It looks like every other Pick n Pay in the country, until you turn the corner into the beverages aisle. Entire shelves have been cleaned out. A single bottle of sparking water lies on its side, sad, alone, violated. If there wasn’t an old lady and pregnant woman calmly strolling to the juice, it would be straight out of a post-apocalyptic film that only Hollywood can dream up.
Yet, the water situation in Cape Town is much more horrific than any horror film. While the City of Cape Town urges its residents not to hoard water and to remain calm, the severity of the whole “no water” business is very clear in its own panic to get Capetonians to use less water.
It’s like the static voice of a presenter over a car radio trying to calm residents of a city in the middle of an apocalypse. The listener simply needs to look up at the hoards of people rushing out of the supermarket with trollies filled with water to know that something’s up.
Fridges and shelves in Cape Town supermarkets are empty except for flavoured and sparking water
The suggestion for Capetonians to throw their toilet paper in a bag rather than in the toilet to avoid flushing should also be a hint. For now, though, most of Cape Town is still civilised. Despite buying water as soon as it hits the shelves and hoarding litres in the garage for D-Day, it is business as usual.
Residents will calmly queue for hours waiting to get water from springs and shops. Stores have started to limit the amount of water a person can buy and people respect this policy. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how long this calm will last. I’m pretty sure, it won’t be long before someone breaks.
By the second day of being shown away, I would be very tempted just to run up to an old lady and grab her water before she reaches her car. Yes, that would be incredibly mean, but survival of the fittest will soon not seem like such a bad option. Soccer moms will soon be tugging the perfectly straight hair of “poppies” to get that last five-litre bottle of water.
Money will have no more value and people will trade in bottled water. Yet, an even bigger threat looms just on the other side of the N2.
As is the norm, the middle and upper class South Africans are spoiled for choice. They can start to hoard water months before Day Zero arrives (although, I’m surprised many have waited this long). If all else fails, my parents have their swimming pool with at least 25 000-litres of water.
Cape Townians queue outside a local Oasis for filtered, bottled water – the store limits people to a few litres
Yet, what happens when the townships run out of water? Many of these people can’t afford to pay thousands for filtered and bottled water. While donations are streaming into Cape Town, it is still a very tiny, sometimes dry river. Donations won’t be able to keep up with the demand of the people.
I suspect the City of Cape Town knows this. When the going goes dry, the masses will rise to fight for their survival. So, Cape Town can only encourage people to use even less water – Helen suggests only showering twice a week – and pray that rain will come before the people break a sweat.
Visiting Cape Town over the holiday season, I had a first-hand experience of how the Capetonians have been able to save water. Despite closing taps and only showering every second day, I still used double the amount of water than the native Capetonians.
For those of us with an abundance of water, it is difficult to really know how little 50 litres of water a day is. Try showering in under two minutes or only using five litres of water to wash your entire body.
I would like to congratulate Capetonians. You are doing an amazing job at cutting back and keeping that Day Zero at an arms distance. As a holiday goer who visited the Mother City (and possibly wasted a few litres of water), I would just like to apologise on the behalf of everyone that used your precious water; forcing you to now use even less.
I’m terribly sorry that you will only be allowed to shower with apple cider vinegar and baby powder for the next few days. Sorry, you can’t flush your toilet paper and will need to put plastic on your plates to avoid washing dishes. That really sucks!
I vow to be one of the thousands of South Africans that will undoubtedly drive down litres of water if ever (God forbid) Day Zero arrives. Until then – remember to throw toilet paper away or drip dry #ToiletPaperFreeLoo
This is what 50 litres of water per person, per day looks like …