Documenting lessons from Day Zero

Professor Mark New, director of UCT's African Climate and Development Initiative, Associate Professor Gina Ziervogel, Research chair at ACDI, film library director, Victor van Aswegen of CineSouth Studios and Gareth Morgan, the City of Cape Town's Director of Resilience.

Last year this time Capetonians were facing the possibility of the taps running dry as the drought reached its peak.

Residents rallied to cut their water consumption and braced themselves for the prospect of having to queue at collection points for a 25-litre per person allocation of water if the dreaded Day Zero arrived.

The lessons learnt during the drought and the effect it had on residents has now been collated in the Cape Town Drought Response Learning Initiative (CTDRLI) and Film Library, which was launched last Tuesday, March 26, at the V&A Waterfront Clocktower.

The CTDRLI is a collaboration between UCT’s African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), Conversations that Count and CineSouth Studios, and received support from the City of Cape Town’s Director of Resilience and corporate sponsors.

Peter Wills, director of Conversations that Count, says the CTDRLI is a three-phase process, which includes the film library that consists of 45 in-depth interviews of people from various communities affected by the drought.

Phase one was the creation of the drought response film library.

Phase two will involve a learning dialogue on global and local level which could foster understanding about what builds resilience in a city and there will be a full-length documentary in phase three, which looks at Cape Town’s water crises, the lessons learned and how it relates globally.

“Since the story of what actually happened is tremendously rich and vivid, we wanted to make sue some of these perspectives were preserved, allowing us all to learn from what happened,” said Mr Wills.

Professor Mark New, director of UCT’s ACDI, said this was a great way to capture what people experienced in the drought.

“It’s still fresh in their minds so you get the best reflections. We are capturing people’s memories while we moved out of the drought so they can talk and share,” he said.

More than a hundred people attended the CTDRLI launch and saw 30 minutes of the film library, which included thoughts and views from different City of Cape Town departments, businesses and environmental agencies in the Western Cape. The actual film library will include a one-hour interview with each of the subjects and will highlight important points that people can use as engagement for discussion on problem areas.

About 50 hours of footage is part of the film library, according to the filmmaker, Victor van Aswegen of CineSouth Studios.

“We are applying the tools of filmmaking to document the lessons learned by key individuals involved in the drought response,” he said.

In extracts from the film library, various speakers raised important topics.

Feroz Koor, head of sustainability at a top South African retail chain, said a Day Zero would have massive implications for the economy if employees needed to leave work to queue for water.

Xanthea Limberg, Mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services, said the City needed to do more planning in a climate of unpredictability.

“With the high cost needed for resources, it is hard to justify the need without the correct data,” she said.

Mike Mulcahy, CEO of Greencape, said there were many alien invasive species growing around the catchment areas which impacted the city’s water levels during the drought.

Helen Davies, chief director of Green Economy, said there should be investment in better systems for water efficiency in schools, businesses and homes.

Professor New said even though the extracts of the film library included views from expert sources from the City and environmental organisations, in the final documentary, Day Zero, they would like to interview people from different sectors to add their views on the drought.

Those who attended the launch held mixed views about the film library interviews shown.

Sindiswa Ndlwana, a UCT alumni who graduated with a BSc in Statistics, said the video lacked the practical principles of the water crisis. Ms Ndlwana said it did not include the broader community like the townships and how they can save water.

Nicholas Smallberg, CEO of a branding company, said not enough credit was given to citizens of the city for playing their part in saving water to avoid Day Zero. “The movie is a good start; so much more can be done. I am disappointed that not enough Capetonian voices were heard. I stand by my statement that says that the people of Cape Town saved the city, not the politicians and aldermans,” he said.

Professor New said they were still looking for the other interview subjects who would take part in the final documentary.

Deputy Mayor of Cape Town Ian Nielson, who also contributed to the film library, said managing a crisis is different from managing any other plans that are medium to long-term.

“Your time and money are limited. In the end for us, there was really only one issue: we had to get the consumption down. There was nothing else that was really going to solve the problem,” he said.

Mr Nielson paid tribute to the people of Cape Town for their role in beating the drought.

“We achieved 40% to 50% reduction in water consumption, that would not have been possible unless the majority of the four million people were working together,” he said.

The film library will be a free online resource that citizens, businesses and schools and teachers can access in order to use as a learning tool.

Visit for more information about the CTDRLI.