The Water Crisis Diaries: A New South Africa

“Customers can buy as much water as they want.” The woman snatches down the 25 litres per customer sign. “Zuma has gone, it’s a new South Africa.”

Even though we know the one thing has nothing to do with the other, we all laugh. It’s a good day for South Africa. Our corrupt leader has been ousted and they announced that Day Zero has been pushed back to July.

I’m at the checkout of our local grocery store with my friend who’s visiting from the UK. I start explaining to her about the stockpiling that went on before – customers stacking 40 litres of water in a single trolley, water disappearing off shelves before it was even finished being packed out. The teller joins in the retelling. Already it has this sense of something in the past, something that’s over. The relief is palpable.

“I suppose people are less scared now,” I say.

“Joh,” she agrees.

“It got scary there for a while.” I explain to my friend about the fear of bucket toilets. She’s very aware of the crisis, of course. She’s been bucket bathing with the rest of us since she arrived.

“I’m also in a block of flats, me too.” The teller chirps, and she shares all of my fears about the poop situation when one doesn’t have access to a garden. “And my son – telling him not to flush the toilet. He says to me ‘mummy, I miss water’. He wants to wash his hands. I have hand sanitizer and wetwipes and everything, but he uses the sanitizer like soap. He asks me ‘mummy why can’t I flush the toilet’. ‘To save water’. But he doesn’t understand.”

I’m so grateful I don’t have young children.

The crisis isn’t really over. We have a new terrifying mascot to emphasize this point. The only reason the date has been pushed back is because we’ve all been saving water so well. But we still need to push it back further.

Also it rained! But it needs to rain more.

Still, it feels like it’s over. It feels like the worst has passed. I really hope it has.

Even if it is, I doubt we will ever go back to thinking of water the same way. It’s not just a Cape Town problem, although we have been the worst hit this time. There have been droughts across South Africa this year and if this is a result of climate change, that’s going to be the new normal.

Still, for now we breathe easier and swap anecdotes and pour bicarb and vinegar down our collective toilets.

By the way, here’s the mascot.

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