Capetonians prepare for ‘Day Zero’

A photo of a man filling a trolley with five-litre bottles of water in a Pick n Pay store in Cape Town on Monday is doing the rounds on social media. It was the top tweet under the #dayzero hashtag.

The caption to the photo says the man was filling his trolley with the last bottle when a young woman approached him to ask if she could have one bottle. “No, they are all mine,” he replied.

Pick n Pay responded, asking for the name of the store and said the matter would be addressed.

Another Twitter user explained that Pick n Pay was running a special where shoppers could buy 14 five-litre bottles for R100. “He obviously bought 28, like I did, for R200. Fills a trolley perfectly!” he said.

Another comment on the Twitter thread read: “The queues at the plastic shops for 25-litre tanks are crazy, besides the fact that they are sold out and you can’t ask to reserve any when they do get in stock.”

Cape Town residents are rushing to prepare for the “almost unavoidable” advent of Day Zero — which this week moved nine days forward to April 12 — when taps in the city will run dry.

The Mail & Guardian asked retailers whether fears of a dry city had resulted in an increased appetite for water-saving products and the response was a resounding “yes!”

Water tank manufacturer JoJo Tanks said it was struggling to meet the demand and that sales had increased tenfold since October.

“Demand for tanks exceeds capacity at JoJo factories and, despite significant expansion and the supply of tanks from factories in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, JoJo is battling to keep up with demand,” said managing director Grant Nesser.

Massmart’s spokesperson said the retailer had seen a higher demand in Cape Town for water-saving and storage products, so much so that Builders Warehouse had to hold back its JoJo Tank advertisements because of supplier backlogs.


Should Cape Town reach Day Zero, the supply of municipal water is expected to be limited to 200 distribution points that will service Cape Town’s population of four million.

Shoprite Group, which includes Checkers and OK, said some of its supermarkets had seen a marked increase in the sale of buckets, plastic storage containers and dispensers, waterless car wash products and plant food. The most sought-after item is bottled water. Shoprite said there had been a 93% increase in demand for bottled water over the December and January period compared with the same time last year.

Shoprite said it has a guaranteed supply of bottled water and that its stores would not run dry.

To provide some relief to customers Massmart said all its Makro stores in the Western Cape would sell five-litre bottles of water at cost price.

South African Breweries has also offered to bottle nine million litres of water — 12-million quart bottles — from its Newlands spring to distribute to areas that need it when Day Zero arrives. The water will retail for R1 a bottle, and the bottles will be refilled free of charge thereafter.

In terms of personal hygiene some might be following Premier Helen Zille’s bathing habits. Last year she disclosed that, in an effort to save water, she showered “briefly” every third day.

This week the premier said that no one should be showering more than twice a week and those who want to scrub daily should consider the “old-fashioned ‘skottel en waslap’ method”.

Dry washing is becoming more commonplace. Clicks spokesperson Susann Caminada said that, apart from bottled water, customer interest in items such as hand sanitisers, dry shampoos and wet wipes had increased.

A Cape Union Mart salesperson said orders for camping showers were also coming in by the dozen.

Then there’s the option of a haircut for those who want to save water but, unlike Zille, don’t consider “oily hair in a drought to be as much of a status symbol as a dusty car”.

One Twitter user, nicknamed “Water-Saving Bae”, recently traded her long locks for a pixie cut and said the water shortage was “exactly” the reason.

Despite the panic, it wouldn’t be a South African crisis without our unique ability to laugh at ourselves.

David Scott, member of electronic act The Kiffness, took it upon himself to draw up a survival guide for privileged Capetonians who could soon find themselves having to live like the majority of poor South Africans.

Scott recommends that the affluent buy new clothes and order food on UberEats to avoid having to hand wash dirty clothes or dishes. If the “rot and decay” is too much to bear, as a last resort, the privileged can move to Johannesburg until things settle.

“I grew up in Jo’burg and I can confirm that although it smells weird, it smells slightly better than the imminent smell of rotting faeces wafting through the streets of Claremont,” said Scott.

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust trainee financial reporter at the Mail & Guardian


Restrictions and restitution

The drought-stricken city of Cape Town’s emergency water measures will be implemented from February 1, when level 6B restrictions come into effect, moving the daily consumption target for a person from 87 litres to 50 litres.

Boreholes, well points and agricultural use have also been limited.

Level 6B restrictions will remain in place for 150 days, at which time the situation will be reassessed.

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said 60% of residents exacerbated the problem by refusing to restrict their water use and must now be “forced” to do so.

In addition to the level 6B restrictions are punitive tariffs for households that don’t comply.

Households that use up to 6 000 litres a month will pay R145.98; 20  000 litres cost R1 536.28; 35 000 litres cost R6 939.57 and 50 000 litres cost R20 619.57. — Tebogo Tshwane

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Tebogo Tshwane
Tebogo Tshwane

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust financial journalism trainee at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a general news intern at Eyewitness News and a current affairs show presenter at the Voice of Wits FM. Tshwane is passionate about socioeconomic issues and understanding how macroeconomic activities affect ordinary people. She holds a journalism honours degree from Wits University. 

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