Day Zero is fast approaching: How will Cape Town look without water?

2017-05-30 13:21

Helen Zille recently spoke of a ‘Day Zero’ – the day Cape Town potentially runs out of water. But has anyone taken a moment to consider the days, weeks, months and – heaven forbid – years that may follow?

This article explores a worst-case scenario for Cape Town should ‘Day Zero’ become a reality. It serves to encourage Capetonians to minimise their water consumption, and urge authorities to accelerate all projects to increase water supply. Everyone needs to take this ‘Disaster Area’ declaration extremely seriously.

Reality Check

4th September 2017 – 09:48

An old gogo stands in line at the communal tap in Khayelitsha. She watches people ahead of her filling their water containers one by one. They discuss the abnormal lack of rain this winter. As she gets to the front she notices the flow from the tap begin to subside. She manages to catch the last few sputters of water that emerge, but then the tap gurgles and runs dry. She opens the tap further but to no avail … there is no more water.

Her experience is not isolated. Across the entire Cape Town metropolitan area, water pressure falls until house by house, business by business, the water runs out.

Calls from irate Capetonians begin to flood 567 Cape Talk. Social media runs amok. The DA-run municipality is inundated with calls from people and businesses asking what they should do. Even though Cape Town residents have feared for months that this day might eventually arrive, its cold reality is only now taking hold. All those who had treated this ‘Day Zero’ with relative indifference, are forced suddenly to confront the uncharted scale of disaster.

4th September 2017 – 15:52

Grocery shops across the city burst at the seams as people descend on them to buy whatever bottled water and other drinks they can. Fortunately, the large retail chains were expecting a spike in demand for water, but nothing could have prepared them for the ‘Black Friday-like’ chaos that erupted that afternoon. As shops run out of stock, social media runs wild sending people on wild goose chases to hunt down whatever stock still remains, all the while fuelling the frenzy gripping the city. For people who had failed to plan for ‘Day Zero’, they find themselves driving to other towns, some within two hours of Cape Town to purchase whatever water and drinks are still available there.

4th September 2017 – 20:00

News networks across the world report that the City of Cape Town has officially run out of water and that emergency measures are being put in place by the government to ensure that all-out disaster is mitigated. They highlight that this is the world’s first major city to find itself in this shocking situation. The Western Cape premier addresses citizens of Cape Town on popular radio stations. She assures everyone that protocols have been put in place to ensure Cape Town’s water security and that people must not panic. She then promptly outlaws the sale of water for profit and limits retail outlets to selling two litres of water per customer.

5th September 2017 – 9:00

An entrepreneur in Paarden Island is discreetly delighted with the disaster. Having cashed out his pension to buy 5 000 mini-desalination plants – purpose built to fit on the back of a bakkie – from China, his shop is open for business. In the first hour, he sells 1 000 units … then decides to double his price. People complain, but no-one leaves the queue. After the next 1 000 units, he doubled the price again. By midday, the desalination units are selling for 500% their morning price. The entrepreneur sells his last units after having quadrupled his pension, but laments not having sold all the units at his final asking price.

5th September 2017 – 11:05

Water tankers begin to roll in from the rest of the country via road and rail. The tanker trucks stop at the city’s designated water distribution centres where queues of people stand with water containers in hand. At the distribution centre in Athlone, the fragile discipline in the queue begins to fracture and eventually desperate people encircle the truck. Frantic crowds jostle to grab the hose to fill their containers, resulting in most of the water ending up on the ground. Riot police are called in to manage the water distribution points.

6th September 2017 – 15:43

The price of water and other bottled drinks fetch exorbitant prices on Gumtree and OLX, as hoarders begin to capitalise on the shortages. Where municipal water previously cost less than 5 cents per litre, a litre of bottled water now fetches R50. Water demand on boreholes rockets, leading to steady water-table depletion and decreasing borehole water pressures across the city. Companies drilling bore-holes now have six-month waiting lists.

7th September 2017 – 12:56

Many people residing in middle and upper-class suburbs use water stored in their JoJo tanks. Some resort to using the water in their swimming pools. Other residents have sufficient water to last them for a few months in the absence of municipal water, but many don’t.  Overworked boreholes begin to run dry across the city.

9th September 2017 – 08:16

On 567 Cape Talk, reports of water theft begin to surface. One home owner had woken to find that his entire swimming pool had been drained by criminals. CCTV footage showed the thieves placing a bowser hose over the wall into his pool and pumping all of its water into a large tanker truck parked in the street. In other cases, entire JoJo tanks had been emptied by threatening mobs.

