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Cape Town’s “Day Zero” Drought: Notes on a Future History of Urban Dwelling

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Taking the events of Cape Town’s “Day Zero” drought as a case study, this article examines the politics and poetics of water in the Anthropocene and the implications of Anthropogenic climate change for urban life. It argues that rather than being understood as an inert resource, fresh drinking water is a complex object constructed at the intersection between natural systems; cultural imaginaries; and social, political, and economic interests. The extraordinary events of Day Zero raised the specter of Mad Max–style water wars. They also led to the development of new forms of solidarity, with water acting as a social leveler. The article argues that events in Cape Town open a window onto the future, to the extent that they tell us something about what happens when the added stresses of climate change are mapped onto already-contested social and political situations. They also underline the precarious nature of many of our urban arrangements. This sense of the precarious is likely to extend beyond the case of Cape Town and to be an abiding feature of urban life as we journey deeper into the Anthropocene/Capitalocene.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSpace & Culture
Pages (from-to)359-377
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

    Research areas

  • Anthropocene futures, Cape Town, hydrocitizenship, precariousness, water, “Day Zero”

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