Saldanha Bay clinic burnt as community anger boils over

2 days 2 hours ago
Mayor appoints task team to deal with residents’ demands

By Barbara Maregele

Photo of three people
Saldanha Bay Mayor Marius Koen accepts a list of demands from community leaders on Thursday. All photos: Barbara Maregele

At least two people were arrested and a dozen others sustained minor injuries during clashes between the police and residents of Diazville in Saldanha Bay on Thursday.

Residents of the West Coast town have accused the municipality of sidelining poor people in Saldanha Bay. A lack of housing; high water and electricity tariffs; and the municipality’s “unfair subsidy terms” were some of the concerns voiced by residents.

In the early hours of Friday morning, police said protests had flared up again, with another shop looted. Calm has since been restored to the area.

The protest came in the wake of unrest in Vredenburg which started on Monday. The town is situated about 20 kilometres from Diazville. Residents there are also demanding that the municipality provide housing and cheaper water and electricity fees, among other things.

On Thursday, most of the shops in and around Diazville remained closed. The main road into the area was littered with large stones and charred tyres. The two schools in the area remained closed. Only matriculants were escorted out of the area to write exams at a secure venue.

The Diazville community hall, a municipal office and part of a local holiday resort were burnt. Several homes and vehicles were also damaged and a local butchery was ransacked. The local clinic was also burnt.

“This was the closest clinic people could go to. The one closer to town is smaller and is always full. People with chronic illnesses and those who need to visit the clinic every day will suffer the most,” said resident Janine Paulse, pointing to the gutted clinic building.

Paulse recalled hearing people shouting and “loud sounds” in the early hours of Thursday morning. “Now people really won’t get houses because all of that money will go to fixing these buildings,” she said.

Tensions flared again around midday. Sporadic cat-and-mouse games ensued between the Public Order Policing members and groups of young boys in the community. They pelted police with stones and the police retaliated by shooting teargas canisters and rubber bullets.

“Those are skollies throwing stones. They don’t even know what we are protesting for,” a woman shouted from her porch. “The police are shooting teargas in our yards. They don’t care that I have a two-year-old inside. Her eyes are swelling up.”

Minty’s Meat Market, a butchery in Saldanha Bay, was looted.

Earlier, community leaders — most of whom are also ANC and EFF office bearers — told GroundUp that people were “frustrated and tired” of their pleas going unanswered by the DA-run municipality.

“There were a number of legal marches to the municipality before the mayhem started [in Vredenburg] on Monday. We still don’t have a proper explanation for the high water and electricity bills,” said Eugene du Toit. He grew up in Vredenburg and has lived in Saldanha Bay for over a decade.

Du Toit, who is also the EFF’s regional deputy chairman, insisted that the protests “were not a political ploy” but instead were led by residents, highlighting “valid plights” in the community.

He said the budget allocated to Saldanha Bay was not enough to adequately provide services and alleviate poverty. “We have two squatter camps — Iraq and Marikana — where people have been living for years without services. But we have one of the lowest budgets.”

Resident Carina Jordaan said, “We want affordable service delivery. Some people have to pay high bills because of leaks in the pipes and those without bins still has to pay for refuse. It’s not fair.”

Another community leader Simphiwe Jantjies pointed to a new housing development called Hopland on the outskirts of Diazville. There, he said, residents were living without electricity for months. They also complained of shoddy workmanship.

By 3:30pm, about 1,500 people gathered in the main road into Diazville as word spread that Saldanha Bay Mayor Marius Koen was on his way and would personally accept a memorandum of demands.

Koen arrived about 30 minutes later, along with ward councillors, Western Cape Deputy Police Commissioner, Major-General Mpumelelo Manci, and South African Human Rights Commissioner, Chris Nissen.

A large contingent of heavily armed police officers stood watch as Koen read out the memorandum and signed it. “We will discuss this with the leaders during a meeting [at the police station],” he said.

The momentary calm was again broken as several stones were thrown towards Koen and the officials. He was immediately escorted out of the area. Protesters scattered as police retaliated with rubber rubber bullets and teargas.

During the meeting at the Saldanha Bay police station, Major-general Manci, said, “We could’ve been injured if we didn’t run today. The mayor wants to meet with legitimate people to discuss issues involving the wards. We want to be able to leave here with a plan.”

Some residents live in RDP houses like those shown above, but many live in shacks. The area is run down.

Nissen reprimanded leaders, saying the community’s conduct “only created more problems”. He urged the leaders to assist police in restoring calm to the area and to caution residents against spreading rumours on social media. “We don’t want to monitor through social media but people are posting on Facebook rumours that the multipurpose centre will be burnt and of further violence,” he said.

The mayor then set up a task team with leaders to deal with the issues raised by the community. This team are expected to meet again next Thursday.

Meanwhile, community leaders at the meeting, distanced themselves from the violence but added that many people were angry that Koen did not use a loud-hailer while addressing residents.

During a telephonic interview, spokesperson for the municipality, Ethne Julius said a formal statement in response to Thursday’s protest would be sent out on Friday. She added that because the municipality was already in the midst of the current financial year, there was very little it would do to accomodate most of the demands made by residents of both Vredenburg and Saldanha.

A Nyala drives along the edge of Diazville. In the background protesters and police are clashing.


Published originally on GroundUp .

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There's a new way to "grow" bio-bricks using human urine. Here's how it works.

2 days 3 hours ago
Thanks to a novel process, human urine can be turned into bio-bricks. Robyn Walker

Recently, researchers from the University of Cape Town in South Africa have “grown” a bio-brick using bacteria and urea found in human urine. The Conversation Africa’s Natasha Joseph asked Dyllon Randall to explain the research and story behind the bio-bricks.

What prompted this project?

Initially, curiosity. Some years ago I read about a US based company called BioMASON that uses the same process we do to produce bio-bricks, but with synthetic urea rather than urine. I was working in the sanitation field and wondered whether real urine could be used instead. Thanks to a one-year feasibility grant from South Africa’s Water Research Commission in 2017, we were able to test the concept – successfully.

So you’re putting what we usually describe as “waste” to good use?

Yes. My research work focuses on rethinking wastewater as a resource. Some of the things we discard – like urine – can actually be converted into useful resources, as this work has shown. This is important if we’re going to achieve a truly sustainable future because we are running out of natural resources at an unprecedented rate.

It’s also about questioning the status quo and trying to improve processes.

Finally, it’s about using language differently when we describe “waste”. Language is important because it creates subtle paradigm shifts.

Where did you get the urine for this project from? How much does it take to form one bio-brick?

We collected the urine from men working in the New Engineering Building at the University of Cape Town using novel fertiliser-producing urinals. In future, we plan to collect urine from women, too.

We typically need between 20 and 30 litres of urine to make one bio-brick. This might sound like a lot, but remember that urine is more than 98% water: for the bio-brick making process we are only after carbonate ions and calcium ions which only accounts for about 1% (by mass) of the total urine.

How does the process work?

The bio-brick is made by a process called microbial induced calcium carbonate precipitation.

It’s partly a biological process, and a key part of the process is making sure the urea doesn’t quickly degrade, which is what usually happens. To do this, we increase the pH of the urine by adding calcium hydroxide (lime). If we didn’t do this, most of the urea would degrade during collection or storage.

This initial process also produces a solid fertiliser, calcium phosphate. This is removed from the liquid phase by filtration, and we’re left with a solution that’s rich in urea which can be used to make bio-bricks.

Certain bacteria produce an enzyme called urease which acts as a catalyst to breakdown urea into carbonate ions and ammonium ions.

With this in mind, we decrease the pH of our solution slightly so the bacteria which degrade the urea can survive, and add food for the bacteria along with extra calcium to make the whole process more efficient.

After this the carbonate ions combine with the calcium ions from the urine to form calcium carbonate – that is, a solid is formed. This solid is the cement that glues any lose material together into a shape of your choice – in this case, a bio-brick. This is also a natural process and occurs in many environments from coral reefs to caves. We merely imitate this in our bio-brick mould.

Do the bio-bricks smell of urine?

They’ll initially have a strong smell. This is the smell of ammonia, a pungent gas that is produced as a by-product when the bacteria degrades the urea.

We can recover this ammonia using a separate process and convert it into a nitrogen rich fertiliser.

Importantly, the bio-bricks lose their ammonia smell after drying at room temperature for a day or two and are safe to use and handle thereafter.

What about waste?

