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February 17, 2019

G-Spot: Cape Town’s rich will soon discover that they also need council water

The view of Cape Town from Signal Hill
The view of Cape Town from Signal Hill

Cape Town is prepared to panic as it dawns on most denizens of the city that they face a bleak, waterless future.

The authorities are referring to the dystopian sounding Day Zero (probably the first week of April this year), when the city’s tap will run dry. That is the day when every household will have to go to one of about 200 water distribution units to queue for water. There has been talk of calling out the military to assist the police in peacekeeping at these places when it all kicks off.

The buildup to Day Zero began as a gentle, if irritating, drip at first, with the occasional suggestions in the newspapers and on the radio around saving water. One radio station tried to make it a more palatable exercise by coming up with two-minute editions of popular songs for the public to use to time themselves in the showers, after the city began to promote two-minute showers as a means to save water.

For the public, it appeared as if the rapid drying up of the dams serving Cape Town was too much to absorb, and so while some people such as Helen Zille, the premier of the Western Cape Province, became water warriors, saving water by only showering twice a week, others continued to behave as though it was business as usual.

However, over the last couple of weeks, reality has come into view, and the panic is now palpable.Madam Zille has charged onto the scene to be seen to take charge of the situation, claiming that the challenge of Day Zero is greater than that faced by New York City after the September 11 attacks or even the effects of World War Two in Europe.

Of course, as would be the case anywhere in the world, there are those — usually rich people — who appear to think that none of the warnings and special measures to save water have anything to do with them.

As I took my constitutional in the lanes around my neighbourhood recently, I quickly noticed that those who seem to believe they are exempt from any moves to save water just happen to be those living in some of the smarter residences. You can see that they are using lots of water as their gardens look lush and well-watered, despite the drought and hose-pipe restrictions already in force. These people appear to have access to borehole water to supplement the water supplied by the city, and pinned up signs on their gates saying: “Borehole water in use on these premises.”

They appear to imagine that their boreholes from shared aquifers (most plots around here are about half an acre or less) will never dry up. These are the people who are in for a rude shock, when a few months down the line, they find that they have run out of water and now have to queue with the hoi polloi for 50 litres of water per household per week.

I can’t help relish the fact that there will be much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands when they realise they are not really exceptional.

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