EQUITY, WATER AND EMPOWERMENT

Making sense of a water crisis

Efforts to empower local activists to engage with a local government after the 2018 drought in Cape Town has now been presented in a documentary which is available to watch at the bottom of this article. Photo: Water for Life

New film documents efforts to connect local communities with authorities and push for change in the years after Cape Town’s “Day Zero” drought

Story highlights

  • In 2018, Cape Town was on track to become the first major city in the world to run out of water due to the “Day Zero” drought
  • A transdisciplinary collaboration aimed to help residents in neglected communities and empower local activists to engage with authorities and push for change
  • The documentary Making sense of a water crisis follows the process, providing insights and experiences of how to carry out successful transdisciplinary collaborations

In 2018 Cape Town’s drought was making headlines across the world. But while this coverage often focused on what would happen to the city’s tourism industry and middle class, the crisis - one considered to be greatly exacerbated by climate change - led SRC’s Johan Enqvist and University of Cape Town researcher Gina Ziervogel to dig deeper. 

What happened next, a transdisciplinary collaboration that empowered local activists to engage with a local government they long felt ignored by, has now been presented in a 17 minute documentary titled Making sense of a water crisis (see full video below).

300 stories from townships

Working together with the Western Cape Water Caucus, a community-based organisation working on water rights issues across several Cape Town townships, the collaboration aimed to give a voice to residents in neglected communities, help them better understand the issues they face, and empower local activists to engage with authorities and push for change.

Putting the communities' perspectives on decision-makers’ agenda is key to ensure that as we adapt to climate change, we don’t worsen existing inequalities but work to dismantle them.

Johan Enqvist, researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre

Using a tool called Sensemaker, the Water Caucus collected 300 stories providing detailed nuance to the issues facing residents in the townships. Later on, these “activist researchers” prepared short roleplays to illustrate their findings. These skits became the main tool to share the issues facing township residents with city officials.

A selection of the collected stories are now available on waterstories.co.za, adding important voices from disadvantaged communities to a broader effort to help Capetonians connect to and understand water and the environment.

Regular meetings with city officials

Although at the time the process was well received by both city officials and local residents, the pandemic put a halt to promising collaborations. But as COVID restrictions have eased, the city and the Water Caucus have finally been able to pick things up where they left off.

As of 2021 the Water Caucus has instituted quarterly meetings with City of Cape Town officials from several departments, something not yet accomplished in its 20-year history.

“This is a direct outcome of the project, which helped both establish personal connections to the City and empower Caucus members to not only present their case based on personal experience, but backed up by credible data,” says Enqvist.

As for the documentary, which was produced by filmmaker Odendaal Esterhuyse and commissioned by the University of Cape Town and the Water Caucus, the researchers are enthusiastic:

“We hope it will help both parties share insights and experiences of how to carry out successful transdisciplinary collaborations,” says Enqvist.

Watch the documentary here

Published: 2022-02-11