Bron is a book by Dutch photographer Zindzi Zwietering that examines how residents of Cape Town experienced the city's 2018 water crisis that created a fundamental change in how residents interacted with and valued water. Sitting at the nexus of art and science, the book uses photographs and written observations to make the reader think more deeply about our assumptions of what will happen when a city's water runs almost runs out. I conducted research on the governance of the crisis and wrote the texts that accompanied Zindzi's photos based on the research, my observations, and my linked PhD research on water crises that had occurred in other South African towns a year prior.
The book was made possible through three grants from the Mondriaan Fund, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, and the Stokroos Foundation. We also launched a crowdfunding campaign and received generous financial support from private donors and Waternet, the water company managing Amsterdam's water.
Photography and concept: Zindzi Zwietering
Design and edit: Lyanne Tonk
Research and writing: Lize Swartz
Lithography: Coen Hamers
Print: Drukkerij Tielen, Boxtel
Binding: Patist, Den Dolder
Distribution: Idea Books
Publisher: The Eriskay Connection
Individual orders: eriskayconnection.com
About the project
On 10 March 2020, just days before the world went into lockdown as the pandemic started its slow march of destruction, photographer Zindzi Zwietering launched her photo exhibition called Bron at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS). Zwietering had travelled to Cape Town expecting an apocalyptic scenario in the weeks before Day Zero – the day on which the entire city’s taps would be turned off following the depletion of its water supplies. Her work documented life on the ground at the height of the crisis, revealing surprising and sometimes beautiful moments.
I also found myself in Cape Town during this time, in February 2018, observing how residents were coping with severe water restrictions imposed by the city's administration. My observations were closely linked to my PhD research on the same topic – how water users navigate changing water availability in urban contexts, especially due to drought. I was therefore invited to give a talk at the opening of the exhibition. This was the start of a fruitful multidisciplinary project.
Then, in June 2020, during the lockdown, Zindzi and I were invited to talk at a world café hosted by a handful of Belgian organisations including 11.11.11, Oxfam-Wereldwinkels, Broederlijk Delen, MO* and Dienst Ontwikkelingssamenwerking Stad Antwerpen. We reflected on how water users make sense of changing water availability in urban contexts through a reflection of Cape Town’s water crisis. At that time, a drought was sweeping through Western Europe, leading to water restrictions and new understandings of the value of water. Our observations, we hope, could help water users in high-income countries who had likely never faced water shortages to better understand changing water availability.