“My house smells like a toilet”

1 day 7 hours ago
City of Cape Town’s janitorial programme has left Siyahlala and other informal settlements unserviced for over a year

By Vincent Lali

24 September 2018

Photo of a toilet
Residents of Siyahlala informal settlement in Philippi East are begging the City of Cape Town to unblock and fix toilets like this one and deploy janitors to clean them. Photo: Vincent Lali

With the janitorial program for informal settlements in the City of Cape Town frozen because of lack of inoculations for janitors, communities have been struggling for more than a year with filthy toilets.

Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements Councillor Xanthea Limberg said, “Each of these janitors needs to be inoculated against hepatitis prior to commencing their duties … Due to a change in ownership of the previous service provider for the provision of these inoculations, the City was required to terminate the tender.”

The City had put out three requests for quotations, but had failed to get a service provider, she said. “A fourth request for quotation is currently underway, and we are hopeful … The City has tasked depot staff with cleaning toilets as far as possible,” said Limberg.

Meanwhile, shack dwellers in Siyahlala informal settlement beside Sheffield Road, Philippi East, put up with the stench of filthy, overflowing toilets

Resident Nomonde Ngamlana said, “One block of toilets is not enough to serve hundreds of residents who are forced to use it as they have no alternative.” She said shack dwellers from a nearby area also used the toilets.

Zikhona Mqalo, owner of the Anathi Tuckshop, said she used to clean the toilets but “residents shit in buckets inside their shacks and dump their waste in the toilets along with rotten food. I can’t cope with the filth”.

“Sometimes my house smells as if I’m staying in a toilet,” she said.

Justice Kawuta and two other residents say they volunteered three months ago to clean the toilets. Kawuta said they covered their hands with plastic bags because they had no gloves.

“We stopped doing the voluntary work because the City ignored us, and we got scared of contracting diseases. We were hoping the City would notice our good work and hire us as janitors,” said Kawuta.

Community leader Ndumiso Ndodana said, “I’m confused because City janitors do clean toilets in nearby areas, but they don’t come to our toilets.”

“We don’t know how to unblock the toilets, so we want the City to help us unblock them,” said Ndodana.


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Fourth industrial revolution: sorting out the real from the unreal

2 days 20 hours ago
Our predictive skills are about as reliable as a crystal ball. Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

The phrase “fourth industrial revolution” has become ubiquitous. It’s meant to denote a huge shift in the socioeconomic fabric of society, driven by the availability of increasingly intelligent machines. These will be able to do things we can’t do as well as take care of things we can do. Jobs will be lost. And new jobs will be created.

The fourth industrial revolution idea owes much of its credibility to a book by engineer, economist and World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab. He argues that an interconnected world, a cheapening of computer power and storage, developments in artificial intelligence, and advances in areas of biology will have revolutionary effects on our world.

He lays out a range of predictions, of greater or lesser confidence, about what these effects may be. And he argues compellingly that we need to apply ourselves to the human dimension of the revolution: to considering, and taking control of, the effects of it on social inequalities, poverty levels, political structures, labour, the way we assess productivity, and, deepest of all, what it really means to be human, given that so many formerly human tasks will be done by machines, some even via augmentation of human bodies.

It’s a good book, but has its weaknesses. It’s historically not very nuanced; it focuses on economics at the expense of politics. Most importantly, it appears to suffer from “confirmation bias” – the tendency to see any evidence as supporting your view, and to discount evidence that doesn’t.

These strengths and weaknesses reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the wider debate around the fourth industrial revolution. When the idea is used as a stimulus to reconsider what we are doing and think about the future, that’s great. When the narrative morphs into a series of predictions about life in two, 20 and 200 years, it’s easy to lose the plot.

Allocating resources and design strategies based on the predictive content of the fourth industrial revolution narrative would be dangerous given that even two decades ago it was impossible to predict the pace of technological development we’ve seen.

So caution is necessary. We can’t simply work out what is going to happen during the fourth industrial revolution, and place our bets. That’s because people’s predictive powers, never strong, become much worse when we are in the grip of a “big idea”. They become not merely bad, but worse than random.

The tortoise and the hare

Psychologist Philip Tetlock has conducted large multi-decade studies of socio-political predictions since the 1980s. For example, he asked people to make predictions about the future of communism and capitalism. His results, presented in his book Expert Political Judgment, are striking.