This is an integrated three phase process. Phase one produces the first (solid) fertiliser; phase two produces the bio-brick and phase three, which we haven’t tested yet, has the potential to produce a second (liquid or solid) fertiliser.

The entire process would theoretically produce no “waste”.

There’s also room to optimise the process and reduce the amount of urine required to make the bio-bricks.

Will this work at scale?

I think so. BioMASON has shown that this natural process is commercially viable, albeit not with urine. Back in 2016 they were in the process of upgrading their facilities to grow 2500 bricks per day.

We need to work on the integration of the urine collection to the large-scale bio-brick making process though. I’m confident we will be able to do this in the near future.

The Conversation

Dyllon Randall receives funding from South Africa's Water Research Commission (WRC K5/2734/3) for this work.

Some smart ideas to make toilets fit for purpose in Africa's cities

2 days 3 hours ago
Every flush by a typical toilet sends about 6 to 16 litres of fresh water to wastewater treatment centres. lchumpitaz/Shutterstock

About 23% of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to toilets while 31% with toilets use one’s that aren’t connected to a formal sanitation system. This means that more than half the people in sub-Saharan Africa live without proper sanitation – that’s about 570 million people.

One of the problems is that existing toilets aren’t a good fit for parts of sub-Saharan Africa because many areas lack water and there are often no proper plumbing or facilities to treat wastewater.

But there are solutions – toilets that are designed differently. We have come up with some innovative designs overcome the two biggest challenges – excessive use of water, and the fact that urine and faeces aren’t considered as resources.

The designs we suggest have a number of key features. Primarily, they use no water and store and treat urine and faeces separately. They include innovative technologies that reduce water and energy consumption – both vital steps if we’re going to start building smarter, greener cities.

Problems with current designs

Every flush by a typical toilet sends about six to 16 litres of fresh water to wastewater treatment centres. That’s a lot of water. The average total water consumption per person in Africa is about 20 litres a day.

On top of this, the treatment of waste uses up a huge amount of energy – about three to 15 kWh. This energy is being used to provide fresh water from different sources – like dams – for the flushing process and to treat the produced wastewater. It’s a huge amount of energy given the fact that we need only about 2kWh to charge a smart phone over a whole year.

The process of treating wastewater, so that it can be recycled and reused, is expensive because urine and faeces are mixed at the source. This makes treatment lengthy, expensive and power intensive. It’s also bad because there are valuable elements in human waste – like nitrogen and phosphorous – that aren’t being extracted and reused.

The cost of a more innovative toilet system can be higher than others – like pit latrines – but it really depends on the raw construction materials like concrete and wood. Tanks and other parts can also be made through locally available materials – like jerrycans. But once it’s built, the operation and maintenance process is easy and can be done by local labours.

New ideas

Separate waste: Our main idea, when it comes to improving toilets, is to view urine and faeces as a resource instead of waste. Nutrients from human waste – which can be used as a fertiliser to grow crops – can be removed during the treatment process through better management and technology.

To take advantage of this, the urine must be separated from the faeces. There are many toilets around the world that already do this. In some Asian countries, like Korea, Japan and Vietnam, it’s a traditional mechanism.

These toilets look similar to normal ones but there are two different inlets that store the waste in different tanks. Here they can be treated to remove smell and increase their fertility.

It’s a highly efficient process which doesn’t need complicated infrastructure and reduces the time needed for the treatment of waste. The system saves a huge amount of water and energy, which is beneficial to many local governments that are already under pressure.

Waterless: For most existing toilets, water is essential for flushing and draining. But it’s possible to have a waterless toilet. Again, the toilet must collect the urine separately from the faeces. Instead of flushing, the faeces and urine are separated from the source using urine-diverting dry toilets. These toilets are available in both sitting or squatting models and take advantage of the anatomy of the human body, which excretes urine and faeces separately. The urine is kept separate and drained via a basin with a small hole near the front of the toilet bowl or squatting pan, while faeces fall through a larger drop-hole at the rear.

Enhance waste: When waste is separated and collected into tanks, microbes can be added to them which ‘nitrify’ the waste – making it a better fertiliser – and control any bad smells from the toilet.

Community support: If these toilets are used communally they can bring huge social and economic benefits for communities. While common toilet systems are expensive to maintain, and pit latrines can be public health hazards, these systems are safe and can provide an excellent source of fertiliser for groups that grow their own food, or produce food for markets.

As African cities grow and develop, and pressure on natural resources and infrastructure – like sewerage – increase, these systems offer a sustainable and more hygienic way forward.

The Conversation

Mooyoung Han receives funding from Korea Research Foundation. He is affiliated with Water and Sanitation Appropriate Technology(WASAT) center at Seoul National University.

Shervin Hashemi is affiliated with Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Seoul National University.

Vredenburg closed off as protesters demand better living conditions

4 days ago
Shops shut and roads blocked

By Ashraf Hendricks, Kelly Vinett and Saam Niami Jalinous

Photo of residents protesting
Over a thousand residents protested along Southern Bypass Street in Vredenburg on Wednesday. All photos: Ashraf Hendricks

About 1,000 people protested in Vredenburg on Wednesday for the second day in a row, demanding housing and cheaper water and electricity. Armed with sjamboks and sticks, protesters blocked the streets with burning tyres and rubble, preventing vehicles from entering or leaving.

Vredenburg is about a 135km drive north from Cape Town, on the West Coast.

The protesting residents said the municipality did not listen to their complaints.

They said they wanted more toilets in the informal settlement of Ongegund. They wanted to be charged separately for water and electricity because, they said, if they did not pay their water bills, their electricity was cut off. “You stay in the dark until you pay for your water,” said a protester who identified himself as Ayabonga.

Protesters said they wanted to be housed in the promised George Kerridge 512 Housing Project, which was meant to be completed by the end of October.

One person told GroundUp that police had, on Tuesday, shot rubber bullets at protesters who were running away. “All their scars are on their backs,” he said.

“We want the mayor to give us proper places to stay,” said a protester. “We want electricity, taps, toilets. Each and every house must have toilets and electricity. They say they will build houses when they want our votes. But when the votes are up, we don’t hear from them again. We don’t even know what the mayor looks like.”

“We have to make chaos so they can see we’re suffering,” said protester Gift Naki.

Protesters marched down Southern Bypass Street burning tyres and blocking the streets with rubble. The police watched, and used a water cannon to douse the flames at one of the intersections.

Provincial Minister of Community Safety Alan Winde said the police station had been stoned during protests yesterday. He said ten police vehicles had been damaged. “Unlawful attacks on the police are an attack on the whole community, and on the country’s Constitution,” Winde said. On Tuesday, 38 people were arrested for public violence according to News24.

A man walks with a child on his back near the protesters.

A portion of the Tsitsiratsisi informal settlement in Vredenburg. According to residents, one toilet services about ten families.

Residents claim that the toilets are cleaned once a month typically.

About 100 protesters marched through town. Some erected burning barricades.

This resident claimed that police were arresting anyone trying to make their way into town. He was trying to get to work and hurt himself running away from police. He was also shot with a rubber bullet. According to the SAPS twitter account, one police officer was injured and numerous vehicles were damaged during the protest on Tuesday.

Protesters blocked a portion of Southern Bypass Street in Vredenberg. At the end of the first day of protest on Tuesday, over 30 people were arrested for public violence.


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Billions spent on railway contracts. Yet Metrorail collapses

4 days 1 hour ago
Roy Moodley, who is implicated in a leaked forensic report, says that criminal charges have been laid against GroundUp reporters

By Aidan Jones and Nathan Geffen

Photo of Metrorail train
Forensic reports by Werksmans Attorneys indicate that a huge amount of irregular spending has gone into train infrastructure. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

If you travel on Metrorail’s Southern Line in November 2018 and compare it to two years ago, a few things strike you. First, most infuriating, is that trains are more irregular than they used to be. Second, the carriages, even the higher priced Metro Plus ones, have deteriorated to an even more parlous state. Barely a seat is still covered. Graffiti and advertising stickers plaster the sides.

What’s eery though is how relatively empty the carriages are during the morning rush hour at Retreat Station, one of Cape Town’s main hubs. You’re almost guaranteed to get a seat now, even though it may be torn and have no more stuffing. Far fewer people appear to be using this line, and commuters must be finding other more expensive but reliable ways to get to work.

Yet over the past half-decade Metrorail has spent, or squandered, billions of rands on supposedly improving trains infrastructure.

