Watery Tales of Old

(I promised a few posts about water, and this is one of them. The point of this series is to make you think about what water means to you, and to motivate you to donate to a worthy watery charity cause, if you possibly can.)

FaucetWaterMy family has been in South Africa for a very long time, since around the late 1800s on my mother’s side, and the early 1900’s on my father’s side. As such, we’ve experienced a lot of South Africa, since before the inception of apartheid to beyond the end of that tragic legacy. Of course, the most “exciting” (or rather impacting) events for our family took place during apartheid. One of those events revolved around a dam and a waterfall.

Our family owned and lived on property out in the countryside. Of course, when they purchased the land, practically the entire country was all countryside! One piece of property had on it a few dams, some larger than others, and a pretty nice-sized waterfall. My great-grandmother’s property was surrounded by white farmers, either German, Dutch or English in origin. The Germans and the Dutch were particularly…white-oriented…and would do whatever they could to convince her to “sell” her property. The one entity that did not have to “buy” your property was the government. If the South African government came to you and said they want your property for some national purpose (building railroad tracks, train station, highway, park, electric utility), then you signed on the dotted line and handed it over. (Unless you were white, of course, in which case you’d get some amount of payment.)

Being out in the middle of nowhere meant that when electricity and pumped water became widespread human achievements that were supplied by most first-world governments (which South Africa considered itself), the required infrastructure was provided to all citizens. In South Africa, it was different. In the middle of nowhere, the rule of law was government for whites, everyone else for themselves. So, our family had their generators, wired their homes themselves, and drilled water bore holes, and laid down their own water pipes. When the government turned it’s attention to the countryside, my family knew there was no way government-supplied water and electricity would simply and effortlessly be provided to them. What they did not know was the following.

Electricity is powered by water. Everyone knew that. Water, out in the countryside, is a precious commodity. Everyone knew that, too. When the government noticed that our property contained some very nice-sized dams, they decided to set up a local electric utility on this property. So, along they came to my great-grandfather with papers specifying that he is voluntarily handing over a couple of the very large dams and surrounding property to the government “for the national good.” Of course, he did, and the electric plant was set up. Electricity was then piped to every home and shop in the area, 24/7. The only ones to not get the electricity resulting from their own water was our family. Nobody really expected that, although in retrospect it is rather unsurprising. Later, the government decided to build a park around the waterfall on this property. As non-whites, we never set foot on that park, and have no idea if the waterfall is really as glorious as my mother remembers it to have been on hot African summer days.

To you, this might be a story about apartheid. To us, they were realities far bigger than the nebulous, faraway concept of political ideology; these were very real stories simply about water. Because, when you have to fend for yourself, as most people who live in the countryside do, everything is about water. Those dams that you could never access again meant less water in times of drought—less water to feed your farm animals; less water to clean your clothes; less water for your crops; less water available for Friday ablutions; less water for the simple pleasure of merely admiring water falling off a cliff. Less water means you have to build expensive reservoirs to catch and save rainwater, reservoirs which will later crack and need repair. Less water means you will have to dig expensive bore holes, and you’ll never know if you’re digging in the wrong place until you come up dry and have paid for the privilege. Less water sounds like such a simple thing to live with. But having less of it makes life immeasurably less pleasant.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about the UN Water Conference, and the ridiculous question they were addressing, “Is water a human right, or merely a basic human need?” Again, that might seem like a question of simple politics. But it is so much more than political maneuvering to the people who would weep buckets for clean water. Imagine those who don’t have water at all? What do they go through? How do they live?

(Cookie Monster is attempting to raise $2000 here and here for charitywater, so if you want to pitch in a few dineros and have no idea where to begin, that would be a good place to start.)

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12 Responses to Watery Tales of Old

  1. Yusuf Smith says:

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    The same is true in the West Bank and Gaza today, of course – the Jews basically steal everyone else’s water – and yet we hear them scream every time someone compares them to the thieving white South Africans.

  2. realistic bird says:

    I’m at loss of words how wonderful your article is, many of us don’t appreciate the value of water. My concept of it would be very different from the one who lives in the desert.

    I think you should send this to the UN water conference people and show them the real meaning of water! 😀

  3. Haris Gulzar says:

    The choice of words throughout the article is great. We really dont appreciate many blessings of Allah, water being one of the most important of those Ne’mats.