12th September 2017 – 09:30

One of the biggest protests ever staged in South African history makes its way down the N2 highway towards the city centre. It’s estimated that over a million people participate. They hold up banners blaming the DA provincial government and the ANC national government for the crisis. Hospitals begin to fill up with people suffering from dehydration. There are also reports surfacing of dysentery outbreaks across informal settlements. The Red Cross Children’s Hospital is shocked to hear that their designated water tanker truck has been hijacked on its way back from Steenbras Dam, leaving the hospital in an impossible situation.

9th September 2017 – 14:51

The ‘bakkie brigade’ is criticised heavily by authorities for exploiting the dire circumstances. The brigade includes those with mobile desalination plants and 1 ton water containers fitted on their vehicles. They are making huge amounts of money delivering desalinated water to desperate residents across the city. The cost is now R25 000 per 1 000 litres. The bakkie brigade complains bitterly, claiming that they are providing a life-saving service and, in effect, alleviating the disaster.


29th September 2017 – 10:43

The water crisis escalates as supply from the rest of the country is unable to meet demand. Crime rises as desperate people begin raiding shops and houses for whatever water they can find. Armed theft from JoJo tanks and swimming pools is now common place. Diseases sweep through underprivileged communities as desperate people are forced to drink water from contaminated sources.

9th October 2017

Sewage systems become blocked due to the lack of water flow. This renders toilets across the city unusable and potential health hazards. People are forced to dig temporary long drops in their gardens to dispose of their human waste safely. Many residents come to terms with the fact that they may have to seek refuge in other parts of South Africa as climate refugees for as long as the water crisis lasts. Government announces the approval of multi-billion rand desalination plants in Muizenburg and Milnerton.

15th October 2017

As the situation worsens, conditions become untenable for huge numbers of people. Mass migration begins as people take whatever form of transport they can to get out the city. Some people even walk. As middle and upper class suburbs haemorrhage residents, so opportunistic criminals begin looting houses. The police are unable to stem the widespread crime and, as such, the military is mobilised to provide temporary security. Private security companies also ship in security guards from the rest of the country to help. Only those residents who pay hefty premiums are afforded protection of their abandoned homes.

13th November 2017

Sales of caravans and camping trailers soar as people seek to leave the city temporarily. As Cape Town empties, so the demand for water begins to decline. Elsewhere in the country, particularly in towns along the garden route, water demand increases substantially as the influx of refugees makes its mark. Campsites, guesthouses and hotels fill with Capetonians as they flee North and Eastward. Many are accommodated by family members in other cities, others sign up to stay in make-shift refugee camps wherever they can be located. Some residents in wealthy suburbs decide to ‘weather the storm’ in their second homes overseas, and take whatever flights are available to get there.

December 2017

Cape Town’s population has halved since September, as has its economy. Property prices plummet as people seek to sell their homes for what little value they have left. Water is still being transported to the city via trains and trucks, although volumes are still too low to afford any non-essential use of water. At this stage, all available potable water is used only for drinking. Tourism is virtually non-existent as foreigners and South Africans avoid the city.

February 2018

Residents are forced to bath in the ocean and use salt water to wash their kitchenware. The surrounding dams are now completely dry, leaving nothing for farmers to irrigate their farms. Vineyards and crops suffer terribly and farmers are forced to slaughter their livestock and abandon their farms. The Cape Argus Cycle Tour cuts entries to just 5 000.

April 2018

Capetonians, now equipped with mobile desalination plants and water tanks on their vehicles, begin to return to Cape Town in the hopes that the rain will return in winter. They find the city in a general state of disrepair with numerous ‘ghost suburbs’. The city is generally safe, especially in the areas patrolled by well-funded private security companies and armed neighbourhood watch communities.

May 2018

It begins to rain … then it begins to pour. So much so that flash floods hit the city causing billions of rands worth of damage. Within one month all the dams and reservoirs in the greater Cape Town metro are full, including those within a 250km radius. People start returning to the city, all with a new-found appreciation for the world’s most precious resource – water.

* If you want to visualise seven hundred million (700 000 000) litres of water, the amount would fill 280 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and would require 28 000 rail tankers or 23 000 road tankers to transport it … every day.

- Robert J. Traydon is the author of the eco-thriller titled ‘Wake-up Call 2035’. He is a BSc graduate of Mechanical Engineering and is currently working to raise environmental awareness through the medium of entertainment. His articles will be available on his website The Contrarian from July 2017.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    cape town  |  drought  |  water crisis
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