Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Day Zero: Discourse of the Cape Town Water Crisis

Catherine Bruns's picture
Bruns, Catherine
Category of presentation: 
Scholarly papers

In 2017, the apocalyptic-sounding Day Zero—a reference to the day when city taps in Cape Town, South Africa would be turned off and replaced with daily water rations—became all too real when a prediction of April 21, 2018 solidified. Although the day of reckoning did not come for Cape Town, the panic is not new: locations around the world, from London to Tokyo to São Paulo, have experienced their own water crises (Laudicina, 2018). Despite its prominence in our daily lives, water remains understudied in environmental communication. Therefore, an opportunity exists to explore the turning points of apocalyptic rhetoric in water discourse—for example, when a once inevitable water apocalypse becomes uncertain. This paper seeks to understand the escalation and de-escalation of Day Zero apocalyptic rhetoric by examining media discourse surrounding the Cape Town water crisis. A NewsBank sample of local and international newspaper discourse associated with Day Zero was analyzed for apocalyptic rhetorical themes. Findings present two implications: water crisis discourse is largely isolated to the community experiencing the crisis, and the value of apocalyptic rhetoric in water crisis discourse is connected to the crisis’ certainty and proximity. Ultimately, this paper contributes to our understanding of water in environmental communication; the use of apocalyptic rhetoric as motivation in water crises; and the responsibility of scholars, media, and laypersons to develop and maintain conversations on water issues that are not our own.