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2013
Day 03

Franschhoek to Cape Town

As the intrepid Journey of Water team pushed through Day 3, buffeted by strong wind, stung by sand and soaked by rain, it’s possible some walkers asked themselves, “Why am I doing this?”

“...the further we go on our journey, and the more we learn, the answer is clear. Each person is doing this to raise awareness about the essential resource we cannot live without; the same resource that we treat too carelessly.”

And yet, the further we go on our journey, and the more we learn, the answer is clear. Each person is doing this to raise awareness about the essential resource we cannot live without; the same resource that we treat too carelessly.

Our day started in perhaps the last place you want to visit directly after breakfast: Zandvliet Wastewater Treatment Works. Here we learned the story of sewage. It’s not a tantalising tale, but it reminded us that what we flush doesn’t “go away.” It is carried away by water, and that water must be treated before going back into the environment. It’s just one of the many jobs we expect water to perform for us, so we had better take care of this resource!

From there, we walked through the informal settlement of Khayelitsha, where residents can’t take water or sanitation for granted. People here use communal taps and shared latrines, both of which foster the spread of disease. Thozama Dwangu of Cape Town’s Department of Health showed us some ingenious low-tech solutions to help prevent contamination of water when it has to be taken from a shared source (a 2-litre cold-drink bottle, a bit of hose and some soap can keep you healthy!).

“We saw some surprising natural jewels in the townscapes of Khayelitsha Wetland Park and Driftsands Nature Reserve.”

We saw some surprising natural jewels in the townscapes of Khayelitsha Wetland Park and Driftsands Nature Reserve. These green, natural spaces can provide people with a place to play, explore, learn and work. The Working for Wetlands project employs Khayelitsha residents to maintain and restore the nature reserve. If well maintained, these wetlands can mitigate flood risk for the benefit of all people living nearby.

On this leg of the Journey of Water, we saw nature juxtaposed with an urban township. We met people responsible for cleaning our wastewater and people responsible for promoting environmental justice. We learned about the work still to be done to improve efficiency. Zama Siqala of WRP Engineers told us that by simply reducing water pressure and stopping leaks, we can save tens of millions of litres of water each year, as well as millions of rands. This could mean more water for people in need, and more water left in nature to keep ecosystems healthy.

Today’s journey showed me many things, beside the fact that Cape Town’s weather can make you crazy. First, be careful about what you flush (or put down a storm drain). It’s expensive and unpleasant to strain out that which doesn’t belong. Second, proper hand washing should take as long as singing “Happy Birthday,” but don’t leave the tap running while you lather up. Soap and water are key to fighting deadly diarrhoeal disease. Third, don’t take water for granted, ever. Some people have to walk for every drop. Fourth, nature is closer than you think and more beautiful than you remember. Go see.