Day Zero approaches: Water we going to do? Meet Shana’s realisation

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Day Zero approaches: Water we going to do? Meet Shana’s realisation

Yesterday i posted a Facebook status by my sister-in-law Shana who was celebrating the fact that she had managed to combine a shower, hair wash and condition, teeth wash and leg shave all just using 5l of water. She did get some pushback as a number of people commented about how that has been their normal for as long as they can remember. And to her credit, she listened and really heard and this is her response:

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A few days ago I took on a personal challenge to wash, shave, brush teeth, and wash and condition my hair in 5L, while catching all the water to use to flush the toilet. I did it, and I was proud of myself. Not for any other reason than because this meant I could save even more water in the current drought. I posted this on my personal wall, and on a water shedding group, to encourage others to do the same. Well, it escalated.

As people began to engage the conversation became less about the 5L Challenge and more about the fact that thousands upon thousands of people in our city, and throughout South Africa, have been bathing like this their whole lives. There became a clear divide of two groups:

1. The privileged – anyone who hasn’t grown up bathing in this way, and who has running water, in a bathroom, in a house.
2. The non-privileged – anyone who didn’t see this as a new idea and have grown up bathing in this way (often with less than 5L), who share communal ablutions and do not have access to running water and adequate sanitation.

Me? I’m in the privileged camp.

The conversation around inequality in this country is complicated, complex, messy, challenging, and hurtful to many, and there’s no way that one Facebook post can do any justice to covering this. But here are some of the things that challenged me, as someone who fits into the privileged camp.

1. I need to recognise and name my privilege – There is no way forward unless I actually recognise that I’m in the privileged group. And I think this might be something I need to realise regularly. It’s not a light switch that comes on once. It’s something that I need to be aware of, name and take responsibility for.

2. My privilege blinds me to reality – When I did this and put the challenge out on social media, I didn’t even think about the thousands who live like this every day. It took comments from those who have lived like this for me to realise just how privileged I am, and the stark contrast of that next to to thousands who don’t have that privilege.

3. I don’t hear enough – I might get the listening thing right from time to time, but do I actually HEAR? Do I really hear the hurt, difficulty, struggle and reality of others? I don’t think I always do. I need to make an effort to speak less, listen regularly and hear more. The stage might be mine by default, but just because I’ve been given it doesn’t mean I should take it. I need to step down and give others the stage, so that they can be heard by more of us.

4. I am ignorant – I had to Google search some statistics around water and sanitation in our City, before I could even start to realise the magnitude of the situation. Did you know that the “City of Cape Town’s informal settlements are the best serviced of all South African metros, as confirmed by the 2011 census.” That sounds good, until you hear their next statement:

“However, we have set our own higher target of at least:
– one shared toilet to maximum of five households; and
– one tap to 25 households and within a maximum walking distance of 200 metres.”

Do I GET that? Our informal settlements are the best off in our country and THAT is the government’s goal. Can I actually even begin to understand what this means?

5. I need to learn – I need to educate myself. The only way out of ignorance is to learn, and I have a heck of a lot to learn.

6. I need to do more – Yes, bathing in 5L of water is great to save water, but that isn’t the real challenge here. The challenge for me is to evaluate, brutally honestly, what I’m doing about actively undoing the inequality in my city, and to step out and start doing more. Not like a nice post on social media, but daily. How am I fighting against injustice? And where can I fight more?

If you read my 5L Challenge post and you thought “how is this chick only learning this now? We’ve been doing this for years”, then I’d like to say I’m deeply sorry if my blindness to my privilege was hurtful and offensive.

If you read my 5L Challenge post and thought “I need to try this”, then I’d like to say you’re in the privileged camp with me. I’d like to encourage you to take up the bigger challenge of joining me in recognising that, and start looking for ways to undo injustice, inequality and oppression every day.

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[i shared something similar earlier taking the same conversations into account, to read more, click here]

[For some thoughts from my friend K-T & her family of 4 on how they are reducing water usage, click here]

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.


  1. […] [For Shana’s big realisation that followed this blog post and led to some eye-opening revelati… […]

  2. Debi Williams January 24, 2018 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    Wow! Such a reflective piece of writing. We can only grow when we are willing to be honest with ourselves, about ourselves. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    • brettfish January 24, 2018 at 10:58 pm - Reply

      Thanks Debi, yes it has been amazing to watch Shana figure these things out and not be afraid to own where she missed something, a trait far more white people would do well to practice…

  3. Misggrace January 25, 2018 at 1:18 am - Reply

    I don’t know if I fall under the less privileged hahaha but using 5L is no challenge really. We grew up using a bowel or bucket to collect our bathing water and its still a daily habit till date for many people including my family. We use showers or a filled bath tub once in a long while.

    Like you rightly pointed out, it is one way we can conserve water but can I tell you that I was not conscious of it since its a daily happening. Its just so funny to me. I love how transparent you choose to be when writing about issues such as this.

    God’sgrace MisG

  4. The Terrible Triplett January 26, 2018 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    As much as Shana “got it”, there is the next level:
    – Shower – wet wipes, you can afford it – R0l of water.
    – Hair wash and conditioner – dry shampoo, you can afford it – R0l of water. Consider shorter hair.
    – Teeth wash – swallow the water, ooo, you can’t, toothpaste is bad for you, change that, you can afford it – R0l of water.
    – Leg shave, electric shaver, you can afford it – R0l of water.
    Total water used: ZERO!

    Start now, for if the rains do not return to fill the dams, the above may become the norm if you still want to stay cleaner than the rest.

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