Water crisis ignites laughs and fake news

(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

Save water. Don’t sweat the little things. Save water. Don’t shed tears for people who don’t deserve it.

These are among the water saving tips making the rounds among locals keeping spirits up despite the doom and gloom settling in fast with the water crisis.

Or, rather, the water management crisis – as someone said it should specifically be referred to.

And as usual, one can expect a crisis to bring the crazy out in people and bring out the crazies on social media. The results have included some funny memes created and also sadistic water-related hoaxes.

A poster with Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille as the lead character in the pseudo-movie Patricia Queen of the Desert was the first to pop up on social media. It is based on the popular Australian film Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille depicted in a fake movie based on a popular movie, Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Patricia apparently also stars former Democratic Alliance party leader Tony Leon whose company Resolve Communications was recently awarded a R680,000 contract to advise on the city’s water crisis communications strategy.

While De Lille appears with a big smile – looking rather like a friendly tannie than the bully her party claims her to be in their current impasse – it remains uncertain whether Leon is the person dressed in yellow or red feathers in the movie poster.

Another warning shared on social network website Facebook and sent via WhatsApp messages requested friends and family to “bring their own water with for tea, coffee and flushing the toilet”. It added: “The struggle is real people.”

An example of locals seeing the lighter side of the water crisis.

A fake letter referred to Western Cape premier Helen Zille as the city’s mayor was also circulated on social media, with some people believing it as fact.

It informs locals that “running and other physical activity including sex dehydrates you and makes you want to drink water, hence we are strongly against such activities”.

The letter continued: “Tourists are discouraged from coming to Cape Town, or must carry a min of 25ltr water for their personal use.”

Hoax messages meanwhile claimed a letter from the City of Cape Town warned that “under no circumstances are we to drink water from taps unless it is boiled as of today the water has been declared contaminated”.

“We have been told to alert our families. All water even for use for mixing of juice and for our animals must be boiled. It will apparently make us and our animals very sick,” it continued.

City officials denounced this hoax and water from taps remains safe for drinking purposes.

Social media is lit with water savings tips, devices and debates.

On one local radio station Facebook page, dedicated to water issues, someone asked whether it was safe to flush the toilet with seawater. Locals correctly responded with advice that salty seawater could damage sewage pipes.

The Jumu’a Mosque of Cape Town, located on the corner of Orange and Grey’s Pass streets in Gardens, shared a poster about a real movie that it would be screening on Sunday at 4:30pm. The documentary film Blue Gold: World Water Wars will be screened and “looks at what happens when water becomes a commodity”.


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