The Water Carriers of Cape Town

There has been a drought in Cape Town.  We have had extreme water restrictions for 7 months.  This means no hosepipes allowed for watering the garden.  You may only use buckets and watering cans- preferably from your already used bath water, or washing up water.  Hopefully, you have used soaps that will not harm your plants.  We have figured out how to get the hosepipe through the bathroom window to suck the water out of the bath, which we- a family of four, have to share and then re-use it to wash the car. Buckets of left over bath water are also dragged to the toilet instead of flushing the chain. Most good people in Cape town shower standing in a bucket of water and then pour the water into the toilet to save on a flush.  These are all examples of ways one has to learn to be frugal with our precious resource.

The main dam, from which most of the drinking water comes is down to 11 percent according to a recent newspaper headline, which had a front page picture of a dry dam with a few streams running out of it.  It’s basically just a puddle. It’s the bottom of the barrel and a little strong- like the bottom of the barrel usually is. So the tap water has been causing children to have sore tummies.  Those of us who can afford to, and have the means, collect from the Newlands Spring, or the other sources of pure mountain water running out of the mountain.    During the course of this drought, this practice has become more and more mainstream.  The spring in Newlands used to be mainly visited by more extreme health conscious types, (like me) who would bring glass jars- not plastic- which has MPA’s.  But now there is a constant thronging cue of people from all walks of life.

The spring in St. James, used to be known only to few as a place to collect fresh water, now there is a cue round the clock.  There are big bottles of spring water lining the isles in the shops.  People, who previously may not have spent money on water are dragging big bottles of water home with them.  The people who do not have their own transport cannot afford to collect water from the Newlands Spring, so they have to buy it.  Companies are cashing in.  Plastic bottles are piling up. Unfortunately, it is not mandatory to recycle in Capet Town like it is in places like Paris, where it is part of the infrastructure.

According to the World Health Organization, one in every 10 people across the globe, lack access to safe drinking water. In many developing countries, the burden of providing water for households is placed on women and girls.  This often means walking a long way burdened with heavy loads.  According to their calculations, the average women or girl-child in this situation spends up to 6 hours a day just collecting water for drinking washing and cooking. It’s a full-time job.

So us Cape Townias, are just getting a tiny taste of it.  There may well be more to come.  We have to wake up and be prepared -no matter the size of our property or bank account,  Many of us who have tried to grow our own food by tending a vegetable patch in the back garden, are finding it hard to keep our greens alive in these conditions.  This year’s wine crops may taste a little sweeter from all the sun.  But I have to ask why vineyards take up most of the agricultural ground around this fertile region?  Another question is why so much water gets turned to wine around here.  Ideally, more of this land should be utilized for food if we were to be more logistical about the survival of the species.  (If I was the president I would make the vineyards dedicate a percentage of their lands to growing organic vegetables as a way to give back.   Boschendal– near Franschoek, is doing it.  They have one acre of organic vegetable garden which yields a ton of vegetables.  How much of our water is being used to grow wine?  It’s high time to ask these questions.  The most addictive substances on the planet, such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, and wine are crops that use the most water.  We have to take a hold on our addictions in a more conscious world.  But just when the going gets tough and depressing, that’s when we reach for our comforting cuppa coffee with 2 sugars and a smoke and later a glass of wine.  Let’s not think about it too much, shall we? Or are we being forced to be more conscious.  Nothing like being bumped out of the comfort zone for a moment to grow a little.

This drought is an opportunity to learn so much.  It is forcing us not to take basics for granted. (Or should be.) When you go to collect your water from the spring, it is treasured.  Not wasted.  It is precious, it nourishes.  The water from the mountain is rich in natural minerals, it has no added fluoride or other chemicals.  According to the principles of Biomimicry, the science of using life’s principles to adapt and design, we should be learning more efficient ways of using water from nature.  Hopefully, our city planners are on the case of redesigning the infrastructure to be more efficient, so that the brewery no longer gets all the best spring water.


I have been collecting water for months from the Newlands Spring- which is kindly offered to the public by the SA Brewery factory, who has been hogging it since they colonized the place.  On each visit, I speak to a few people in the cue, asking them why they come. Many said that the spring water tastes so much better.  One woman (from Newlands) said that apart from the good water she loved the process of collecting it because it felt so Biblical.  Another explained that the spring water was so much more energized (as opposed to dead tap water- it had more life)  that it was worth the drive to collect it. (All the way from Seapoint.)  There were others collecting whole truckloads of water to fill their swimming pools (and still adding chemicals to it) and to water their plants so as to save on the water bill.  There was a woman with a truckload of containers collecting for a primary school.  There were policemen and mechanics and insurance men. In our demographic, more men than women. They rub shoulders in the cue and realize that they are all in this together.

It creates an unspoken sense of community.  This is life in the age of Climate Change.  When we collect our own water from the spring we are taking our survival seriously, independently of the system.  No matter who we are and what we believe taking water from the source of the earth and that is precious.  We are very grateful that we can. Even in the city.  No wonder she is called the Mother city.  We are very grateful for our mountain and her underground water. It is time to take a different approach to our resource management.

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