Don’t Touch Me on My PrivilegeRichard Lundie
Cape Town in 2018 will be known as the year that ‘Day Zero’ went from a threat to an imminent reality. People were shocked into making changes to their daily water usage in an attempt to stave off the taps being turned off. Everywhere one went there were conversations about what reality would be like post day zero. Other conversations focused on what could be done to save water. Like many others, my family reduced our consumption to be in line with each water restriction level.
Even as we changed our lifestyle to adjust, I realised something was going on in my heart.
Most of what I was experiencing as discomfort or frustration was rooted in losing things that I thought were essentials, but now would call comforts. I have grown up with potable water flowing out of the taps whenever I wanted it. It was never in shortage. And so my lifestyle matched that reality. Like anyone, I like long showers, deep baths, green grass and living plants. Facing down the potential of day zero has helped me realise that these things are not my right.
I was complaining about the potential of collecting water, washing myself out of a bucket, handwashing clothes and so on, when this is the daily reality of so many Capetonians. I realised that I was more concerned about increasing water supply to the city so that I could return to my previous lifestyle than increasing water supply to the residents of the city who, literally, need it most. I found this blog to be exceptionally helpful in speaking into my heart and revealing how I need to grow.
The Socio-Economic Profile of Cape Town 2016 gives an update on the state of water and sanitation in Cape Town. Whilst there has been improvement in water access, it is important to note that the definition used is “access to piped water inside the dwelling or yard or within 200 metres from yard”. This disguises the reality that many, many people have to do the ‘day zero walk’ to collect water Every. Single. Day. Similarly, a cursory look at the statistics of sanitation may leave you thinking it isn’t that bad. However, using the definition of sanitation as being households with access to flush toilet connected to sewerage system, we can see the gap. Over 60 000 households in Cape Town have to make use of toilet facilities other than flush toilets. Picture: buckets and pit latrines. Still another 10 000 households do not have access to sanitation services at all. This equates to roughly 300 000 people in our city right now who do not have adequate sanitation.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He answered “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31. I’ve often grappled with what it means to love my neighbour as myself. When I think about the current water crisis and the ongoing state of water and sanitation in the city, I could say that I am to love my neighbour’s state of water and sanitation as much as I love mine. I am to feel as strongly about seeing improved service delivery in other areas as I do about avoiding day zero in my area.
But, if I am honest, I don’t. I have seen my access to water as my right. I see my water access as my rights, but somehow I see those 300 000 Capetonian’s situation as normal, even expected. I’m so used to my lifestyle that I didn’t even slow down to consider that not every person has piped water into their dwelling, or doesn’t have to walk to the toilet outside. How content would I be to have a shared toilet with my neighbours? Would I be ok with my children going at night to a shared toilet? So how can I be ok with that happening in this city?
Someone challenged me about this drought: what could God be teaching us in this time? I know there are many ways of answering that, but let me share just a few short things I have come to realise:
God is teaching us to have a new relationship with water
God is teaching us to have new relationships with each other
This season – however long it lasts – is an opportunity. A colleague of mine was overheard saying “This water crisis is the first time that the rich and the poor have something in common”. This is a time for us to grow in compassion for people. To listen, to engage, to learn something of the daily reality that many people have to endure. Allow this time to learn from others and discern how you can participate in seeing the water and sanitation for all
Lord, let it rain. But first, let us grow in compassion. Show us how to be a people who mirror your heart and character of mercy, compassion and justice. Show us our privilege and how to use it for transforming this city.
Richard Lundie is a part of the Common Good staff team where he gives leadership to our theology and resources. He also serves on the Wynberg Eldership Team.