It makes no difference whether you are intelligent, a subject expert, have access to classified information, have a PhD, are left or right wing – none of the traditional markers of expertise translate into improved prediction performance.

The only significant variation relates to cognitive traits that Tetlock characterises as “fox” and “hedgehog”.

A fox has many ideas. A hedgehog has one big idea. In the original fable by Aesop, from which Tetlock draws these creatures, the point is that this one big idea (rolling up into a ball and sticking your spikes out) is enough to defeat the quick-witted fox. But Tetlock draws the opposite moral for prediction. Having one big idea to which you are fundamentally committed makes you far less likely to be a good predictor.

This result has important consequences. It explains why pundits are so often wrong, missing all the huge events of recent times and getting others wrong. Pundits make it because they exude confidence, which is characteristic of the hedgehog, who sees the world in clear and simple terms, and usually absent from the fox, whose world is complex and uncertain.

Fox-thinkers aren’t exactly great as predictors. But they are better than random, and certainly better than hedgehogs. Their scepticism, uncertainty and humility mean they will change their minds when new data come in. This is obviously rational, and the data show that looking for opportunities to change your mind – asking what could possibly go wrong – makes for a far better prediction strategy than hedgehog-like adherence to a single idea.

Beware of hedgehog thinking

There’s a great deal to applaud in efforts like Schwab’s to consciously review contemporary circumstances. But we need to be careful of the temptation to adopt a single lens, whether rose-tinted or grimy, for understanding a complex world.

A critical stance is essential if the fourth industrial revolution is to be a stimulus for debate rather than a dogma.

So, if you see the fourth industrial revolution everywhere, beware: you may be in the grip of hedgehog thinking – just as you are if you reject the entire notion.

As Tetlock’s work shows, if you see the certain future events as inevitable, and wonder how others can’t see that too, then you’re probably wrong. It’s better to remain inquisitive, uncertain, critical, and apportion your belief to the evidence. This is how humans will benefit from the fourth industrial revolution, and how we will take control of it.

The Conversation

Alex Broadbent works for the University of Johannesburg.

Igniting public space at the Chale Wote street art festival in Accra

5 days 15 hours ago
A street procession during the Chale Wote festival in 2018. Ruth Simbao

For the past eight years at the end of every August the James Town suburb of Ghana’s capital Accra has been taken over by the Chale Wote street art festival. During the festival, thousands of people, including local celebrities, artists, musicians, boxers and everyday revellers, move up and down the streets mostly by foot and at times on roller skates or unicycles.

The act of walking is crucial to the festival. During Chale Wote walking takes the form of chiefs’ processions, priests’ meditative movement through specific sites, and personal expressions of creativity and fashion. This surge of movement reflects the Ga words “chale wote” which mean “friend, let’s go”.

The festival aims to engage with a broad audience by creating art and performances in public spaces. Most activities take place on Cleland Road and at two forts that were once colonial trading posts. Ussher Fort was built by the Dutch in 1649 and James Fort was built by the British in 1673.

Days ahead of the main Chale Wote events, organisers hold a procession through town with local chiefs and priests. This Day of ReMembering acknowledges the historical and spiritual context of James Town and seeks blessings from the local community and the ancestral spirits.

Afro-Brazilian history

On the Day of ReMembering prayers are offered at the gate of the ancestral home Sempe Mantse We. During a slow, meditative walk to Brazil House, libations of gin are offered at each intersection.

The chief from Otublohum, one of four Ga town quarters established in Dutch Accra in the nineteenth century, joins the procession to Brazil House.

Now an art gallery and the organisational home of the Chale Wote festival, Brazil House recalls the history of about 3000 to 8000 freed African slaves who left Brazil in the early nineteenth century to return to the West African coast. The first group arrived in Dutch Accra in 1829. Welcomed by the Otublohum Ga people they were offered land where they built Brazil House.

At Brazil House, the Nai Priest who oversees the protection of the ocean, further invokes the presence of the spirits through libations and prayers. The festival is then officially declared open.

A priest pouring libations at Brazil House. Ruth Simbao
Igniting sites of trauma

During the festival art installations and performances are created inside Ussher Fort and James Fort. These forts were used by European colonialists for the trade of slaves, and this traumatic history is palpable as participants walk through these spaces.

James Fort was used as a prison until 2008, and was shut down due to severe overcrowding. Although the Ghanaian government planned to turn it into a museum to honour the memory of slaves, it remains a broken-down, ghost-like shell.