The leaked Werksmans Attorneys reports into mismanagement at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) have flagged irregularities in the agency’s dealings with infrastructure service providers. The firm has recommended that racketeering charges be considered.

According to one of the reports, the agency spent R9.3 billion between 2010 and 2016 on its General Overhaul (GO) project for “the repair and refurbishment of coach features, fittings and equipment”.

The contracts of some service providers for the GO program have been identified as irregular. Goldex Engineering and Maintenance (Pty) Ltd, a “coach refurbisher and general maintenance supplier … is part of the GO Program, but was not part of the panel [of service providers] appointed in 2006 … PRASA could not provide documentation to the investigation team in support of their appointment to the panel despite having personally signed off on the work allocation to Goldex Engineering,” wrote the investigators, concluding that their appointment “appears to be irregular”.

According to the investigators Roy Moodley has “business interests” in a company called Hail Way Trading and this company trades under the name Goldex Engineering and Maintenance. However, a Windeed search did not substantiate this.

GroundUp approached Moodley for comment and received a threatening text response. See the full response below. Moodley was named in Jacques Pauw’s best-selling book, The President’s Keepers, as a key player in state capture.

Werksmans also pointed out that Goldex’s registration number is connected to a company with a different trading name. This “is indicative of a risk of fraud,” the report states. It recommended that “offences of racketeering in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998 as amended be considered.”

Another of the reports revealed that PRASA spent over three times the approved budget for its Infrastructure 2013 program. “The total value of contracts, received to date, exceeds R575 million, which is in excess of the envisaged program value in the November 2013 memorandum of R136 million.”

The report states that service providers for this project also appear to have been appointed irregularly. “Dikiza [Railway and Civil Engineering CC] was appointed by means of a confinement process” in November 2013 “as part of a program to appoint additional suppliers … to improve after-hours reaction time for infrastructure repairs.”

Appointing service providers on confinement involves deviating from competitive bidding processes and is done in emergency situations or when a particular service is only provided by one supplier. But Werksmans were unconvinced there was any emergency. “We are of the opinion that the confinements were irregular,” the report states.

PRASA has not responded to our questions regarding the GO and Infrastructure 2013 projects, despite repeated requests and generous deadlines for comment. We were unable to get comment from Dikiza.

Train travel drops over the same time period

The Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) has reported that train mileage decreased and operational occurrences on South Africa’s rail network increased between 2010 and 2016.

Their latest State of Safety report states that train mileage decreased due to “the effects of a prolonged period of decreasing availability of rolling stock, infrastructure maintenance and criminal acts of vandalism and theft on PRASA Rail.”

PRASA Rail trains were travelling 26.3 million kilometres in 2010/11, this decreased to 22.2 million kilometres in 2015/16. Operational occurrences rose steadily over the same time period, from 4,181 in 2010 to 4,250 in 2016, peaking at 4,632 in 2014/15.

Operational occurrences include train collisions and derailments and are caused by things like faulty signalling equipment and cable theft.

The Werksmans reports, known as #PRASALeaks2, were provided to GroundUp by commuter activist group UniteBehind. UniteBehind has not divulged the source of the leaked reports. The first #PRASALeaks referred to leaked reports commissioned by National Treasury, and were reported by GroundUp last year. You can find the reports here.

It is important to note that the National Treasury and Werksmans Attorneys investigations, like those of the Public Protector and Auditor General, are smell tests. They make recommendations for further action but are not sufficient grounds for prosecution in and of themselves.

Even so, it is concerning to note the lack of response from prosecution agencies to the numerous red flags raised by the various investigations into mismanagement and corruption at PRASA.

Due to the sheer volume of the Werksmans reports, together with GroundUp’s relatively limited capacity to peruse them, we cannot claim to have a comprehensive overview of the reports.

Roy Moodley’s Response

GroundUp sent the following message to Roy Moodley’s cell phone:

“Good day Mr Moodley. GroundUp will be publishing a report about the Werksmans Attorneys investigation into PRASA in which they claim a company directed by you called Hailway Trading bought and restructured a company called Goldex Engineering that provided general maintenance services to PRASA as part of their General Overhaul program between 2010 and 2016, however the investigators claim the appointment was irregular. Do you have any comment on this? If so, please get back to us by midday tomorrow. Thank you.”

We received this response:

“Hello I don’t understand your logic. Which appointment was irregular you better get facts and then publish. As you might already know there is a criminal charge against Aidan Jones and Nathan Geffen for publishing false accusations in last weeks media the ground up. Watch the space what ever you publish make sure you have the facts and if you dont have facts then you are committing fraud by misrepresenting the public to generate personal income. Make Sure you publish the truth to the public and don’t misrepresent the public for personal gain. Remember there is only one law in this country misrepresentation is a criminal offense. Thanks”

It appears Moodley is referring to the article GroundUp published on 30 October which dealt with his family’s company Royal Security: New leaked reports show why train security has collapsed


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This article is licensed under a
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32 Battalion veterans left in limbo in forgotten military town

5 days 20 hours ago
Pomfret is in decline and its 3,000 Portuguese speaking residents face an uncertain future

Text by Christopher Clark. Photos by Shaun Swingler.

Photo of entrance to Pomfret
At the end of the Border War, Angolan members of 32 Battalion were moved to Pomfret

As the midday sun beats down on the desert town of Pomfret in North West Province, 29-year-old Marcela Viemba pushes open a crooked metal gate and walks across a barren yard towards the front door of a forlorn red brick bungalow with a terracotta roof.

“This used to be my home,” Viemba says, turning to look at the varying states of collapse of other properties on either side of the tree-lined street. “It used to be so nice here in Pomfret, but it’s not a place to live anymore.”

Viemba moved to Pomfret, a former asbestos mine camp, at just three months old. Her father was among a group of Angolan soldiers who fought for apartheid South Africa’s notorious 32 Battalion. They were settled here with their families in 1989 at the end of the Border War, when Namibia gained independence and Pomfret became a South African military base.

Although residents still consider themselves Angolan, and Portuguese remains the lingua franca, they are all South African citizens and many have known no home but Pomfret. Only a handful of the 100 or so remaining military veterans have ever returned to Angola.

But the future of this uniquely homogenous community has become increasingly uncertain since the military base was closed in 2000 and ownership was transferred to the Department of Public Works.

Various departments of local and national government have stated their intention to relocate residents and demolish the town, citing the alleged risk of asbestos-related illnesses stemming from the old mine, which is visible on a hillside just beyond the perimeter of the town itself.

Marcela Viemba, who moved to Mahikeng in 2008, stands outside her former home in Pomfret.

Most recently, an October 2017 report by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation stated: “The discovery of asbestos contamination in Pomfret renders the environment unsafe and unclean. Allowing the community to remain in such a condition is a fundamental violation of their human rights.”

Some current residents told GroundUp there were rumours they’d all be moved out by the end of 2018. But it has been 13 years since Pomfret residents were first made aware of a sluggish relocation plan and approximately 3,000 of the original 5,000 inhabitants still remain, almost all of them black Angolan family members and descendants of the original veterans. The few white military families who once lived here have long since departed. Those left behind have watched their town gradually deteriorate around them.

Much of the town was ravaged by looters after the local police station was shuttered in 2005 or torn down by police officers deployed to Pomfret during various phases of relocation that took place over the course 2008, when scores of families, including Viemba’s, were moved to RDP houses in Mahikeng.

Viemba comes back to Pomfret to visit family once every year or so and is still visibly upset by the dereliction. Among the ruins are a former clinic now used as a dump site, three empty public swimming pools and a dilapidated sports club that was once equipped with plush squash and tennis courts and a grand hall for hosting concerts and film screenings.

A 2008 court interdict put a temporary halt to the relocations and the accompanying demolition of the town, but it hasn’t stopped the steady erosion of services. Eskom shut off the electricity in December 2014, which subsequently interrupted the water supply. Residents have since had to fill water containers from rain tanks or the few public boreholes scattered across town.

“I grew up here. It was a beautiful place. To see the way it’s going downhill, it’s truly terrible,” said a local spaza shop owner who spoke to GroundUp on condition of anonymity.

With the nearest major urban centre of Vryburg more than two hours’ drive away, no job prospects in town and veterans on paltry pensions often having to purchase groceries on credit, he added that “business is terrible”.

