University of Cape Town: UCT researcher in line for climate film award

Chido Nyaruwata, who graduated from UCT with a master’s in International Relations in 2020 and is currently working as a research assistant for the university’s Africa Gender Institute (AGI) from her home in Harare, Zimbabwe, is among the finalists shortlisted for the United Nations-affiliated international short film competition, the Earthbeat Challenge.

The competition invited young people from across the world to create three-minute films that express their take on the theme “Restoring balance with nature”. The objective, said the organisers, was to “unlock leadership skills in young people, make them aware of opportunities and get their voices heard in co-creating promising futures.”

The top movies, judged to be those telling the young entrants’ stories of their struggles and hopes in the face of climate change most effectively – and which drum up the most views on YouTube by the end of October – will be shown at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Edinburgh in November.

Story behind the movie

Entitled Food Security & Waste Management in Harare, Nyaruwata’s nominated film is a short consolidation of some of the facts and insights she gleaned while working on her master’s dissertation, which focused on international health responses to persistent cholera outbreaks in Harare.

“Living in Harare, I was aware of waste management problems due to poor service delivery, issues of funding, and the politicisation of water and other services. My work around cholera further highlighted other socio-economic problems and inequality because of spatial planning and infrastructure challenges within the city,” she said.

“I saw that while waste management is an issue throughout Harare, cholera was prevalent in low-income, high-density suburbs. In my dissertation, I wanted to interrogate where all these issues intersected; and why, particularly during the cholera outbreaks of 2008 and 2018, they led to death.”

“Living in Zimbabwe – and, in fact, elsewhere in southern Africa – means we are at the frontline of the ecological crisis.”

One of the ways residents of Harare respond to the fact that waste is not collected or removed is to burn it. This is evidenced by the plumes of smoke that rise and then rest over the city on any given day. These fires are not only damaging to the environment and public health, but also illegal.

“They are also a reminder that living in Zimbabwe – and, in fact, elsewhere in southern Africa – means we are at the frontline of the ecological crisis,” said Nyaruwata.

Fires notwithstanding, the spatial realities of Harare mean that many residents do not have access to much land on which to grow vegetables and fruit, which form an important part of any nutritious diet. Having control over the production, quality and hygiene of food plays a crucial role in health and disease control.

“Cities like Harare face challenges around food security and poor waste management. I recognised that the Earthbeat Challenge film competition gave me the opportunity to voice my perspectives on some of the drivers that are harming our environment and our health,” she said. “But I also realised that it is not just about pointing out the problems, but also about offering solutions – which in my case involves managing plastic pollution.”

The proposed solution

Building awareness around the fact that burning waste is harmful to people and the environment, and offering alternatives, Nyaruwata’s film discusses the value of separating waste, composting organic matter, and recycling other materials.

“I show how we can reuse plastic to grow food, even when space is limited,” she said. “In Africa, we have a culture of re-using what we have; and let’s face it, every home has a drawer or bag full of plastic bags. The challenge is how to use these bags to ensure that we don’t buy more, [or] burn or dump them. My film looks at how we can use everyday plastic and improve our access to clean, healthy food.”

The film, circulated to Nyaruwata’s neighbourhood WhatsApp group by her brother, has already had an impact. “The conversation started immediately. People said that they were concerned about the fires. They were happy to see alternatives discussed, and the fact that issues of not only illegal burning but also recycling and food security were being addressed.”

“Making the film was a great opportunity to present the information in an engaging, visual format.”

Making the film not only gave Nyaruwata the chance to pinpoint challenges and solutions; it also highlights and helps make her research more accessible.

“As researchers and academics, we gather so much knowledge. The reality, though, is that people are more visually stimulated than they are motivated to read reams of information. Making the film was a great opportunity to present the information in an engaging, visual format,” she said.

“In addition, the discussion around climate change and reducing greenhouse gases can seem ‘high level’ and technical, which leaves people wondering what they can do practically. I hope that my movie will encourage people to see what they can do, and how important it is for us all to play a role in our day-to-day lives. We all have opportunities to help make our world a better place; and as a collective, each little thing we do can make a huge difference.”