The Cape Town water crisis has us all in a tizz and it’s made things a little awkward – especially in the public bathroom department. Klaudia Schachtschneider from World Wide Fund SA hit the nail on the head with the let it mellow rule in the workplace. All cringing and laughter aside, the struggle is real.
We came across this article while looking for tips on water saving on the World Wide Fund SA website, and we couldn’t help but feel like the author, Klaudia Schachtschneider, captured exactly how Capetonians are feeling.
I was raised in Namibia and always fancied myself a bit of a hard-core conservationist. I knew all about camping, minimal water use and roughing it. So when the Cape Town water restrictions slowly notched from level 3 in November 2016 to level 5 in September 2017, I was not particularly alarmed for me or my family. After all, the worst that could happen would be like an extended camping trip.
To work and beyond
We live in a metropole of four million people, sharing confined spaces every day. We share space at work, at leisure and while going about our daily living. In these situations, our health, well-being and conflict-free coexistence are underpinned by a strongly articulated – and repetitive code of conduct: cubicle ethics.
The back door of every toilet cubicle has its own version of “Please leave these facilities in a condition you would like to find them in’. This social code of conduct is drilled into us everywhere. It has been burnt into the deep layers of our subconscious and it drives our behaviour when we use bathrooms in public. Not adhering to it is considered undignified and an insult to those who use the cubicle after you.
My inner cubicle critic
So it was in a public cubicle at work where I hit my moral dilemma. Do I mellow it and risk facing the wrath for disobeying cubicle conduct? Or do I flush six liters for my number one down a U-bend and clock up my daily allocation of 87 liters?
To be honest, I sat longer than needed, waiting for colleagues to leave the bathroom facilities, so that I could make an unseen, unflushed escape.
For me, the crisis took precedent – but I felt too ashamed to be seen doing it.
“If we hit day zero, the freedom of choice (to flush or not to flush) will no longer be ours.” – Klaudia Schachtchneider
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My watershed moment
My literal watershed moment came a while later – again in the cubicle. After a long meeting, my colleague and I chattered our way into adjacent bathroom cubicles. Our cubicle conversation continued – until we both hit pause as we realised that neither of us could exit this cubicle, leaving it anonymously unflushed.
We were both there and could judge each other… after a moment of consideration and uncomfortable silence we dared each other to not flush.
We both emerged, feeling conspiratorial and relieved – in more ways than one. We had given each other the permission to not flush – and somehow that had made it all easier.
So if there was any lesson to share, it is that permission cubicles in public spaces will appeal to a significant number of Capetonians – and maybe even visitors. Many of us want to do the right thing, but we need a magic word: “permission”.
In a drought as severe as this, my plea is for an amendment to public toilet cubicle conduct.
Klaudia Schachtschneider is the Water Stewardship Programme Manager at WWF-SA. Originally from dry Namibia, Klaudia has always had a passion for water and she has worked on human and plant water use throughout her career.
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