It was a typical spring morning in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The monotonous routines of the residents began pretty early in this area. The early morning struggle to fetch water for their day-to-day use had become a staple for them over the years. The plumbing was inefficient in the major parts of this community and the only source of water for the residents were public taps which were generally rationed.
On this rather humdrum day, Thato was getting ready for school. He was a generally large kid for his age and spent most of his time indoors. He didn’t like going out and playing basketball with the other kids when he could very well be reading a nice book. He was a smart kid and studied in one of the best schools in Cape Town. His hard work had paid off as a scholarship and he was getting quality education at Pinelands High School. It was pretty far away from his house and his neighbours ridiculed him for going to a “White” school.
His father had already left for work at the factory and his mother was packing his lunch. She worked as a waitress at a nearby diner and hence her job needed her a little later in the day. Thato filled a bowl with cereal, poured some milk into it and let it soak for a while.
He was scrolling through his newsfeed while eating. “Day Zero is here”, the news articles said. “10 things YOU do that actually waste a lot of water. Number 7 will surprise you!”, the magazines said. “0 day is a government conspiracy… man #woke”, said Darren, his classmate. The posts had been the same since the official announcement was made, over a month ago.
Thato finished his breakfast, kissed his mother bye and walked over to the bus stop. Pinelands’ school buses didn’t come all the way down to the Flats, so he had to use public transport. The bus took around 45 minutes to reach his school. The bus to Pinelands rarely had any people from Khayelitsha and the conversation and feel of the bus was more like the rest of Cape Town.
“How am I gonna wash ma’ dog man? There isn’t ‘nuff water for meself!”
The Day Zero ruling had shaken the entire city. Last year, when the threat of Day Zero was looming in, the government had upgraded the water security to level 6B after gradually increasing it in the years prior to that. Reports came out stating that 6B restrictions were sufficient and Day Zero can be pushed indefinitely. This was around the time when Cape Town came under the world’s media spotlight. Many researchers worked on ways to improve conditions, desalinate the seawater and “cure the drought”, but the rains never came. The reservoirs were almost dry and Cape Town was forced to go to level 7 restrictions.
The bus stopped a few meters away from Thato’s school. Public buses weren’t allowed to go through the school zone, so Thato had to walk the last stretch. Johnathan and Nancy were waiting for him right outside the entrance.
“Bro we’ve been out here for 50 years! Hurry up next time, would you?”
“Yeah! Johnny here has been telling me awful things about what will happen after tomorrow, I just can’t listen to anymore of his BS!”
“Oh please, a year later, when the war starts you’ll remember this day and realize I was right all along!”
Thato just grinned at them. His daily entertainment quota was filled by their non-stop bickering. The three friends walked into the main gate and shuffled through the crowd, into their classroom. Mrs. Moodley was already addressing the class when they arrived.
“…and so, the school will be closed tomorrow. Ah! I see the three of you decided to grace the class with your presence after all. Take your seats quickly, I’ll be giving out holiday assignments in a while.”
The school was abuzz with gossip about Day Zero, and so was the entire city. The majority of the population were about to face the biggest water shortage of their lives. It was the closest that they had ever been to a water apocalypse. Laws would change, and so would lawmakers. Priorities and requirements would also change.
Despite all of this, the lives of Thato and the other residents of Khayelitsha would be devoid of change. What the rest of the city was about to face has been their constant for many years. The water problem was evident for many years, but only when the rich started facing the problem did the world look at Cape Town. The situation could be compared to that of a rare disease brought into limelight when contacted by a member of the higher classes. Cape Town’s Day Zero was Khayelitsha’s Day Twelve Thousand Four Hundred and Nineteen.
Happy World Water Day.