I know I was on the subject fairly recently, but you must understand that in Cape Town today, water is the main subject of conversation. You might go so far as to say that H2O has become the province’s greatest social lubricant.
If alcohol loosens the tongue and allows complete strangers to behave like life-long friends (or vicious enemies, in the case of a bar brawl), in the Mother City, water is performing the same function. Only instead of bar brawls, there are fisticuffs and heated rows in supermarket aisles as shoppers try to grab the last remaining five litre bottle of water.
The looming water shortage has forced many retailers in Cape Town to behave like retailers in Nairobi, when there is an unga (maize meal) shortage, and to limit the amount any one customer can buy.
Now, while the policy might have sounded great at whatever meeting of supermarket managers that came up with the plan, they clearly didn’t think it through. The human being is a devious creature by nature, and like other animals, survival of the fittest is at our very core, no matter what pretty clothes we dress it up in.
As such, Capetonians, like Nairobians before them, are finding ways around these regulations.
Supermarkets have no way of knowing how many customers come in more than once for the same limited product.
This is why earlier today, I was in the queue at my local supermarket, buying dog biscuits, not water, but in the line ahead of me was a complete stranger, who felt he had to tell me that this was his second trip to the same shop that morning to buy five more five-litre bottles of water. He then revealed he was going to be driving over to another branch of the same supermarket to buy more.
Others are spreading the risk by coming to shop in twos. So you have a couple coming into the supermarket and pretending not to know each other as they stock up on more than their fair share of bottled water. The management have no way of knowing if an entire household of five or six comes and takes advantage of their five bottles per customer.
That said, desperate customers seem to have no problem sniffing out this and other sorts of unfairness, and there have been news reports of “unprecedented” fist fights over water in some supermarkets.
I can only imagine that the authorities may have to call in the military to keep citizens from killing each other when people have to queue for water at the proposed water points come Day Zero, when the city authorities turn off household taps.
Meanwhile, I can safely say that the price of cheap perfume will soar, as people find ways to disguise the fact that they are not bathing or showering as often as they’d like in the heatwave that is February in Cape Town.
Already, the price of a 60ml bottle of hand sanitiser has shot up from R12 (about Sh100 ) to R25 (Sh210 ) in the last couple of weeks. The struggle is real.