Drone shots. Even with dried-out lakes and stagnant rivers that weakly glisten in the greedy sun, South Africa’s landscape is still beautiful with its rocky mountains and plateaus with swirling patterns. On such a land that could be considered one of nature’s greatest gifts, it’s hard to imagine that its people lived in a constant fear of Day Zero – the day when all the municipal taps cannot be turned on.
South Africa’s water crisis in 2017 may have long been erased from the front page of the news but the talk of it is still fresh in many memories. The paradox of a severe water shortage in a coastal country. When “Scenes from a Dry City” was shot, the country had already adopted level 6B water restrictions, which dictated that residents can only use municipal drinking water for drinking. The most common daily practices like car washes and garden watering were illegal.
Except, that rule didn’t apply to everyone.
Car washers were chased down by the police and driven out of business, though they are already mostly black low-income citizens. Meanwhile, a leisurely white golfer casually crosses into a drained reservoir, only to look for the ball lost among the water traces in the reservoir.
No water shortage on the golf court, where the grass is the greenest it can ever be. No water shortage in the overpriced hotels, where you can run the tap to take a bath whenever you want.
But filmmakers Simon Wood and François Verster do not end here. With conscious editing choices, they also show us common citizens rallying on the streets for “free water for all,” shouting out slogans and dancing together to celebrate their activism and courage. With masterful juxtaposition between shots of the rally and the golf court, as well as enormous houses along a shiny stream and makeshift shacks by some dirty, garbage-filled mud, Wood and Verster get at the root of the problem – the privatization of a life necessity that arbitrarily creates racial and class lines between life and death.
Toward the end, the short film shows us a white wealthy woman watching workers digging a well in her front yard, because she loves gardening and was sad to see her garden die. Through the camera, we also join in a massive spiritual revival to pray for rain. It then takes us into underground tunnels and Cape Town’s municipal water system. One drop, two drop, and three drop. The city is still dry.
The ending reveals two common fates in the drought – a yacht parked by some happily flowing water, and a small fish, caught by human greed, barely breathing and surviving.