Nick Simpson and Vivienne Mentor-Lalu


  • Nolundi Luwaya Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town
  • Kelley Moult University of Cape Town
  • Diane Jefthas
  • Vitima Jere Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town



Few Capetonians would argue against the claim that the City has been rocked by the current water crisis that many have dubbed the most severe in modern history. Discussions about water saving techniques, membership of the ‘Water Warriors’ club, dinner party comparisons of family daily usage figures, discussion of toilet habits (to flush or not to flush?) and frenzied buying to secure 25-litre water containers have become part of daily life for those of us faced by the imminent (but previously unconscionable) threat of our taps running dry. Even the ‘proudly oily’1 premier of the Western Cape has boasted that she only showers every three days to help beat back Day Zero. But the water crisis has not only raised important questions about residents’ rights to, and responsibility for, the water they use. It has also brought to the surface interesting issues about criminality and crime control, and our individual and collective relationship to water. Stories of violence and incivility at water collection points and in supermarkets have captured attention on social media, and city dwellers have hotly debated the threat of organised crime, laws against rebottling and reselling of municipal water, and the Western Cape government’s Water Disaster Plan, which gives the police and army responsibility for maintaining safety and order at water collection points.

Of course, while questions of water saving, risk and safety feel quite new to many Capetonians, scholars, activists and policymakers (including criminologists) have been writing about these issues for much longer. The Centre for Law and Society approached two scholars/activists to discuss the water crisis and its impact on questions of vulnerability, risk and security. Nick Simpson, an environmental and human development consultant (and post-doctoral scholar at the University of Cape Town), discussed questions of criminology in the age of the Anthropocene, and Vivienne Mentor-Lalu, a researcher/facilitator for the Women and Democracy Initiative at the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape, spoke to us about the gendered impact of the drought. Nolundi Luwaya, Kelley Moult, Diane Jefthas and Vitima Jere contributed to this piece.


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