The combination of socioeconomic woes and military heritage has led many Pomfret veterans and their male descendants to join controversial private security outfits in conflict zones as far away as Kosovo and Iraq.

“If you’re from Pomfret you aren’t really exposed to another way of life,” says Martin Antonio, a former resident who now owns businesses in the security sector in Pretoria. “So there will always be people from Pomfret going into that kind of job because they don’t see any other option.”

Antonio says that this is compounded by the stigma that Pomfret residents face in the job sector due to the town’s uncomfortable association with apartheid: “When you apply for a job and then you say you’re from Pomfret, automatically they look at you as a traitor. So your application will not be considered.”

According to Adrian Vorster, an advocate who represented the Pomfret community for more than five years, it was the town’s chequered past rather than the alleged asbestos contamination that prompted the initial government relocation attempts, which were first announced to the community in 2005.

This was just a year after more than 60 mercenaries were arrested in Harare in connection with an alleged coup plot against Equatorial Guinea’s longstanding dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Many of the mercenaries were former members of 32 Battalion.

Pomfret used to have three public swimming pools, all of which are now empty and long since out of use.

“Pomfret was seen as a mercenary pool. It was an embarrassment to the ANC government that South African citizens were arrested and many were from Pomfret. The government was also worried that someone might use that military capability in Pomfret for a coup attempt on home turf,” Vorster told GroundUp.

He adds that there had always been a “residual resentment” towards the 32 Battalion veterans, particularly for their role in gross human rights abuses when they were deployed to various townships across Gauteng in the political tumult of the early ‘90s, which ultimately led to the disbandment of the unit in 1993.

Vorster believes that more recent statements from the Department of Public Works and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation pushing for the court interdict to be overturned and the relocation process resumed are a political ruse ahead of the 2019 elections.

“At some stage everyone in Pomfret voted for the ANC because promises were made by then Premier Popo Molefe that the community would be assisted. But when the relocation started the relationship deteriorated and there was a political shift and the DA started gaining traction,” Vorster says.

“If Pomfret sways to a particular party, then that party is going to enjoy the majority of support in the area because Pomfret is the biggest voting block. So the whole thing has become about the artificial dilution of voting blocks to make sure the ANC maintains control in the area.”

On the asbestos risk, Vorster adds: “I previously worked on a number of asbestos cases. Very close to Pomfret is a community called Heuningvlei that is so contaminated that it definitely shouldn’t be inhabited at all. Yet those people have not been earmarked for relocation; the area has just been earmarked for rehabilitation.”

An affidavit submitted by Vorster to the Pretoria High Court in 2008 on behalf of 300 Pomfret households stated: “There were no less than six tenders for asbestos mine rehabilitation projects in the Northern Province, Northwest Province and Northern Cape provinces in the Government Tender Bulletin of October, 2005; Pomfret was conspicuously absent from the list.”

As recently as September 2018, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced the appointment of a service provider for the “development of the designs, construction and supervision of a 10km asbestos free road in Heuningvlei.”

The Department of Public Works did not respond to a request for comment on the risk of asbestos contamination in Pomfret.

Pomfret used to be an asbestos mining camp before it was repurposed as a military base. The old mine is visible from town.

But according to Johann Smith, a security analyst and former 32 Battalion commander, Pomfret shouldn’t have been considered habitable in the first place. “These guys were just dumped in this abandoned asbestos town in the middle of nowhere. From a health point of view that should never have happened.”

Angela McIntyre, a researcher who worked in Pomfret for a number of years, says that for the older Angolan veterans, this was merely the latest in “a series of abandonments and misfortunes”.

She points out that many of the veterans had been thrust into the Angolan Civil War in the 1970s as child soldiers fighting for the increasingly outgunned National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA). By the time they were forced into contact with the South African forces on the Angola-Namibia border, she says they were “essentially refugees” in their own country.

As a result, both McIntyre and Vorster believe that the Angolans had little choice but to side with the South African Defence Force: “They were completely dependent on them,” says Vorster. “They’ve always been left in a terrible situation where they’re exposed to exploitation by basically everyone. It’s a truly tragic story.”

Mario Gomes, a 62-year-old 32 Battalion veteran, moved to Pomfret at the end of the Border War in 1989.

62-year-old Mario Gomes is among the small handful of ageing veterans left in Pomfret. A former FNLA child soldier, he joined 32 Battalion at just 20-years-old in 1976 and moved to Pomfret with his family in 1989.

Gomes says he often wakes suddenly in the night thinking about all the things he witnessed during more than two decades as a soldier. “After everything I’ve been through, it’s like I worked for nothing,” he says. “We still ended up poor and forgotten. It doesn’t feel good.”

Antonio claims that all the Pomfret veterans were promised substantial payouts towards the education of their children, but that this never materialised.

Responding to a parliamentary question from the New National Party’s Dr BL Geldenhuys in 2004, then defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota said that a “32 Battalion trust fund still exists, with R870,497 in the fund” and that the SA Army Foundation was responsible for the safekeeping of the funds.

In a statement to City Press journalist Sipho Masondo in 2017, SA Army Foundation general manager Angel Ramphele said he had no knowledge about the funds and would launch an investigation. Ramphele failed to respond to requests from GroundUp for an update on this.

Meanwhile, Pomfret’s residents continue to live in limbo. Vorster said that in 2008 most were opposed to relocation and supported the court interdict. A spokesperson for the North West Department of Public Works said that although “the relocation process is ongoing”, some residents were still refusing to be moved. But during GroundUp’s visit in October, everyone interviewed said they wanted to leave, though many still expressed fears about how they’d be received elsewhere.

“The veterans are tired. Many of them will die here waiting for a better life that will never come,” said a 30-year-old woman whose father was in 32 Battalion and died of a heart attack in 2007; she asked to remain anonymous for fear of being associated with her father’s past. “You feel like you’re going crazy waiting for the day when this place will finally be closed,” she added. “Things are just getting worse.”

In an overgrown cemetery on the edge of town, Marcela Viemba looks for her father’s grave among the numerous veterans who lie there. Many are buried in pauper’s graves marked only with a small metal cross and covered in uneven mounds of sharp rocks.

While Viemba says that life in Mahikeng is an improvement on Pomfret in its current state, she concedes that “there’s not the same sense of community or social life”.

“Sometimes I sit and stare out of the window and drift off and my mother asks what I’m thinking about, and I tell her I’m thinking of Pomfret,” she adds.

She finally locates her father’s grave, which has a faded black and white picture of his handsome but stern face mounted on a marble tombstone. “If you have an open mind like me, you will see that these men were heroes,” she says. “When everyone else is gone, what will happen to their remains?”

Children walk across town to Pomfret’s only school early on an October morning.


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Why giving South Africans title deeds isn't the panacea for land reform

6 days 21 hours ago
DSC

The land reform debate in South Africa has become increasingly polarised since Parliament resolved to consider amending the country’s Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

But the slow pace of land reform – a process that aims to address the dispossession of the previously oppressed black majority – will not be solved by amending the Constitution. That’s because the main problems with the country’s land reform programme have nothing to do with it.

The main problem lies with the government’s thinking behind land reform. It’s rooted in a Western, colonial mindset that’s totally out of step with how many would-be beneficiaries understand land.

The problem stems from the fact that indigenous systems of land ownership are not the same as the absolute ownership approach preferred by the West. Nor are they what early colonialists assumed when they adopted a communal paradigm, assuming that land was collectively owned by indigenous communities. This was not the case. Some land was for communal use (particularly grazing and some agricultural land), but families and individuals held exclusive use rights over other areas such as homesteads.

The legacy of this is devastating. Adherence to a communal paradigm strips people of the ability to hold land rights individually. This is unconstitutional. Yet the paradigm persists: we can see it in, for example, the communal land rights Act, and the communal land tenure policy.

South Africa needs to move away from the communal paradigm that entrenches colonial and apartheid-era thinking, and move towards an approach that’s better aligned to living norms and traditions.

Rejecting the communal paradigm, I prefer to refer to customary land tenure to describe how indigenous communities manage their land. Customary tenure systems are regulated by traditional norms and practices, within which land rights are socially embedded. They are dynamic, multi-layered and responsive to the needs of the community. As a result, and contrary to common perception, they can offer secure tenure.

What is required is legislation to recognise and protect them, and for such legislation to be properly implemented. This, unfortunately, is not the government’s approach.

