Cape Town, South Africa

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  • Ellen Bassett

Day Zero

There has been a lot of coverage of the Cape Town water crisis. Dubbed “Day Zero”, Cape Town is slated to run out of potable water in the near future. Due to strong conservation measures, the day has been postponed at least a couple of times and now according to the latest coverage in The New York Times the date is July 9. (See: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/30/world/africa/cape-town-day-zero.html )

The water issues Cape Town faces have brought strong focus to the great disparities in urban service delivery that characterize that city. As has been covered in many media outlets, those with means can get boreholes dug and fill their large water tanks while those without means—like those living in the townships—get to queue and wait for the water to flow from shared taps.

The fact that Cape Town is facing such a water crisis is interesting in many dimensions. For one the city and the province have long been ruled by the chief political opponent of the ANC, namely the Democratic Alliance. The ANC is particularly unpopular in Cape Town (at least in the city center.) The pretty bad photo below was taken at the Cape Town record shop associated with the film, Searching for Sugar Man. It shows Einstein teaching about three types of electricity—direct current, alternating current, and “absolutely no current” or ANC. Yes, clever. Yes, power outages are a thing of outrage.

Photo Credit: Ellen Bassett, Spring 2014

One of the DA’s (valid) critiques has been the inefficiency and corruption of the ANC. Reports show that the national government is certainly partially at fault, but the city government also bears some blame. The water crisis is also interesting in that Cape Town is one of the most studied localities in Sub-Saharan Africa relative to climate change—the city even has a climate mitigation plan. But the crisis shows, once again, that studying and planning for climate impacts and acting to address them seem strangely disconnected.

Last Updated:  14 September 2020