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American Students in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town’s water crisis has become common knowledge to us at this point. Many know about “Day Zero”, which is when taps will be turned off and the reservoir supply will hit 13.5% capacity. 

To learn more about the logistics of Cape Town’s water crisis, click here

I asked American students, including a couple from SLU, who are currently studying abroad in Cape Town, to share what their experience has been living in the city during such a crucial time.


How are the locals reacting?

One student, who volunteers with people living in townships, reported that a resident once told her she took a bath every day. These townships are residential areas that are typically home to people living in poverty. Their homes do not having running water so they use a pump to get their water. Because the government cannot control water pumps, residents can seemingly get as much water as they want. A SLU student shared that, upon arrival, some locals were generally not as concerned as she had expected them to be. She had soon realized that residents have been living in a drought for a long time, so in some ways, it had become normalized. Of course, things have gradually gotten worse and she fears that as Day Zero comes, violence will break out at water stations, where thousands of people will go daily to get their water. The SLU student felt that the South African government could be doing more to at least alleviate the problem. Jacob Zuma, former president of South Africa resigned and she says he “should have been acting a long time ago”. 



How has this drought affected you?

After asking this question, the room filled with responses about all the sorts of things the students have to do now that they originally wouldn’t have ever thought of. Of course the obvious things like short showers (4 minutes of showering per week), not being able to flush the toilet often, not drinking enough water, and reusing dirty dishes were the immediate responses.  As the students continued to list more practices, I began to realize how much conservation they really didn’t that I didn’t even think about. They don’t wash their hands enough so they run risks of getting sick. Many students worry about diseases spreading throughout the area, as people are generally less clean. One student added, “as availability [of water] decreases, health decreases with it”.  Students also save the water they use from laundry and put buckets to collect water in the shower and use that “grey water” to water plants or to flush the toilet. Even water used to boil pasta is strained into their “grey water” supply. They also talked about “black water” which is the fecal water that is flushed down the drain. That water can be filtered into grey water and is even used to mix cement for construction. 



Do you feel like this crisis has stopped you from maintaining normal lives and experiencing the beauty of South Africa?

One student shared that when they first arrived Day Zero was April 12th, when she would still be in school there. If they reached Day Zero while in school, the school would close. She remembers being worried about that initially. Thankfully, as of now, Day Zero has been pushed back, so she will be gone when the day comes. However, this hasn’t stopped her from being concerned about the country. She worries for the health of the people she has met and everyone in Cape Town but she is also hopeful. “Rain season is coming,” she says, “people are optimistic”. Winter in Cape Town, April through July, is when they are likely to see rain and hopefully that, in combination with other preventative measures, will mean Day Zero will never come for the people of Cape Town.


Photos contributed by Sarah Cerkvenik

Psychology and Art Major at St. Louis University. Loves Goodwill, sunspots, art, makeup tutorials, and crying. 
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