Flawed thinking

The government sees customary tenure as insecure and an impediment to economic development. In terms of the Green Paper on Land Reform, land in South Africa may only be owned by a “small elite”. The State Land Lease and Disposal Policy (which does not provide for ownership, but allows beneficiaries of land redistribution to lease land from the State), has been criticised as showing the government’s lack of faith in poor black farmers. And the Communal Land Tenure Policy seeks to transfer ownership of customary land to tribal authorities. This deprives land rights-holders of their land rights, rendering them subjects of the chief instead of citizens of the country. Such an approach is unequivocally unconstitutional.

Globally, individual title to land (ownership) is seen as the ultimate goal because it allows people to access the capital value of their land and promotes investment. This view is supported by both the African National Congress and the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.

Titling is seen as a sure way to lift people out of poverty. But the link between giving people title deeds to their land and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa is contested.

Ownership

Titling, or the formalisation approach is supported by some people, while others argue against it. Those who oppose it warn that it could bring about greater insecurity of land tenure, especially for women and other vulnerable groups.

From interviews I conducted with customary land rights-holders in the Eastern Cape, the biggest fears around formalisation were:

  • Having title to land is expensive because you are immediately liable for rates and taxes, and banks may seize your property should you default on loan repayments.

  • For the poor and vulnerable, especially, this may lead to a decrease in tenure security and push them further into poverty.

  • Titling also leads to a loss of tribal identity because individuals may choose to sell their lands to outsiders who do not identify with the traditions and customs of the area.

Government views formalisation through registration and title as a quick fix “silver bullet” solution, but it’s beset with “intractable problems and conflicts”.

In some cases, beneficiaries of land titling programmes revert to customary practices. This is partly because they don’t identify with government’s imposed system of ownership.

Customary tenure systems

A conservative approach is to recognise customary tenure systems that are socially embedded and that may offer more security than ownership through titling. Such recognition represents a shift away from the supremacy of ownership that views individual title as the be all and end all.

In South Africa, both the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act and the former Land Rights Bill of 1999 adopted a conservative approach. Both documents recognised existing land rights and sought to protect and further strengthen them. But Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act is often overlooked, and the Bill was scrapped.

Current policies seek to undermine customary land rights-holders, allowing them only to lease land from the state or to have secondary use rights as subjects of traditional authorities. South Africa needs a new approach, one that challenges the supremacy of titling and casts off the shackles of the communal paradigm.

The Conversation

Simon Hull is employed by the University of Cape Town. He is a member of the South African Geomatics Institute, the GeoInformation Society of South Africa, and is a professional land surveyor registered with the South African Geomatics Council.

Life in South Africa's economic hub is improving -- but big challenges remain

6 days 23 hours ago
The Gauteng City-Region is home to a quarter of South Africa's population. Mark Momberg

More than 14 million people live in South Africa’s economic hub, the Gauteng City-Region. That’s 25% of the country’s population.

A lot of media reporting and public discussion about Gauteng is negative. Service delivery protests are common, high crime rates worry residents and the province’s economy is under pressure.

These challenges are real, and play a big role in people’s lives. But new research from the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) suggests there’s a more nuanced story to tell about Gauteng. Data collected for the observatory’s fifth Quality of Life survey (2017/18) reveal that, in many ways, Gauteng residents’ lives are improving.

Overall quality of life in Gauteng is getting better. An index based on the data, measuring quality of life out of 10, has climbed slowly but steadily since 2011. In addition, in this survey people showed greater tolerance, as well as a much stronger sense of community.

The research

The GCRO is an independent research organisation, which generates data and analysis to help inform development and decision making in the Gauteng City-Region. It is a partnership between the provincial government, organised local government, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the University of Johannesburg.

The survey involved 24 889 adult residents of Gauteng, with a minimum of 30 respondents in each of the province’s 529 wards.

The latest survey collected a wealth of complex data. Respondents answered more than 240 questions, about a third of which were unchanged from previous iterations of the survey. In this way, we are able to gain insights into how the province has changed over time – and can see that there have been significant, often positive shifts in how people view the quality of their lives.

Of course, problems remain: more respondents report experiencing crime, and a growing proportion don’t believe that trust is possible across race groups.

The latest data offer a vital resource for understanding Gauteng’s multi-faceted challenges. It is also a useful way for the government, policy makers, academics, civil society and ordinary people to start coming up with creative solutions.

Quality of life in the province

The research measures quality of life by more than just material factors like household income and access to basic services. As with similar major international projects, less material, more subjective factors – opinions and feelings about governance, community, family and individual well-being– are also considered.

A total of 58 variables were selected to generate an overall Quality of Life index. These covered ten dimensions: global life satisfaction, family, community, health, dwelling, infrastructure, connectivity, work, security and socio-political attitudes.

This index provides a simple but strongly multi-dimensional score out of 10, where “0” indicates lowest quality of life and “10” the highest quality of life.

Quality of Life index scores over time. GCRO

Gauteng’s Quality of Life index score has shown sustained improvement over the past four iterations of the survey. It has risen from 6.02 in 2011 to 6.30 in 2017/18. This suggests that overall quality of life in Gauteng is improving over time.

Protest, crime and safety

The proportion of respondents who participated in a protest in the previous year has doubled from 4% in 2013/14 to 8% in 2017/18. A quarter of respondents reported protest in their community in the past year. Of these protests, 90% involved some form of violence. Most were related to frustrations around service provision - particularly electricity.

Protest participation over time by municipality. GCRO

A quarter of all respondents were victims of crime in the past year. That’s an increase from one in five in 2015/16. Additionally, 44% of respondents felt crime in their area had worsened over the past year, up from 41% in 2015/16.

Despite these negative results, 81% of respondents reported feeling safe in their homes, an encouraging rise from 75% in 2015/16. The proportion of respondents who felt that crime was the biggest problem in their community dropped from 37% in 2015/16, to 32% in 2017/18.

Economic concerns

Meanwhile, national economic challenges and growing inequality also affected Gauteng’s residents. Satisfaction with the government’s efforts to grow the economy dropped to 19% (2017/18) from an already low 23% in 2015/16.

Nearly one in four respondents lived in a household where someone – an adult or a child – had skipped a meal in the past year because there wasn’t enough money for food. This is a substantial increase over previous years, and one felt disproportionately by the province’s poorest residents.

Satisfaction with government itself, and basic services like water, sanitation and energy, had increased since 2015/16. However, satisfaction with key social services had fallen. For instance, 65% of those who used public health care were satisfied with the services they received in 2015/16. This dropped to 57% in 2017/18.

In terms of public education, 9% of respondents with school-going children reported that they had no local public school. Of respondents who did have local public schools, 65% reported that they were satisfied with them.

Social cohesion and tolerance

Positive trends included respondents being substantially more trusting of their communities. Tolerant attitudes are spreading: the proportion of respondents who believed violence towards gays and lesbians is acceptable has dropped to 8% from 15% in 2015/16.

The proportion who believed all foreigners should be sent home has dropped from 23% to 17%. This is particularly encouraging given the province’s history of xenophobic violence.

However, a greater proportion of respondents believed that black people and white people would never trust each other – up from 58% (2015/16) to 64% (2017/8).

Scope for improvement

Inequality is one area that needs to be examined: life appears to be improving most rapidly for the more advantaged members of society. White people, and individuals with high incomes, have the highest quality of life – and their quality of life appears to be improving most rapidly.

Multi-sectoral work is needed to tackle this and other issues, and to ensure that Gauteng offers a good life to everyone who calls it home.

This article was co-authored by Christina Culwick.

The Conversation

Julia de Kadt works for the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO). The GCRO receives core funding from the Gauteng Provincial Government, as well as in-kind support from the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg. The Quality of Life Survey was funded from the GCRO's core grant, with additional support from the City of Ekurhuleni and the City of Johannesburg.

Alexandra Parker works for the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO). The GCRO receives core funding from the Gauteng Provincial Government, as well as in-kind support from the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg. The Quality of Life Survey was funded from the GCRO's core grant, with additional support from the City of Ekurhuleni and the City of Johannesburg.

Equal Education calls on Ramaphosa to get involved in fixing schools

1 week ago
This follows decision by Concourt not to hear education department’s appeal against norms and standards judgment

By Saam Niami Jalinous

Photo of children defecating in field
Young children use a field as a toilet at Ntshingeni Senior Primary near Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape. Equal Education wants schools like this to be fixed. Photo: Yamkela Ntshongwana

The Constitutional Court has turned down the Department of Basic Education (DBE) appeal against the landmark Norms and Standards case brought by Equal Education - and the education lobbying group is now demanding that President Cyril Ramaphosa gets involved.