Percy Nii Nortey’s installation. Ruth Simbao

This year Ghanaian artist Percy Nii Nortey enshrouded the slave auction courtyard of James Fort with old rags previously used by car mechanics. The artist stitched the rags together, conceptually linking the residual histories and stories that seemed to linger silently in the repurposed oily rags to the haunting histories and experiences of enslaved people who passed through this fort.

At the site of Nortey’s installation, old metal locks that were used to tie slaves up still protrude from the ground. As the light filtered through the grubby rags, the curtain-like walls that wrapped around the space evoked stained-glass windows, creating the atmosphere of a sacrosanct space.

Nortey’s installation was directly opposite the entrance to the prison cell of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah was arrested in 1950 when the colonial government declared a state of emergency, banning processions and imposing a curfew – testament to the potentially subversive power of walking and marching.

Harare based artist Kresiah Mukwazhi linked the trauma of the past to current affairs in Zimbabwe. She performed “Take me back to Osibisa” in a space between Nkrumah’s cell and the slave auction courtyard. Washing the hands of festival attendees, she questioned whether she has blood on her hands for not voting in the recent Zimbabwe elections.

Inside a prison cell she wrote,

Washing ones hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.

Local keepers of history

While parts of James Town seem to be forgotten and derelict buildings suggest lost opportunities to preserve history for younger generations, valuable knowledge is still being shared by a few who grew up in the area and revere their history.

An important site along the Chale Wote pedestrian route is the Deo Gratias Studio, a black and white photography studio established in 1922 by James Koblah Bruce-Vanderpuije. Also known as Nile Kofi Bruce, Bruce-Vanderpuije photographed key historical events in Ghana. He later handed the studio over to his son Isaac Hudson Bruce-Vanderpuije, and today it is run by his granddaughter Kate Tamakloe.

The ‘Deo Gratias’ studio in Accra. Ruth Simbao

Stepping into the Deo Gratias Studio as a reprise from the festival crowd, I met local author DA Tetteh who wrote “James Town, British Accra: History, Luminaries & Landmarks” with KY Tuafo. The book had just been launched at the James Town Boutique. Run by Nii Marmah, the James Town Boutique functions as a gallery, a bar and an ad hoc chess club. It has a unique flair for supporting local intellectuals who have a passion for their historic town.

While the main pedestrian route of Chale Wote turns into a vibrant street party for two days, there are numerous detours that open up the history of James Town. Walking becomes the evocative mechanism for shedding light on this history and for igniting public space.

The Conversation

Ruth Simbao receives funding from the South African National Research Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

When government is a slumlord: Pefferville’s ghastly blocks of flats

6 days 17 hours ago
“When it’s time to vote they will come here in numbers, yet we do not get any services from them”

By Chris Gilili

Photo of block of flats
Blocks of flats owned by the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality in Pefferville are in a terrible state. Photo: Chris Gilili

Residents of Pefferville in East London say the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality has neglected their blocks of flats.

We visited some of the blocks and found them in a poor state. Many flats have broken windows. There are leaking pipes. The putty used to hold the windows is falling off. And the electrical boxes are faulty.

The blocks were built in the 1960s or thereabouts. There are four apartments per block, and about 50 families renting in total. The blocks belong to the municipality.

Residents we spoke to complained that their flats have not been maintained for about a decade.

“They must just hand them over to the people, since they battle with renovating them. At the end of the day we pay money to stay here,” said resident Sam Dom.

Rachel Jantjies is a resident of Block 2A. She stays in the two-room apartment, which she moved into in 1987. “I moved in here with my parents, from a shack informal settlement. My parents have since passed on and I stay with my two children and three siblings in these two tiny rooms. In the early 2000s, maybe, the municipality would come and fix these toilets but now we report and report things, but no one ever comes.”

“I don’t even know where the money I am renting goes. The only electricity we know is illegal here. These boxes are just decorations and have died a long time ago. Even now there is a leaking sewage pipe, from room 1A on top of our residence. It has been going on for three years now. We called the municipality water services. People came and checked it but it never got fixed. I survive by selling fish at schools. I cannot afford to fix everything by myself,” said Jantjies.

She is supposed to pay R200 per month rent, but has fallen in arrears. “Every month we receive letters that demand us to pay water and electricity bills. For what?” Jantjies asked.

Next to Jantjies’ door, is an electrical box which supplies the whole block. The box lies open with cables hanging from it. There is enough space below it to fit a child. “I once found my son playing inside the box, but managed to rescue him in time. This box is a death trap waiting to happen.”

