Commentary

Sweating over the water crisis in Cape Town

19 January 2018 - 15:35 By Tim Flack
IN DEEP WATER: People queue to fill up water bottles at Muizenberg spring in Cape Town.
IN DEEP WATER: People queue to fill up water bottles at Muizenberg spring in Cape Town.
Image: Esa Alexander

Tim Flack describes himself as a regular Joe who earns a living by making knives and jewellery. He lives just outside of Cape Town – which could soon become the first major city in the world to run out of water. It’s an unpalatable predicament for everyone living on the parched southern tip of the country. Here‚ in his own words‚ is what it’s like.

Day zero is looming and we are now at the point of no return.

I wake up and stumble to the loo. The smell is interesting first thing in the morning. This is because we don't flush the loo - “If it's yellow let it mellow‚ if it's brown flush it down.” My dad still lives by this‚ due to the droughts he experienced when he was a young man like me.

I pee‚ my partner pees and that's one flush a flush with soapy shower water collected the night before. The house reeks if you don’t do this. The toilet ceramic needs cleaning‚ it's pretty gross in there.

Off to the kitchen. I put just enough water in the kettle for two cups of coffee. I drink a lot of milk in my coffee so I'm saving water there‚ I think. Off to the shower because‚ by the time the kettle has boiled‚ I'll be done with showering. Shave? Haha‚ not in a long time.

I shower in the morning because the heat at night is so bad I wake up feeling dirty. I sing the two-minute version of the national anthem as the water runs. #CountryDuty‚ turn the water off as I soap up. I have two buckets in the shower‚ one that catches the water as it becomes hot and the other for flushing. The clean one is for my prized bonsai trees. I've grown them since I was a child. They need water in Paarl’s almost daily 30+ degree temperatures. We've given up on the grass‚ it's dead. And the dust is just fantastic.

I'm a professional knife maker and jeweller. My hands stay dirty from here on. It's so bad that if I go into the sea my hands turn orange. It takes about five minutes to scrub them clean. So I leave them dirty most of the day until I shower at night. I have to because grinding knives leaves you covered in steel dust and particles. This stains any sheet if my hands are not cleaned properly.

While I finish off an order for knives I think: People are still wasting water‚ why has government left it so late? Do they really care? Mayor Patricia de Lille has basically been fired‚ and we only see Mmusi Miamane when he wants votes. Helen Zille? Who is that? National government has kind of become defunct. We hear nothing from them. Politicians really don't care. When it's time to vote they will blame each other and make promises that they won't keep.

I think: Hang on‚ when there's no water where will I go to the toilet? I can't poop in the loo‚ what will I flush it with? Use my 25 litres of allocated drinking water? Ha! Fat chance! I'll have to build a compost toilet - eeuw. It can be done though. I'll have to seal my drains and toilet because there won't be water in them.

Oh God! What about people who don't know this? I'll have to tell my friends and family. What diseases can we expect? What did government not tell us about? Gees‚ this is worse than I expected. Cholera‚ dysentery‚ tuberculosis‚ Lyme disease‚ West Nile virus‚ E coli‚ salmonella? All very real threats. People can die if this isn't dealt with.

It's dinner time. We cook with a small convection oven and microwave vegetables. Not much water there. The dishwasher takes about two days to get full and we do a half-hour clean. It apparently saves water.

Back in the workshop I think: four million people‚ 200 water collection points. I suck at math but that's 20 000 per station isn't it? I check on my calculator. I can forget about working for the next three hours now. Now what? Can I make something to distil salt water? YES‚ I can! So I start costing. Wait in line all day to get water or drive to the beach‚ collect sea water and let the sun work for me? I can keep working at least.

Work? Oh no‚ what will people that work do? They'll still have to go to work. Bosses are mostly terrible. If they are standing in line for water then how will they work? And if they have to work how will they get water? I assume the water would be in short supply in the shops; it's already R15 for five litres.

There are so many things to think about. It's inconvenient now. What is it going to be like when I can't wash my clothes? Or find water in the shop? What will the poorest of the poor do? I feel alone. Am sure so many others do. What are we going to do?

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