The case originated when the DBE set Norms and Standards for South African school infrastructure in 2013, and provided its own deadline to fix the infrastructure standards by 2016, which it failed to meet. Equal Education campaigned against the missed deadline and when the DBE failed to engage Equal Education, it took the department to court. Equal Education originally won the case in the Bhisho High Court July 2018.

Precillar Moyo of the Equal Education Law Centre, the legal partner of Equal Education, told GroundUp that the significance of the July win was the closure of the “escape clauses” in regulations. These made the implementation of minimum norms and standards “subject to the resources and co-operation of other government agencies”. Moyo said the decision made the “state as a whole [bear] obligation to make sure infrastructure is improved. The DBE is responsible. Learners can now hold the department to account.”

The DBE then appealed against the decision, citing a lack of proper resources to fulfill its responsibility to take on the failing infrastructure of South African schools on its own. The Constitutional Court dismissed the appeal on 2 November, citing it as unconstitutional because of the case’s emphasis on the fundamental right to equality.

Equal Education general-secretary Noncedo Madubedube told GroundUp that the organisation began the case because of the deep inequalities in resources and sanitation for South African schools. According to Madubedube, the country’s educational structure has not yet adapted to a post-apartheid South Africa, and the case against DBE was an attempt to begin the process of ushering in the foundation for equality in education.

“We want to monitor and regulate the government,” said Madubedube. “There needed to be a state compulsion to begin the process of evolution within the education system, that’s why we took the Department of Basic Education to court. We want a country where young people can have the opportunity and resources to properly engage with the economy. It starts with education.”

Madubedube emphasised the flaws in the DBE’s appeal, explaining that the government has the resources to fix educational infrastructure but these resources are not being used properly.

“The system is organised by the government but change is conducted by the middle-man; contracted workers who are not being paid well enough for the work they’re doing and are not being held to proper standards. The government needs to take full responsibility for improving infrastructure.”

Madubedube lamented the unnecessary and costly process of the court case and the following appeal, calling it “disappointing” to resort to litigation to get the DBE to respond to calls for change. “There’s not enough urgency to help children,” she said

Madubedube argued that the future of education begins now: “There’s never been a time but now to put pressure on government to do their work. School communities now have law to protect their right to a dignified learning environment.”

Three days after the November appeal rejection, Equal Education wrote an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa demanding his co-operation in the betterment of school infrastructure and immediate accountability in the Limpopo school system. The letter stated that “Equal Education is appalled by the ‘plan’ to fix Limpopo school toilets submitted to the Polokwane High Court by the national Department of Education and the Limpopo Department of Education. The ‘plan’, which followed a High Court order, is an affront to the memory of children who have died because of poor school infrastructure. The Polokwane High Court ordered the departments to fix inadequate and unsafe sanitation after hearing the case of the Komape family. We are an amicus curiae ­– friend of the court – in the case.”

Dissatisfied with government report on school sanitation

The letter references the case of Michael Komape, the five-year-old boy who drowned in a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng Village, outside Polokwane, on 20 January 2014. Komape’s parents sued the Limpopo Department of Education for damages. The case reached the Polokwane High Court, and the DBE was ordered to submit a report on how many schools use pit toilets and when work can begin on fixing basic infrastructure. This report was presented in Parliament last week, according to the Daily Maverick.

Precillar Moyo of the Equal Education Law Centre called the report “unreasonable”. The DBE claimed that it could not even begin the process of revising school infrastructure until 2026, ten years after the DBE’s own deadline of 2016.

Moyo said that many of the Limpopo schools with failing infrastructure were not even included in the report, and that there was no rational explanation why it was delayed to 2026. The DBE claimed that they have already spent their budget for the year, but Moyo asserted that one year of a spent budget was not enough to justify a ten-year delay. Moyo said that the DBE should “go back to the drawing board and reassess how schools are analysed, categorised, and how [the DBE] shall prioritise their response” respective to the immediate need for care at individual schools.

According to the Daily Maverick, the Department of Water and Sanitation has set its own deadline to eradicate pit toilets in schools by 2020.

Madubedube urged Ramaphosa and the DBE to sit down with Equal Education and discuss the future of schools, citing the Komape case as an urgent call for government interjection.

Ramaphosa’s office and the Department of Basic Education could not be reached for comment.


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Simon’s Town shack dwellers’ long wait for housing

1 week 3 days ago
Nowethu Ngxangana has been living in Redhill for more than 25 years

By Thembela Ntongana

Photo of Redhill
Residents of Redhill near Simon’s Town in Cape Town have been waiting years for government housing. Photo: Thembela Ntongana

“When Mandela was released from prison in 1994 I was staying in this place and had been here for years.” Sixty-six-year-old shack dweller Nowethu Ngxangana is one of hundreds hoping for a house in the new Dido Valley housing project.

The small community of Redhill, on the mountain slopes overlooking Simon’s Town, is home to 652 households, according to the City of Cape Town, including 182 families who rent from other families.

Ngxangana lives in a four-room shack with her 11-year-old granddaughter in Redhill. She does not remember exactly which year she moved here, but she has been here for many decades.

The housing project in Dido Valley will contain 600 units, of which, according to City of Cape Town Media Manager Luthando Tyhalibongo, 100 will be set aside for families who who were forcefully removed from Luyolo in Simon’s Town in 1968. A limited number of units will also be made available to applicants from all over the city who have been on the housing waiting list the longest.

“Everyone who comes here promises housing like it will happen in the next year, and we have been waiting patiently for many years,” says Ngxangana. She says many people who moved to Redhill when she did have given up waiting and have left. Some have moved to Masiphumelele, 16 km away.

“Those who got tired and moved to Masiphumelele many years ago have houses now and we are still staying in shacks with no indication when we will be in our houses,” said Ngxangama.

Her neighbour, 68-year-old Elizabeth Fete, was a domestic worker in the area for more than 20 years. She lives with her five grandchildren. Fete recalls a protest held by the community in 1996.

“That was the first time that the people of this place stood up and protested and demanded services. After that we got electricity, and promise after promise came on when we would get houses. Each time it’s a different promise.”

“When we moved here, the Masiphumelele community didn’t exist but now almost everyone there has a house and we are still waiting,”.

“Here if you do not catch a taxi in the morning you have to hitch-hike. On the land where the new houses will be the mall is closer, and the taxis are there. We want to move, for a better life where we have toilets inside and can get to clinics and hospitals easily,” said Fete.

She says last year Redhill residents were told they would be in their houses by June 2017 then the date was moved to November 2018.

“All we are seeing now is trees growing back on that land with no houses. We are left to wonder when the next promise will be made and whether we will ever get those houses or die living in these shacks,” says Fete.

Asked why the construction of houses had not yet started, Tyhalibongo said the budget was moved to the 2019/20 financial year and that not enough housing beneficiaries had been identified.

He said it was not yet clear how many people would qualify for a housing subsidy. “However, it is the intention of the project to accommodate the entire population of Redhill.”

Tyhalibongo said tenants would generally have to move with their landlords. If there were extra units available after all owners had been accommodated, tenants would be considered for housing.

He said engineering work had been completed in January 2018 and construction of houses was due to start in July 2019.

See also: Redhiill’s Ruins: Cape Town’s forgotten District Six


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Design trends for 2019

1 week 4 days ago
International companies are starting to incorporate eclectic vernacular elements that contextualise their office spaces to distinguish their regional offices from each other.

A subtle blend of vernacular elements at First Equity

A major trend in interior design is to incorporate eclectic vernacular elements that contextualise the space. Therefore, international companies are able to distinguish their regional offices from each other, while retaining their corporate identity.

This is the view of Dorethe Swiegers, Senior Designer at Trend Group, an interior design and build fit-out specialist for businesses. It is currently completing a major design project for Oracle at its new Woodmead head office. “The fact that the company has so many global offices means that contextualising it locally is important, while not diluting the brand in any way. This is increasingly being achieved by including cultural influences that speak to the people working there, and which resonate with them.”

Completing her Master of Architecture degree in 2014, Swiegers began her professional career in London, where her first major project was interior retail design. “The trend in the UK has shifted towards interiors rather than new build. This is where all the exciting and interesting designs are taking place at the moment.”

