How has environmental violence been experienced during the Cape Town water crisis using the Newlands Spring as a case-study

Master Thesis


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Four million residents of a major modern city faced the very likely existential and physical threat of running out of water. The water crisis continues to be an extremely complex threat with many complicated aspects to the drought, which resulted in residents of Cape Town reacting with intensity to this danger. The crisis is an example of how ignoring environmental issues can lead to catastrophic outcomes for society. For South Africa, which is characterized by a turbulent history, Homer-Dixon (1999) predicted there would be violent conflict in the future over resource scarcities. The drought was not a shock, it was a stress; what the drought fashioned were instances of shock which mostly related to the media campaign for Day Zero. Although no violent conflict on a mass scale has transpired as a result of the ongoing water crisis, there have been cases of civil violence. From protests at the greater Cape Town scale to physical altercations witnessed at Newlands Spring, the results of the present study demonstrate that mass violent conflict is not a far-off consequence of water scarcity. This research aimed to determine whether environmental violence was a lived experience for the residents of Cape Town due to the water crisis. One of the objectives was to understand whether the water crisis-induced feeling of distress and anxiety and whether indicators of slow violence and “Solastalgia” could be identified; a concept put forth to provide clarity to distresses which are environmentally caused (Albrecht et al., 2007; Higginbotham et al., 2007). Over the course of October 2018, semi-structured interviews were conducted with security and informal workers and a public survey was conducted with 100 residents who collect water at the Newlands Spring. The outcomes observed in this research is that when people feel as though their security is threatened, people tend to respond violently to the scarcity of a vital resource. The key finding of this study is that environmental violence was experienced over the crisis period. This leads to the conclusion that Solastalgia was likely to be experienced by those engaging within this Newlands Spring environment and elsewhere. The Structural violence and Supply induced violence have meant that people across South Africa experience water crises of different scales. Climate change is to aggravate these existing forms of violence and produce more complex psychological, social and economic impacts on those affected by water scarcity. Furthermore, this research contributes to the knowledge that droughts and water scarcity pose immeasurable threats to humanity.