12 Oct Drought: A Drop of Reality for the Middle Class?
In recent years, a primary concern of South Africans across the country, though at the moment particularly those living in the Western Cape, is that of an increasingly-severe drought. In the Western Cape, the implementation of the Level 5 Water Restrictions (which began in early September) has forced the entire region to use less water than it ever has before . The general public has been required to restrict their water usage to only 87 litres per day.
Even those in high positions, such as Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, are forced to join into the desperate bid to save water. Recently, Zille commented on how she was concerned about the aesthetic and hygienic consequences of not being able to shower every day. According to Zille, she only showers once every three days, and does any other daily washing of herself in her basin. These concerns are not uncommon, many members of the middle class have been concerned about their inability to wash regularly – but are their concerns truly justifiable?
Poor communities such as Klipheuwel, which is 10km north of Durbanville and has a population of just over 2 300 people, do not have access to electricity, flushing toilets, or piped water in their homes.
Klipheuwel, and countless other communities like it, makes use of bucket toilets. Bucket toilets are buckets covered in black plastic bags that are used as improvised toilets. The bags are removed from the buckets and replaced four times a week. The bags are supposed to be collected to be disposed of, though in reality the collection is often late – which results in the bags standing in the street, often in the heat and covered in flies, near where children play.
Residents of Klipheuwel have access to only one communal tap, which they have to begin queueing for from as early as 5 am. This means that not only do the residents of Klipheuwel lack access to luxuries like a private flushing toilet, they in fact are expected to meet all of their water needs out of a single tap shared between the entire community. Klipheuwel is not alone; Stats SA reports that, as of the 2016, only 46.4% of South Africans had access to piped water within their dwelling¹. Compared to the community of Klipheuwel and others like it, is it really right to complain about not being able to shower every day?
The drought is taking its toll on everyone, that is indisputable. However, that does not mean that people, particularly those in positions of authority like Helen Zille, should forget to recognise their economic privilege just by having access to basic sanitation services. Only being able to shower every three days is difficult, but just having access to one’s own private toilet, an area to shower in, and access to water within your household at all, is a sign of economic privilege that should not be forgotten, regardless of whether there is a drought or not.