Protecting Our Green Spaces: My Visit to the Botanical Garden

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Greetings friends, family, and future travelers! As many of you know, I am currently in Cape Town, South Africa studying social justice and activism and also interning with the Whole World Women’s Association. After being here for two weeks, I have already learned so much about the culture, people, and different practices. One of the things I have appreciated most about being here is the time to reflect and compare the different societal ways of life. What started off as an excursion to the Botanical Gardens became a real eye-opening experience for me! 

Who would have ever thought that a nation currently experiencing a water drought would also be home to the one of the world’s largest Botanical Garden’s? The Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is located in Cape Town, South Africa- a city that is currently recovering from one of the worst droughts the nation has experienced.

This past weekend, I visited the Garden and was able to learn about how the Garden has kept up its beautiful greenery even during the drought. Because of the large quantity of water needed and other political reasons, the City of Cape Town does not supply water to Kirstenbosch. Kirstenbosch instead taps water from Table Moutain and uses a computer-controlled irrigation system to regulate their water usage. In addition to this, Kirstenbosch has taken measures to conserve their limited water usage. For example, they have implemented numerous potable water-saving devices, such as waterless urinals, multi-flush toilets, and low-flow showerheads.

Unfortunately, Kirstenbosch is not the only place where there must be conscious efforts to conserve water. The moment I stepped off my plane I realized that water conservation was an issue. In my hotel, there was a sign in the bathroom that stated “kindly limit showers to once a day and only one and a half minutes in duration. Stay Sustainably.”

When I first saw this sign, I was honestly just shocked. I had read a lot about the history of South Africa, but nothing had prepared me for the reality of this. The next day, the program I am studying abroad with, SIT, briefed my classmates and me on the issue and informed us of the techniques they use in the office to conserve water. We learned that by conserving water when you use the bathroom, can save about 50 liters of water a day. We do this by catching the excess water from washing our hands and using that water to put back in the toilet.

Currently, Cape Townians are under a level 3 restrictions which mean that they can only use 105 liters a day.

105 liters or 27 Gallons may seem like a lot, but it means that families have to limit the amount of time they shower, brush their teeth the number of times they flush the toilet, the amount of water used to cook with and much more. For the past week and a half, I have been staying with a family in Langa, Cape Town’s first Black Township, and have experienced how the water restriction effect’s one’s daily township.

Before staying with my homestay family in Langa, I never knew what it was like to limit the amount of water I used to bathe myself. I often find myself purchasing bottles of water at the store so as to not burden the family. I have only been living like this for 9 days, but this is the everyday reality for millions of South Africans. I would also be remiss not to note that the access to water is not equal across the city of Cape Towns. There are thousands of Africans living informal settlements who do not even have a faucet in their home, while on the other side of town and only a few miles away, there are Afrikaners and White people who have enough water to sell it for $6 a bottle.

Overall, my trip to the Botanical Garden allowed me to see that it takes work to preserve the beauty of a nation.