The Story Behind the Image – 3000 Days of Drought

By Willem van der Berg

In 2020 some regions of the Northern Cape province in South Africa were experiencing an eight year drought. It was called the worst drought in a 100 years. Many farmers did not make it through this horrific time. Some left their farms in search for other incomes. Some even took their own lives. Those that tried to hang on had to do it with only the 30% of stock that was left. And these animals had to be fed at least twice a week as there was nothing left of the veld (the natural grazing). On many farms the underground water sank deeper and deeper. Boreholes dried up and now farmers had to take water to their animals as well.

In December of that year weather forecasts suddenly predicted big, big rains for the very dry parts of the province. Maps with estimated volumes were shown. If your farm fell in the blue and green areas, you would get rain. But all eyes were on the river of purple, stretching across the province where 100mm and more was expected. Just in time for Christmas. There was great excitement about this wonderful news. I did a lot of stories on the drought and knew I had to be there when the first drops fell. I drove to Dawid and Enjo le Roux. Their farm, Flamingosvlei, was far from the beaten track, scorched by the relentless sun, but also right in the way of the major storm that was heading to South Africa.

We waited four days. Constantly looking to the north-western horizon from where their saving grace would come. Checking the weather apps and forecasts by the hour. Sitting outside in the warm dark night, waiting for the lightning to come closer. On day two a little drizzle passed by. On the afternoon of day three heavy clouds were pulled apart by a vicious wind. Leaving me and Dawid in the dust while some of his sheep were looking at us for feed. I was so disappointed. I felt drained, sad and angry. Dawid laughed. “This is nothing new to us. We’ve seen 3000 days of drought. But it also are 3000 days closer to the rain.” There in the dusty wind I took the photo. Not only to show the dire situation of the farmers of the Northern Cape. But also to remember that moment. The harshness of nature. The patience of Dawid.

It is not always possible, but I try to spend enough time with the people in my stories. I don’t want the obvious stuff. I don’t want to just tell the readers that it is dry, or that it rained at last. I want to tell what happens to the people experiencing one of the worst droughts ever. What its like when they sit around the dinner table. What they say to each other. How the hot winds keep them up at night. I need them to trust me enough to let me get that close to their skin. Only then you’re able to point a wide angle lens right in their face when things get real and get a truthful image of who they are.

Willem shared other outstanding images from his shoot:

Click here for a video by Willem on his experience in the bush waiting for the drought to break.

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