    This is a nice piece of writing

  4. mems says:

    AoA! And a (very) belated Ramadan Mubarak to you and your family.

    I love your writing. Please go be a journalist. That is all.

    *much love and hugs*

  5. nadia says:

    What happened to your family is truly heartbreaking. How sad that this had to happen – that the most essential element of your survival – had been taken away like that from you. And it’s even sadder that you weren’t even provided electricity generated from the very dam that your family had owned!

    You had written this piece very well, Sis. Can’t wait for more water-related articles!

  6. Alisha says:

    I truly feel for your family- to be robbed of your rights just like that, no questions asked. It so unfair.
    It was really enlightening to read a post such as this, waiting to read the rest of your water-related entries.

  7. Hey salaams!

    Big thanks for the shout out! Alhamdulilah, I have hit 40% of my target in 7 days; inshallah the remaining 60% will come through soon too!

    Water is a human right – period. I have spent time in drought regions, and experiences are not pleasant. I have seen water being rationed and how miserly people have to be to utilize a resource which is required in almost every daily act.

    Most people do not value water enough, and hopefully with campaigns like the ones which charity: water are running, people will get more and more aware of how big a deal presence of clean water is.

  8. Yusuf Smith,, Wa’Alaykum Salam 🙂 The parallels are startlingly consistent between apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel.

    realisticbird, Thank you, sweetness, you are too kind! Everyone’s concept of water is a little bit different–here in California, we’re in a desert but it’s so easy to forget that. Most homes have bright green lawns, and the gallons of water that are wasted to maintain them…well, it’s just sad.

    Haris Gulzar, You’re very kind to say such heart-warming words. I appreciate it! It’s very easy to forget Allah’s Blessings…how does the saying go: Allah gives and forgives, man gets and forgets.

    mems, Wa’Alaykum Salam, sis 🙂 And may the second half of Ramadan be blessed for you and yours, as well! 😆 @ “go be a journalist.” You’re my biggest and longest-standing fan, and I appreciate you like no other blogger would! There are better writers than me trying to find journalism jobs–I’m afraid I’ve got no chance! 😀 *hugs and kisses*

    nadia, It was an irony of fate; if it hadn’t been so ironic, I don’t think my family would have ever even remembered that the dams were taken. As for heartbreaking, it was not nearly as heartbreaking as those who have no water at all. Alhamdulillah for everything.

    Thank you, sis, I really do appreciate your thoughtful sentiments!

    Alisha, I was hoping for people to end up feeling for those who have clean water at the moment; my family’s story is just an example from a time long ago. It was a tad unfair, but our family was fortunate to have other options; alhamdulillah. I’m happy you feel you gained something useful from this 🙂

    Cookie Monster, Wasalaam 🙂 You’re welcome, and I really hope that the next 60% is reached easily and quickly, inshaAllah! There can be no question among people of conscience that water is a human right, and perhaps all it takes is a little education for people to realize that we must do what we can to provide clean water for all of Earth’s population.

  9. Alisha says:

    I commented on your Acne post- it disappeared. 😦 😦

  10. Rayyan says:

    Salam sis,
    Hope u had a wonderful Eid…

    I am really surprised after reading this artical of yours, as a South African Indian I understand u through and through!
    SA and its horrific history will always be remembered in all times, i guess.
    SA is mild in comparision to Gaza and Palestine as a whole, which u do know, isn’t it?
    I really empathise with your family and what they went through, although i didn’t really feel the Apartheid regime as I was way too little.
    My parents and grandparents has stories which they keep tellings us, and makes us wonder how did they ever manage in those difficult situations..?

    May Allah reward your family for their sacrifices which they made due to being oppressed !
    Allahu Akbar it is unbelievable!
    Imagine using your own water, land and natural resorces for others to benefit from, and u are not allowed to use a drop!
    WOW

    Sis be rest asured ALLAH will recompense them in this world and in the hereafter, Ameen Ya Rabb!

    Enough said, but i just had to say it…

    Fee Amanillah
    En. Bee
    SA

  11. abdurrahman says:

    Assalamualaikum,

    speaking of South Africa, I met a South African imam and his family here at Los Angeles. They are all very friendly and the wife is also a munaqaaba. He said he is imam at Inglewood mosque. Didn’t realize there are many muslims in SA

  12. Pingback: Indigo Jo Blogs — Israel and old South Africa made ready allies

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