Guest Column

Flushing out inequality in Cape Town

2018-06-08 11:06
People queue for water at Newlands Spring, Cape Town. (Nazeem Davids, file)

People queue for water at Newlands Spring, Cape Town. (Nazeem Davids, file)

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Lucretia Arendse

It is winter time and we are warm and snug in our beds. Some of us are having a hot bath (even though we're not meant to) or a shower and a warm cup of tea before we retire at night.

Did you ever stop to think about what it would be like if we did not have that bath, the toilet and a warm, dry comfortable bed?

The Cape Town water crisis has highlighted the challenges of the marginalised in a way more acute than perhaps anything else. While many people on Twitter and Facebook were complaining about how people in the townships waste water because they leave taps running and continue operations at car washes, many have not given a thought to the fact that informal settlements only use 4% of the water in the Western Cape.

These communities are already using the bucket system in their daily lives. Those ranting on social media, while perhaps lying in their baths and enjoying the dignity and comfort of flushing toilets inside their homes, do not understand how the challenge of accessing a basic need and human right – the very fundamentals of human dignity – like clean, drinking water reflects the deep inequality that still exists between communities.

Fetching water for drinking, washing and cleaning in most formal and informal settlements and walking long distances to a toilet is a norm that has had fatal consequences for women like Sinoxolo Mafevuka, who was raped, killed and left in a toilet. Many women are raped, attacked and even killed while walking to these toilets or fetching water. The danger and challenges faced by women and children, like Sinoxolo and six-year-old Siphesihle Mbango, whose body was never found after she walked to the toilet in Khayelitsha informal settlement, are unfathomable to many of us.

Can we even imagine our lives being taken because we needed some water or the toilet? I don't think we can, nor do we want to.

The start of the winter months has again echoed the inequality we experience in South Africa and made it reverberate across our minds and souls. Although we're grateful for the long prayed for rain in Cape Town, the warnings of having downpours and flooding signal a cold, difficult winter for people in our townships. So many homes and streets will be flooded and so many will be left homeless as shacks are washed away.

And to add insult to injury, the violent evictions of people in the informal settlement, Emsindweni, by the City of Cape Town, will worsen the crisis. Again, can we as the privileged even begin to imagine what it must be like to be without the very basics, or even homeless?

A City of Cape Town's disaster risk management centre representative reports that the downpours will affect formal and informal settlements and they will respond to the affected areas. But they fail to say how the City will improve the lives of the people in these areas. Being reactive is not good enough. Our City must be working toward improving the quality of life for all people living Cape Town. How much longer will we allow this inequality to continue?

More than half of South Africans are living below the poverty line, not because it is their choice but because we are one of the most unequal societies in the world; economic exclusion and a systematic lack of access to quality education on the back of unjust systems have seen to this. A mere 1% holds 70% of the country's wealth.

The World Bank has announced South Africa as the most unequal country in the world out of 149 nations, saying that it is because of the "enduring legacy of apartheid". Enduring means "to continue to exist". How has our country, after 23 years, managed to "endure the legacy of apartheid", even under a new dispensation? How is it possible that we are perpetuating the systemic violence of our undesired economic past, the very system we fought to dismantle?

Dismantling begins firstly in our minds. We must think differently if we want different results. Who needs to think differently? Building a better life for all involves everyone, our government, private sector, NGOs and NPOs and the citizens. Each one needs to contribute by being active in reducing inequality and being empathetic, caring and kind citizens. We need to cultivate the true spirit of Ubuntu, a community that works together and grows together.

South Africans need to move from a mentality of blaming to acknowledgement and accountability. We need to respect each other's differences and nurture our humanness and commonness. In so doing, we realise that the other person deserves to be treated with dignity, that they deserve, as a human, to receive the right to life, security, food, a home with running water and a toilet, clean streets, respect and dignity, among others.

When we start to address these things and bring about a more equal society, we begin to restore dignity to others. Only then can we prosper. People will then feel valued and respected and act in that manner.

Societal trauma manifests in violence and degradation. We need to work together to change that. We need to, in our spheres of influence, begin to think of how we can help to reduce inequality in the communities so that all South Africans feel dignified in their homes. 

- Lucretia Arendse is the project leader for the Education for Reconciliation project at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR).

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  |  day zero  |  drought  |  water crisis  |  inequality
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