People queue to collect water from a spring in Newlands, Cape Town, February 6 2018. Picture: REUTERS
People queue to collect water from a spring in Newlands, Cape Town, February 6 2018. Picture: REUTERS

In rural SA, people often walk for kilometres to queue in the blistering summer sun for a bucket of water. Now this may soon become a reality for Cape Town’s residents.

But with Day Zero — when Cape Town officially runs out of water — looming, the wealthy and well-situated may be exempt from such an apocalyptic situation.

Water restrictions, which are difficult to implement in hotels, may not be of utmost concern as 400 MPs, their right-hand people and media flock to the city for the state of the nation address and 2018 national budget this month. Thousands are swarming into the city this week for the Mining Indaba.

Races such as the Cape Town Cycle Tour and the Two Oceans Marathon are also expected to go ahead, with the usual influx of entries from around SA and abroad.

But the organisers say they won’t have an impact on the constrained water supply.

Tour director David Bellairs says: "A comprehensive plan is in place with all our suppliers and service providers to ensure we reduce our reliance and impact on the municipal water supply to as close to 0% as possible. We believe this is achievable."

Apart from removing plugs from bathtubs and putting up signs in and around hotels, it’s difficult to enforce restrictions on guests. And there are portions of Cape Town that have a get-out-of-Day-Zero-free card.

While Day Zero sounds almost like The Hunger Games, with residents expected to queue up for 25l of water a day, last week City Of Cape Town management committee member Xanthea Limberg revealed that the Cape Town CBD and large informal settlements would remain unaffected by any potential water cuts.

It’s not a big win for informal settlements that already don’t have running water and have water collection points – in fact Cape Town’s water crisis has been a stark reality for these settlements for decades.

According to the 2011 national census, 91.2% of households had access to piped water, either inside their own homes or yards or from communal taps, and 8.8% (or about 4.5m people) had absolutely no access to piped water.

Unlike the rest of Cape Town, businesses and residents in the CBD won’t have their taps turned off and won’t have to queue for water — though they will still be encouraged to use only 50l a day.

The idea is to keep trade and tourism going. During the peak season from November to January, international tourists add 1% to the population of the Western Cape. This number drops from April to September.

"While the impact on water is almost negligible, the economic benefit in a country with high unemployment is hugely significant," says Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism.

The tourism sector employs around 50,000 people in Cape Town — with 8% of the city working in tourism.

"To prevent tourism or stop marketing it would have a damaging, long-term impact," says Duminy.

However, he says long-term strategies — with sustainability in mind to ensure that SA’s water supplies are optimised and available — need to be implemented.

But the exemption emphasises the argument around economic and spatial apartheid — and the historic lack of access to water for many South Africans in rural and informal areas.

According to Statistics SA, the legacy of apartheid still has a hold on the social structure of the urban space. Cape Town has a segregation index of 0.67 – with 1 representing complete segregation.

In Cape Town, suburban areas close to Table Mountain, in the inner city and around the coastline, are mostly inhabited by white people. Black, coloured and Indian families generally live in low-income areas on the outskirts of the city. This still reeks of apartheid-era spatial planning.

Axolile Notywala, general secretary for the Social Justice Coalition, says: "There’s a sudden rush from the city and from the DA because Day Zero affects certain portions of the city. The poor, the working class and the black population have been living like this since democracy."

People in informal settlements make up 21% of the population and have been using 4% of the city’s water supply while residential areas have used over 50%.

"There is preferential treatment and there is clear discrimination in terms of the city’s plan," he says.

While most of Cape Town is set to get a dose of much of SA’s reality, the hordes of MPs, CEOs, runners and cyclists probably won’t be forced to reach for dry shampoo, bucket baths or hand sanitiser quite yet.

What it means: Unlike the rest of Cape Town, businesses and CBD residents won’t have their taps turned off and won’t have to queue for water