Jantjies’ concerns are echoed by Janine Ndlela. She lives with her husband and son, in a three-roomed apartment. She is also a ward committee member for Pefferville. She moved to the township in the 1985.

“These flats are too old and the municipality has ignored them. I pay rent of R300 every month for municipal services like water and electricity. I am fortunate because my husband is working and I also receive piece jobs now and again. So we are able to take care of our home and repair some things that get broken. I do what I can to make the house look good. We know the municipality takes forever,” she said. “Many people here cannot afford to pay rent, paint walls and fix broken sewage system.”.

“BCMM must do right by the people. And come and renovate these rental units. When it’s time to vote they will come here in numbers, yet we do not get any services from them,” she said.

However, Ndlela said residents are responsible for the faulty electricity. She said that since they cannot afford to buy electricity they have made illegal connections. This has damaged the block’s electricity system.

Several other residents we spoke to made similar complaints about the municipality’s failure to maintain the blocks.

But municipal spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said, “It is the occupant’s responsibility to maintain any broken windows, and fix leaking water pipes inside the houses. Government cannot come inside and fix leaking pipes, sinks and broken walls.”

Head of Human Settlements at the municipality Ntombizandile Mhlola said the municipality did not until now have a budget to maintain the rental units. “However the municipality has plans already this financial year 2018/19, to renovate and maintain the rental houses. It’s been long since renovations were done in Pefferville and we are in a process to change that. I cannot really say what has caused the delay,” she said. She did not provide details on when the renovations will start.


Published originally on GroundUp .

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This article is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and GroundUp, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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Community stops sewage project for its schools

6 days 17 hours ago
Pietermaritzburg residents say they want houses to get priority

By Nompendulo Ngubane

Photo of a crowd
Residents in France, Pietermartizburg, stopped a sewer project on Tuesday. Photo: Nompendulo Ngubane

A municipal project which started a week ago to improve sewerage at two schools in France, Pietermaritzburg, has been stopped by members of the community. The residents say the schools should not be prioritised for sewers over residents. They were also unhappy about the hiring procedures of workers to carry out the project.

On Tuesday, residents prevented the workers from starting construction. The schools to benefit are Slangspruit Primary, Mvuzo High and Mpumelelo Primary.

Mduduzi Hlongwane, chairperson of the People’s Housing Process in ward 13, said the municipality had promised residents a R70-million sewerage project at a meeting three years ago.

“They must do what they promised us. We were told the project would benefit all of us. Residents still use the bucket system toilets. It’s been 21 years,” said Hlongwane. “They don’t even empty these toilets. Now they introduce a project only for schools. This project will not continue until the municipality gives us answers. We want to know what happened with the project, they promised.”

But ward 13 councillor Sibongile Mncwango said she had called a meeting to inform the residents about the project. She said the project is also for ward 18. “I asked them if they agree with the project starting with the schools. They had an opportunity on that day. Stopping the project is not helping anyone,” said Mncwango.

Resident Sbusisiwe Ndlela said there were unemployed members of the community who had been hoping to be hired for the project. “We are seeing people who are not from this ward. One of the reasons we are stopping the project is favouritism in hiring. They should hire local people. Most people in this ward are unemployed. We are poor,” said Ndlela.

But Mncwango said, “Working together with the ward committee and ward assistants we called a meeting. People who came to that meeting were hired. We cannot take all the people, but of those who came, some are working.”

Spokesperson for Msunduzi Municipality Thobeka Mafumbatha said, “The decision to prioritise the two schools was taken in consultation with the members of the community of both wards 13 and 18. Such a consultative process is the norm with any project prior to its implementation and is done by the respective ward councillors.”

Mafumbatha said the waterborne sanitation project covers schools and households. She said the municipality’s water and sanitation unit is making requests for budgetary provisions in order to roll out the project to households as per its business plan.

“The project is being implemented in phases in accordance with the funding allocated. The Reticulation Project that is currently being undertaken is at the cost of R4,875,163 … The poor condition of toilets in these schools had to be taken into consideration. Therefore the municipality was not aware that the residents had concerns regarding the current project which is going to provide proper sanitation in the schools attended by their children,” she said.


Published originally on GroundUp .

© 2018 GroundUp.
This article is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

You may republish this article, so long as you credit the authors and GroundUp, and do not change the text. Please include a link back to the original article.

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