Entrance to the Kildare Road spring in Newlands, which has been demolished by the City of Cape Town.
The City of Cape Town has demolished the Kildare Road spring in Newlands. For more than 100 years people have been coming to this water point. No trace of this historically significant spring remains.

Three days after the spring was shut down on May 23, I went to the site of the water collection point to see what was left of it.

Riyaz Rawoot’s improvised PVC pipe structure with its 26 water points is gone, and the water point is now completely covered by concrete slabs.

The water now flows straight into the river. A tall fence separated me from the flowing water that I had once collected there so freely.

I felt a sense of loss. I had grown accustomed to this lively meeting spot, where water collectors and water porters from all over the city had first converged during the start of the “Day Zero” crisis.

The place was eerily quiet. After a few minutes, a middle-aged coloured man strolled up to the spot where the PVC pipe once was.

Like me, he seemed to be in a state of disbelief. “What am I going to do now? I need this water to keep my water bill down,” he told me.

We reminisced about this former space of free flowing water and conversations. I then gave him directions to the new collection point near the Newlands public swimming pool.

City officials and local Newlands residents insist that the problem has been solved, and that the people can now collect their water at the new, highly regulated water point.

This new collection point is about 1km away from the homes of the Newlands residents who had complained so bitterly about the noise, the traffic congestion and the influx of “outsiders” who mostly came from the poor and working-class neighbourhoods of the Cape Flats.

But what these officials and residents could not see was that this spring was more than simply a pipe filled with flowing water. It was a space saturated with history, memories and sociality.

During the present water crisis, the Kildare Road spring became one of those rare spaces where a diverse public came together in this deeply divided city. Every day for months, I drove past the spring on the way to drop off my children at school. Kildare Road was always busy, with cars parked on the pavement and trolleys loaded with water containers.

From my conversations at the spring, I learnt that most of the people collected water at the spring to lower their monthly water bills, to save municipal water in a time of scarcity, or because they enjoyed the sweet taste and purity of the water. Some came there as a ritual of remembrance and to reminisce about when they or their relatives lived in Newlands Village before the forced removals of the 1960s.

It was a place that served many different needs for many people.

Now this convivial, heterogeneous social space is gone, buried under concrete. What is to be done?”

Steven Robins

Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University