Flagrant Elitism as Cape Town Stumbles Toward “Day Zero”

Courtesy of Huffington Post South Africa

Cape Town, one of Africa’s most metropolized cities, and the second-most populous urban area in South Africa: now on its knees and on the verge of surrendering to the inevitable “Day Zero”. Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson has delayed Day Zero to July 15, when the city will terminate water pumping to houses, and individuals will be forced to resort to one of 200 of the city’s emergency water stations. Each station will be serving approximately 20,000 Capetonians and will be equipped with water-theft patrols to regulate skirmishes amongst the townspeople. As a consequence to the lack of running water, the cost of bottled-water has skyrocketed along with the rarity of such a luxury. Residents claim one must arrive the minute the stores open to be able to snag even one package of water; convenient stores sell out in minutes and are not able to replenish their stocks for days at a time. As a part of a contingency plan, schools still have access to running water; however, this relief comes with some stipulations. Only one faucet in the bathrooms can be operating, and parents are told to send students with their own water.

The city’s economy has been another victim to the effects of the three-year drought. The water shortage has reduced the usual influx of tourists, as well as instigated a predicted loss of a quarter of a million jobs. Consequently, prices for harvest products are on the rise. The drought affects not only the residents of Cape Town, but also the neighboring African countries and their intertwined economies.  

The first water cutback in early January allotted 87 liters per person (23 gallons). Now residents are being asked to use 50 liters (13 gallons) a day; for comparison, the average American uses 88 gallons a day. Reports of only a little more than half the city obeying the restrictions forced the city to constrict use of municipal water as well. Residents with enough money to drill a well and use underground water have the slightest advantage over those who only have access to the city’s public stations. As Day Zero approaches, city officials contemplate how they will regulate the Cape Town’s remaining 13.5% of its biggest reservoir without reaching total anarchy first.

And yet, not all are being afflicted by this tragedy. Not all are deprived of a resource every human needs. Not all are robbed of their careers. Over 64% of Water Management Devices (of the total 2,500) put forth to regulate water usage were placed in poor areas and neighborhoods, and the law itself affects the poor much more than the rich, much more than the people who chose to implement it. It is the poor that will lose jobs and access to water, the poor who have less access to the education needed to conserve water for themselves and their families. Moreover, in an abrupt fear of anarchy, Cape Town’s elite are trying to involve the military, trying to use force against any protest and, by doing so, are only escalating the issue as opposed to mitigating it.  It is these elitist qualities that are demonstrated not only in crises but everyday life, not only in Cape Town but throughout the world.


-Nawaal Ahmad (with Katie Jain)