This year has been a year for many “firsts” – and many “lasts,” too. Today, I walked out of my last lecture at Rhodes; it was, in fact, the last lecture for all of us – the university included. Two weeks from now, the books will close, the windows shut, the computers logged-off and the padlocks on all gates latched, all for the very last time. Rhodes University has finally come to its bitter end in this dying town. What it leaves in its wake is a dismal, arid, water-less, pitiless, hopeless blank page.
And with it, so too will ActivateOnline say its final goodbye.
I am writing this from the Grey Dam Motocross Circuit – apparently, decades ago, a lush area surrounded this now-empty pit, which itself was filled with spring water. When water levels dropped around the region all those years ago, local bikers turned this dried-up dam into a motocross arena. It’s hard to believe I’m sitting where people used to swim, and braai…
A lot of things in Grahamstown have changed, though, since the water resources disappeared. Pick ‘n Pay’s free-water dispensary initiative at the start of this year fell through the cracks within 3 months of its inception. The first problems arose when locals – especially those from Joza – didn’t have the means to transport litres and litres of water back to their homes. Volunteers with big cars began offering lifts, but that lost momentum almost as soon as it started.
I also learnt today that my residence was once a lecture theatre. Apparently, when the water pressure became a trickle, the university moved all the upper-campus residences into the lecture venues and turned those residences into lecture halls instead. There simply wasn’t enough pressure anymore to pump water all the way up the hill.
The biggest shock to the city this year, of course, was the new legislation back in July which stipulated that households were only allowed one shower every 2 weeks. Considering we’ve been showering once a week for the last 4 or 5 years, it was a drastic tightening of water regulations which had adverse effects on hygiene and health. I continued to shower once a week – it was just easier, to be honest, and I’m sure it didn’t make that much of a difference – but seeing people wash in rain puddles on the streets was a heart-wrenching thing to witness.
That said, this town has seen dramatic emigration over the last 10 years. The university’s current enrolment sits at around 500 students, and the majority of the town’s population is now made-up of those from the township without the resources to leave. The middle-class has gone, and the business-owners primarily live in neighbouring areas – even as far as Port Elizabeth – where circumstances are a little less bleak.
The emptier centre of town and the ever-diminishing water pressure meant that Joza encroached further and further back into Grahamstown. Crime rates and unrest shot-up, the filth and litter built-up, and property prices plummeted. Many homeowners didn’t even bother selling, and simply up-and-went. The real estate market became vicious, and the entire town was left in the hands of the two surviving estate agencies, which practically ran the city on a monopoly. They were probably the most well-off, to be honest. Once a shark, always a shark – even out of the water.
Frightening, too, were the businesses that Grahamstown added to its death-count this year: Checkers, Spar, Handmade Coffees, Spur, Wallace’s Pharmacy, The Rat and Parrot, Prime, Birch’s, Clicks, and Shoprite… all liquidated, and all closed. Without people, of course, revenue is non-existent; companies simply couldn’t afford to service this city anymore.
I am finally packing-up and leaving as well. I stuck around as a journalist and had the luxury of being able to leave at a moment’s notice – something which not many can say, here. I will leave with a partially finished degree, and many like me will leave with less. What will become of this town without even its university is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure: the water isn’t coming back anytime soon.
In an after-thought, I wonder what would’ve happened if this water crisis had never escalated to this point? It strikes me to think how different it would all look if people’s ignorance and selfishness hadn’t blinded them to a future without water. I guess some things, then, really do never change…
Section Editor of Environment, 2035-2037
Image sourced from esoterx.com