College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Virtual Film Screening Explores Transformative River Management in Durban

The recent virtual screening to launch a mini documentary titled Changing Course: A look into transformative river programmes in Durban explored how transformative climate adaptation is exemplified by river management programmes in Durban and stimulated discussion on what transformative climate adaptation looks like in southern African cities.

Close to 40 participants joined the event, led by researchers and practitioners from various institutions involved in the collaborative Leading Integrated Research in Africa for Agenda 2030 (LIRA) initiative that provides opportunities for early career researchers to investigate global sustainability.

As part of its efforts to support transformative climate change adaptation, LIRA is investigating responses to climate change that promote equality, inclusiveness and justice. Researchers in Cape Town, Durban and Harare are involved in the initiative to examine the increased intensity of extreme events leading to shifting water availability, floods or droughts in these cities, and what this means for their water resource management.

Changing Course is the culmination of a collaboration between UKZN through the Durban Research Action Partnership, the University of Cape Town’s Climate System Analysis Group and the Chinhoyi University of Technology, funded by LIRA through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Network of African Science Academies, and the International Science Council.

The documentary was directed by Mr Hans Pretorius from UKZN’s Centre for Communication, Media and Society and Dr Lulu van Rooyen, both of whom produced the feature together with Principal Investigator Ms Alice McClure.

The screening formed part of a series of learning labs hosted by the LIRA team, and comprised an overview of multiple transdisciplinary, joint scientific and societal projects exploring aspects of four river management programmes in the Durban area: Wise Wayz Water Care, Sihlanzimvelo, the Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation Project, and the Aller River Pilot Project. Changing Course is aimed at decision-makers, researchers and members of civil society interested in taking up the call to transform cities and adapt to climate change.

Durban has 7 400km of rivers and streams, many of which are degraded and require management programmes which follow different models to reduce the effects of environmental disasters that follow the rivers’ pathways and affect those who live nearby or rely on the rivers.

McClure noted that eThekwini has prioritised ecological infrastructure in dealing with climate change, and that this research evaluates the successes and challenges of the river management programmes.

The documentary featured several experts and practitioners, including Honorary Professor at UKZN Debra Roberts (Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group II); Dr Catherine Sutherland of UKZN’s School of Built Environment and Development Studies; Manager of the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department at eThekwini Municipality Ms Jo Douwes; and Senior Manager of Catchment Management at the municipality Mr Geoff Tooley. Representatives of groups working on river management programmes also spoke, including the Gcina Arts and Culture Co-Op at Sihlanzimvelo, and consultant Ms Luci Coelho on the Aller River project.

Roberts highlighted that transformative adaptation is a major systemic, proactive change, while Douwes emphasised the necessary fundamental changes to economic and governance structures to change cycles of environmental degradation and inequity.

‘Rivers provide a major service in the city and cannot keep being a buffer for the failure of other systems,’ said Sutherland. ‘If we rehabilitate our rivers and build climate adaptation around them, we create jobs and reconnect people with nature. Rivers are a fundamental opportunity for transforming our city throughout its economic, political, social and environmental life.’

The film can be viewed at

For more information contact Lulu van Rooyen ( or Alice McClure (

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Hans Pretorius