International companies are starting to incorporate eclectic vernacular elements that contextualise their office spaces to distinguish their regional offices from each other.

An example of agile workspace design at Uber

Swiegers was able to follow this philosophy further when she joined Trend Group upon her return to South Africa. “It is very exciting and inspiring to work with Trend Group. It has established an organic, non-traditional model that I feel is better suited to the industry than the traditional consultancy practice. The fact that we offer a turnkey service means the client has a single point of contact. Hence we work closely together to meet our clients’ requirements to get them into their new space and operational again.”

What continues to invigorate her about the interior design industry is that every client is different. “There is no single recipe. We get to know the client and the company, what we have to work with, and then we translate that into a design brief.” This is the approach that Trend Group has adopted with all of its Blue Chip clients, from Uber to First Equity. The latter is a major advocate of ‘agile’ workspaces, Swiegers notes.

“Agile working is the hot topic at the moment. Neither does it seem a fad, and is likely to be prevalent for a long time. It translates simply into streamlining your business, and providing your employees with options to work differently, with an emphasis on collaboration and flexible office space.

“The focus has shifted from employers to employees, especially as they strive to retain talent in today’s highly competitive work environment. This poses a challenge for us to come up with designs that are more people-focused. It is an exciting process to sit with clients and thrash out what specific workplace strategies work best for them.”

Swiegers explains that the trends towards globalisation is reflected in the fact that employees are no longer desk-bound in offices. “Advances in technology have resulted in people being a lot more mobile. However, sustainability and best practice are still key criteria. Another challenge we are finding is having to deal with the requirements of a multi-generational workforce.”

International companies are starting to incorporate eclectic vernacular elements that contextualise their office spaces to distinguish their regional offices from each other.

Vibrant use of colour and texture at Unilever Africa

This means that the requirements of both millennials and older-generation employees have to be taken into account. “How you cater for everybody in such a context is an important consideration. Not all people appreciate a ‘chill zone’, for example, so private and more reflective spaces also have to be accommodated.”

Another major design trend at the moment is what Swiegers terms “the revival of Art Deco”, which is particularly prevalent with cutting-edge furniture designers. Here the emphasis is on geometric shapes and forms that fit together, and an overall muted palette with hints of colour. In terms of colour, Swiegers adds that rich ruby red is already emerging as the Pantone trend for 2019.

“It is interesting how the interior design industry follows suit with both the high-end fashion and architectural industries when it comes to colour. So, we are now looking at rich ruby reds, contrasted with flamingo pink, for example. That can be balanced quite effectively with emerald green, which links back to the theme of nature.”

Commenting on the state of the local interior design industry, especially compared to trend-setting regions such as the UK, Swiegers notes it is “definitely on par, if not one step ahead, in terms of innovation. A lot of the best designers, from furniture to architecture, come from South Africa.

“Returning home, I was excited to rediscover the local talent and availability of quality craftsmanship on the market. Yes, there are certain areas where we trying to catch up, but these are systems or technology driven. From a design element and an aesthetic perspective, we can benchmark ourselves with the best in the world,” Swiegers concludes.

Top Design Trends for 2019
  1. Localisation of global brands by incorporating eclectic vernacular elements
  2. User-orientated and experience-driven spaces accommodating the requirements of a multi-generational workforce
  3. The ongoing evolution of agile workspaces
  4. Advances in technology promoting mobility
  5. The revival of Art Deco, particularly in furniture
  6. Rich ruby red as the Pantone Colour of the Year

The post Design trends for 2019 appeared first on Leading Architecture & Design.

A view of Johannesburg through lenses from a different era

1 week 4 days ago
Carmel Building in Diagonal Street, Johannesburg. Museum Africa (left) Yeshiel Panchia (right)

Johannesburg was always a much photographed place from its earliest days. It was a city that grew up with photographers and their cameras. As a town of migrants and immigrants, people wanted to send postcards and photographic souvenirs back home.

Some proof is in a new book, Johannesburg Then and Now, by history blogger, Marc Latilla. It is a series of photographic juxtapositions of early photographs of the city – dating from the 1880s to the 1940s – with contemporary images of the same street scene or building by photographer Yeshiel Panchia.

The book is descriptive rather than analytical, with the emphasis on Johannesburg buildings, places and streets and not its people. Latilla’s love and passion for his city comes through in his descriptions.

Young city

At a mere 132 years Johannesburg is a young city compared with cities of the world. London and Rome go back over 2000 years.

It started as a mining camp with a gold bonanza once George Harrison had found gold on the Main Reef in 1886. The new mining settlement was named Johannesburg – the origins of the name and who precisely was the “Johannes” of Johannesburg is still in dispute. The camp grew over time to a city. Today it is a metropolis that dominates the province of Gauteng, both as the provincial capital and the financial heartland of South Africa.

Johannesburg is a fractured city, divided in all sorts of ways. Geographically it’s split by the mines of the Witwatersrand - one can still see their remains south of the city while the north has a very different landscape.

Another divide was created by the railway which cut the town in half with the most affluent suburbs to the north and the less affluent to the south.

The city’s economic divide was also evident in the architectural styles of the residential areas which reflected status: from the working class, to the lower and upper middle class, and then at the very top end the grand estates on the northern ridges for the Randlords and newly enriched capitalist class.

The town was also divided by race from its earliest days. While there was always economic integration, segregated residential areas for different racial groups were the norm. The township of Soweto was created in the 1930s when the white government started separating black people from white people.

This policy of racial and class separation was perpetuated further when apartheid became official policy in 1948. It also led to forced removals of black people to townships outside the “white” city.

Growing in circles

Johannesburg has always grown in concentric circles. Municipal boundaries were periodically extended, mapped and basic services of water, sewerage, lighting, tramways financed by an increasing number of ratepayers brought into the net to support the city. Soweto, once the internationally recognised site of the 1976 youth uprising, is now part of the city, but so is the glitzy new glass and concrete post-modern city of Sandton.

The Johannesburg that has been captured in this book though is the old Johannesburg; what was called the Central Business District and its surrounding suburbs. This is Johannesburg from 1886 to a date more or less 50 years later when the city celebrated its jubilee with the Great Empire exhibition at Milner Park in 1936.

I should declare an interest – I was first asked by Penguin Books if they could use an image of an old early title deed that I had written about and then to give the book a preliminary early opinion. As historian I found myself drawn in to assist in some fact checking and comments to help the author. Of course the selection of photographs and his commentary remain his entirely.

The old photographs were taken by countless unknown and mainly anonymous photographers. They are remarkable in their own right. It was so much more difficult to take and make a photograph in 1900 than in our digital age. Those old photos in black and white are works of art as much as are the perfect colour and light reflected images of today. The sources of the old photographs are primarily from collections held by the University of the Witwatersrand, Museum Africa and the Transnet Heritage library. The early photographs are tend to be undated, so that the “then” can be any time from circa 1890 to the 1930s and even later, while the now photographs are all in colour and clearly belong to the last few years.

Superb find

My favourite photo is the old aerial view of the Harrow Road redevelopment when the first Johannesburg freeway was engineered (Harrow has since been renamed after a famous Johannesburger, the liberation struggle stalwart Joe Slovo). The photo allows us to see precisely how Harrow Road was widened and changed direction in the fifties. This single photo is a superb find.

A book such as this makes a contribution to heritage because it captures, assembles and documents the old and now the new. Where old photographs have been found recording what a particular building looked like and the building is still there, such photographic documentation strengthens the heritage preservation case.

However, none of the grit, crime, grime, litter or lack of maintenance we battle against today is visible in the modern photographs. This is the Johannesburg we don’t see: the crisis of homelessness and densification of dwellings. Who, for example, would know in the photo of Plein Street park that it is actually now a dormitory area for dozens of homeless people without jobs? Is it the city or history or harsh economic realities that has failed them? Of course one can argue that modernization and urbanization always left victims and the city of gold did not bring fabled wealth to all .

Johannesburg Then and Now is a fascinating book. It’s important for cities to preserve their pasts , because “Roots” matter as much as “shoots”. This book can perhaps start a discussion about what ought to be appreciated and “saved”. The book will remind city planners to include heritage in their planning for a 21st century city.

Johannnesburg Then and Now is published by Penguin.

The Conversation

Kathy Munro is affiliated with Johannesburg Heritage Foundation vice chair and member of trustees and management committees

Why did the City of Cape Town delay social housing in Salt River?

