or make effort to use less water from dams with decreasing water levels. Although the City of Cape Town’s dashboard indicates at least 60% of us are still not decreasing our daily water consumption.

But here’s the thing: preparing for Day Zero, when access to water from municipal taps would be limited, is influenced by so much fear.

Over the last few days I’ve been to Stodels Garden Centre twice to ask about buying a water tank. I’ve been using grey water from my shower and kitchen sink to date and that has been enough for flushing my toilet and watering plants.

I thought about getting the tank to store any overflow grey water. A 250 litre would be enough for me and cost R1000. I would also need to buy a tap to attach to the tank.

Long story short: Stodels are selling out on tanks as soon as they get them. One on afternoon when I was there, a salesperson told me he had sold 30 water tanks that day.

I’m thinking of getting a large bin for storing overflow grey water that would be used for flushing the toilet.

The next step was to get bottled water for drinking daily and using less water from the city’s depleting dams. Of course, this was another revelation.

I went to two three retailers in the week to buy 5-litre bottled water. I got some at Checkers and decided to buy only four bottles.

Again, fear ruled the day and one customer in front of me bought ten 5-litre bottles. It filled his trolley and it was visible that 50-litres – the amount of water we should ideally be using a day to avert Day Zero – is a lot of water.

Quite a few customers in Checkers were filling up their trolleys with 5-litre bottles of water, likely stockpiling should Cape Town’s tap run dry.

The next day I went to Pick ‘n Pay retailer and noticed their shelves where the 5-litre bottles of water are usually stored were empty. I also noticed the price of the water had gone up from the recent R17,99 to R19,99 this week. Game retailer on the other hand had sold out completely its 5-litre bottles of water.

A Checkers shop assistant said as soon as the water was placed on its shop floors customers would snatch it up.

Preparing for a life with limited access to water from taps also means finding other ways of taking a shower. I went to Game and bought something I have never used in my life: a water Garden Master water sprayer.

This could likely become my shower, although it lets out very little water while spraying. The truth is, we are now all Khayelitsha. We are all facing the possibility of not having running water, something that township residents have known as life as usual.

Twitter reminded me of this with a few township life picture tweets from that Girl. Suddenly, because the water crisis affects the more privileged residents of Cape Town and there’s a lot of money to be made with all these products, there’s a lot more noise around it.

I’m conflicted by the amount of events popping up around saving water and becoming environmentally friendly because a lot of it isn’t really about social activism but about selling products.

Of course, the water crisis is a profit-making event (let’s call it that). Suddenly it’s hip and cool and sexy to care about saving water, let alone the world. And it all comes at a price. You can now learn about water saving while buying smoothies and eating gluten-free sandwiches at innercity markets.

The water crisis will be with this for at least a while and one hopes as citizens we can show compassion. It will be more than what our political leaders have been able to do thus far.


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