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Decision-Making in a Water Crisis: Lessons From the Cape Town Drought for Urban Water Policy  

Johanna Brühl, Leonard le Roux, Martine Visser, and Gunnar Köhlin

The water crisis that gripped Cape Town over the 2016–2018 period gained global attention. For a brief period of time in early 2018, it looked as if the legislative capital of South Africa would become the first major city in the world to run out of water. The case of Cape Town has broad implications for how we think about water management in a rapidly urbanizing world. Cities in the global South, especially, where often under-capacitated urban utilities need to cope with rapid demographic changes, climate change, and numerous competing demands on their tight budgets, can learn from Cape Town’s experience. The case of Cape Town draws attention to the types of decisions policymakers and water utilities face in times of crisis. It illustrates how these decisions, while being unavoidable in the short term, are often sub-optimal in the long run. The Cape Town drought highlights the importance of infrastructure diversification, better groundwater management, and communication and information transparency to build trust with the public. It also shows what governance and institutional changes need to be made to ensure long-term water security and efficient water management. The implementation of all of these policies needs to address the increased variability of water supplies due to increasingly erratic rainfall and rapidly growing urban populations in many countries. This necessitates a long-term planning horizon.

Article

Slavery at the Cape  

Nigel Worden

Slavery was a mainstay of the labor force of the Cape Colony between its foundation by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1652 and abolition in 1834, by which date the Cape was under British rule. Slaves were transported to the Cape from a wide range of areas in the Indian Ocean world, including South and Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and Mozambique. Some were owned by the VOC and labored on the Company farms, outposts, and docks. The majority were sold to settlers and worked as domestic servants in Cape Town or as laborers on the grain, wine, and pastoral farms of the Cape interior. Throughout the 18th century slaves outnumbered settlers. Although there were few major revolts, individual resistance was widespread and desertion common. Some runaways joined indigenous groups in the Cape interior, while others formed more isolated maroon communities. Toward the end of the 18th century some slaves claimed individual rights, reflecting the influence of wider revolutionary movements in the Atlantic world. A revolutionary uprising took place in 1808, shortly after the abolition of the slave trade and the takeover of the colony by the British. In the early 19th century slave resentment continued to grow, especially as a boom in wine production increased labor demands. In the 1820s and early 1830s abolitionist voices were heard in the colony, and slavery was ended at the same time as that in the British Caribbean and Mauritius. Unlike these other British colonies, Cape slaves largely continued to work as farm laborers, and their living and working conditions produced the continued impoverishment of farmworkers in the western Cape region. Slaves played an important part in the creation of a distinctive creolized Cape culture, notably in the development of the Afrikaans language and Cape musical and culinary traditions. They were also responsible for the growth of Islam in Cape Town and its hinterland, which took a distinctive form influenced by its Southeast Asian origins.

Article

Culture and Society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652–1795  

Gerald Groenewald

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company founded a “refreshment station” in Table Bay on the southwestern coast of Africa for its fleets to and from the East Indies. Within a few years, this outpost developed into a fully-fledged settler colony with a “free-burgher” population who made an existence as grain, wine, and livestock farmers in the interior, or engaged in entrepreneurial activities in Cape Town, the largest settlement in the colony. The corollary of this development was the subjugation of the indigenous Khoikhoi and San inhabitants of the region, and the importation and use of a relatively large slave labor force in the agrarian and urban economies. The colony continued to expand throughout the 18th century due to continued immigration from Europe and the rapid growth of the settler population through natural increase. During that century, about one-third of the colony’s population lived in Cape Town, a cosmopolitan harbor city with a large transient, and overwhelmingly male, population which remained connected with both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. The unique society and culture that developed at the Cape was influenced by both these worlds. Although in many ways, the managerial superstructure of the Cape was similar to that of a Dutch city, the cosmopolitan and diverse nature of its population meant that a variety of identities and cultures co-existed alongside each other and found expression in a variety of public forms.