Water restrictions hit Cape Town’s homeless


“We might stay on the streets, but we want to be clean”

Photo of a man washing himself from a bucket
Homeless people wash in two and half litres of water each at The Carpenter’s Shop in Roeland Street, Cape Town. Photo: Thembela Ntongana

It is 6am on a Tuesday morning and 72-year-old Tina Solulu is first in line at The Carpenter’s Shop on Roeland Street, Cape Town. She sleeps at the gate to make sure she will be in the front of the queue. She has come to have a bath.

Solulu is one of more than 80 homeless people waiting for a bath and a meal this morning. The gates only open at 7:30am, but people start lining up in the early hours. The gates close at 10am.

A few minutes before 7am, Faghma Petersen arrives. She is responsible for giving people soap, toothpaste and a towel. On Tuesdays, donated clothes are also given to people.

There are separate showers for men and women, but since the City of Cape Town’s water restrictions came into force, the showers have been turned off. Petersen now gives each person a small five-litre bucket half filled with water. People pour the water into a larger plastic basin and then wash themselves. Afterwards, the grey water is poured into a large drum and used for flushing toilets.

Solulu said she is originally from Duncan Village, East London. She has been living on the streets of Cape Town for years, though she can’t remember how many. She had one child, but her child died.

Cape Town has over 700 homeless people sleeping in the city centre, according to a 2015 survey. Most of them rely on water from public facilities such as public toilets to drink and wash. But with water restrictions, there is no water in many of these facilities.

GroundUp visited the public toilets on Greenmarket Square and found the taps were closed. This was also the case in the Company Gardens on Queen Victoria Street.

“Use the sanitiser; no water,” said a woman janitor in a bib handing out toilet paper at Greenmarket Square.

Linda Ndakrokra sleeps in the Company Gardens. She used to use the facilities there.

“Even though the water was cold, we would bath there and do our washing before the toilets closed at five,” she said. Since the taps were closed she has started going to The Carpenter’s Shop to wash.

“Now if you want to wash your clothes, you must go around and ask people for water. We might stay on the streets but we want to be clean as well,” said Nakrokra.

The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Social Services JP Smith said the Recreation and Parks Department had closed all showers on beaches and most of the taps in public ablution facilities. He said waterless hand sanitisers were provided to save water while still maintaining hygiene standards.

Smith said the Recreation and Parks Department manages nine bathhouses. “These are public facilities and are not for the exclusive use of homeless people.”

There is one in the City Centre, two in Gugulethu, five in Langa, and one in Manenberg.

A woman who only gave her name as Marcia, said she used to rely on the toilet at the train station in Muizenberg.

“If the toilets were locked, then I went to the beach, but now there is no water in the showers so I just use the sea … It’s better than nothing,” she said.

Pastor Alan Storey from the Central Methodist Mission said the organisation had been asking the City for years to open ablution services 24 hours a day.

“It is dehumanising to think people can stop themselves from going to the toilet after five, like you can restrict yourself … When things are good the poor are the last to benefit, when they are bad they are the first to suffer,” said Storey.

“The water they [the homeless] use is minuscule compared to the water used in a [suburban] household with 10 to 15 access points,” said Storey.

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TOPICS:  Cape Town water crisis Housing Sanitation

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Dear Editor

50 Litres per person per day. That makes it (in homeless terms) 25 2 liter bottles.

As it is we use around 2 liters a day average to drink, wash *(or shall I say wipe?), etc. And we battle to get it.

The city removed some public taps. We are used to their inhumane treatment of us homeless people. However, I feel sorry for the elderly and the sick.