Original Research

A perfect storm: The ramifications of Cape Town’s drought crisis

Wessel P. Visser
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 14, No 1 | a567 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v14i1.567 | © 2018 Wessel P. Visser | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 April 2018 | Published: 28 November 2018

About the author(s)

Wessel P. Visser, Department of History, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa


By 2018, the City of Cape Town (CCT) suffered a third consecutive year of serious drought. This article investigates the chronology of the drought and the various measures imposed by the city council to preserve dwindling water supplies in an effort to stave off the so-called ‘Day Zero’ scenario when its water reserves would apparently dry up. By means of contemporary sources, water governance sources and other relevant documentation, the trajectory of Cape Town’s water crisis and the political ramifications for its citizens is being investigated. Finally, lessons to be learnt from Cape Town’s dealing with its drought crisis, and other cities that found themselves in similar situations, will be discussed. An analysis of the political fallout and blaming of who should be held responsible for Cape Town’s precarious water situation is also presented. It seems that a combination of factors was responsible for the city’s relative unpreparedness in dealing with the drought: the politically fractured nature of South African multi-tiered government agencies and the lack of an integrated government approach to the drought; the CCT mayor’s unclear and negative communication to rate payers and ineffective water-saving proposals; a fallout between the CCT mayor and her political superiors over the effectiveness of her drought management plans; a dysfunctional, bankrupt and inert national Department of Water and Sanitation; and the expectation that the city’s expenditure on water supply schemes could be put on hold simply by saving the existing supply in the belief that it would remain stable.


Cape Town; drought; “Day Zero”; water restrictions; political fall-out; water demand strategy


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