1 week 5 days ago
Brett Herron and DA councillors trade accusations

By Kelly Vinett

Photo of Salt River Market
A development proposed for the Salt River Market was to include social housing, but it has been delayed. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

The land at Salt River market has become “ground zero” for spatial transformation of Cape Town, says Ndifuna Ukwazi’s co-director Jared Rossouw, following statements by outgoing councillor Brett Herron that the city’s DA caucus has blocked social housing on the site.

Herron accused the DA councillors of blocking the project when he resigned from the City Council last week.

When the proposed integrated social housing project at Salt River market came before the City Council on 25 October, it was delayed for another month, and its future is now uncertain.

Councillors were supposed to decide on the R11.4 million sale of the inner-city site to Communicare, a non-profit social housing organisation. This is estimated to be about 10% of what the property’s actually worth. In other words the plan was for the City to subsidise the sale so that Communicare could rent out a third of apartments at rates much lower than market value, allowing low-income families to live near the city centre. The remaining two-thirds of apartments would be rented out at market value and help subsidise the social housing apartments.

If approved, the project would have been the first post-apartheid state-subsidised housing near the city centre, which housing activist groups like Reclaim the City and Ndifuna Ukwazi are campaigning for. It would have also offered hope to low-income families — typically earning less than R15,000 per month — in the area who are facing eviction because they cannot afford high rents as Woodstock and Salt River become gentrified.

Herron circulated a memorandum describing the DA caucus members’ concerns about selling the site to Communicare, along with his rebuttals.

We asked some of the councillors named by Herron to respond to his allegations and to explain why the project has been delayed. The three key concerns the councillors raised were (1) the valuation of the property, (2) the role of Communicare and (3) the proportion of apartments that will be social housing.

Proportion of social housing units

Councillor Angus McKenzie told GroundUp that the primary cause for delay was that the council was not satisfied that only one third of the units built on the Salt River site would be allocated for social housing. “We want people to live closer to the city and we want to ensure that we put an end to apartheid spatial planning,” he said. JP Smith made a similar point to GroundUp.

But this is odd, because Herron has been the loudest voice for social housing on the City Council and it seems unlikely he would fall out with his fellow DA councillors because they wanted more social housing than him. In any case, the proportion of social housing that is feasible is a technical question that presumably would have been known by this stage of the project.

Herron told GroundUp that too little social housing was never a concern raised by his fellow councillors. “This was a unique opportunity to demonstrate integrating communities in one development instead of building a stand-alone social housing complex,” he said.

Communicare’s CEO Anthea Houston told GroundUp: “The City engaged us on the project for four years. The brief was for a mixed income, high density development with at least 30% social housing. They wanted to maximise the number of units on the site (high density) to take advantage of its good location next to the railway station and the MyCiTi bus route. The cost for an individual unit in a high density development with more than four storeys is higher than that of a unit in low density developments because of the additional costs of things such as lifts, piling, and ventilation. With the added cost the social housing grants will only cover about 30% of unit costs (compared to 40-50% in low density). This is why in a higher density development it is necessary to include a mix of incomes in order to cover all the costs of the development.”

She continued: “We met all requirements regarding the project, as set by the City of Cape Town since the development is presently modelled to achieve 30% social housing and goes further by providing another 14% of units to the gap housing market. Revising their criteria after so many years of engagement simply sets back the delivery of the project.”

Valuation of the land

Dave Bryant is the ward councillor for the area. Herron claims one of Bryant’s reasons for delaying the project was that the R11.4 million sale price was too low. But Bryant denies this.

The valuation of the Salt River site increased from R18 million in 2014 to R114 million in 2018. The 2018 valuation is much higher because it takes into account the potential property development of Salt River.

But McKenzie said that the DA had misgivings about the valuation of the land, taking into account the very different valuation of an adjacent piece of property, and wanted this discrepancy cleared up.

Allegations against Communicare

McKenzie told GroundUp he had concerns about Communicare.

“Eight staff members from Communicare were fired for corruption and maladministration,” McKenzie told GroundUp.

Communicare’s Houston said: “The City has not raised any allegations of corruption with Communicare over the past four years while engaging us on the Salt River Market project. We are investigating corruption involving a few of our employees in the maintenance and leasing departments. We have a zero tolerance approach to corruption and will take severe action against employees found guilty. Since we have taken this action voluntarily and are dealing decisively with the situation involving a small percentage of our employees, this cannot reasonably justify blocking the disposal of the Communicare. Besides, we announced this in the media on 1 November 2018, a week after the council meeting.”

McKenzie also criticised Communicare’s role in the recent evictions at the Steenvilla social housing complex in the south peninsula. But Communicare had nothing to do with Steenvilla. It is managed by another company, SOHCO. Moreover, the evictions were carried out lawfully and competently. Herron’s memo accused Councillor Rose Rau of making the same argument as McKenzie against Communicare (its handling of Steenvilla), but Rau denied doing so.

Housing activists sceptical of reasons for delay

Herron told GroundUp: “The only reason I can think of them sending it back is because they don’t want these integrated communities. Or they want the land to be sold to the highest bidder.”

“It’s the same group - JP Smith, Angus Mckenzie, Dave Bryant, they block everything,” said Herron. “Here we have the first [opportunity] of its kind in South Africa, where in the same property you would have mixed income, you would have poor people living in the same development as middle income people.”

Ndifuna Ukwazi’s co-director Jared Rossouw told GroundUp that opposition to this project is not about affordable housing but about the value of land. Putting land at the “heart of transformation”, said Rossouw, “is disruptive to a cabal of powerful officials, politicians and business people who have a vested interested in ensuring that land is only sold at market value”.

He said the land at Salt River market had become “ground zero” for spatial transformation of the city.

“What happens in Woodstock and Salt River opens up the possibility for a broad and expansive redistribution programme of our best land for poor and working class families. That’s exactly what our Constitution requires. That’s exactly why some want it stopped in its tracks. A different city is within our grasp. Now is the time to make it happen.”


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Shack dwellers evicted from Langa for N2 Gateway project

1 week 5 days ago
Joe Slovo residents watch as their shacks are demolished

By Mary-Anne Gontsana and Sophia Wilhelm

Photo of shack being demolished
Several Joe Slovo residents watched as their shacks were demolished to make way for formal housing along the N2 in Cape Town. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

About 30 residents of Joe Slovo informal settlement in Langa looked on as their shacks were broken down on Wednesday morning.

Members of the Anti Land Invasion Unit (ALIU) accompanied by the South African Police Service packed the materials on the back of a truck on Wednesday morning.

Eighteen families have been evicted from land in Joe Slovo which has been earmarked by the provincial department of human settlements for the N2 Gateway Housing Project.

Ntomboxolo Makoba-Somdaka, spokesperson for Western Cape Human Settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela, said the N2 Gateway Housing Project was launched in 2004 to provide 22,000 houses for people living in shacks and backyards along the N2 corridor.

She said the provincial Department of Human Settlements had approved funding for 2,886 houses to be built in Joe Slovo and so far 1,664 houses had been completed and handed over.

“The department has since 2013 experienced a number of challenges in completing the project as some residents refused and blocked the path of construction. Furthermore, residents refused to relocate to a temporary relocation area (TRA) in Delft. Reasons for the refusal included the travelling distance between Langa and Delft despite the fact that transport provisions were made and paid for. These delays forced the department to approach the court to obtain powers to forcefully remove the remaining families out of the site to allow the development to go ahead,” said Makoba-Somdaka.

Nolufefe Gulwa, who was living in Joe Slovo in a shack that was left to her by her brother five years ago, stood next to her belongings as she watched her shack and others being torn down. Gulwa shares her shack with her four children aged between seven and 16.

She said she had not known that the eviction would take place today. She had just taken her children to school and was back inside her shack at about 8am when she heard “what sounded like a hammer knocking on my shack”.

“When I opened the door and looked to see what was happening, I quickly packed my things and started moving out,” said Gulwa.

She said she did not know what she would say to her children when they got back from school and there was no house.

When GroundUp phoned her in the middle of the afternoon, Gulwa was still waiting to be taken to new housing.

Nontombi Yawa, who lives in Langa but had a meat stand in Joe Slovo, said she had signed documents agreeing to a move to Delft, “but I had no idea about today’s eviction”.

“I got a call from someone around 9am and was told to come because my stand was being demolished and taken away. When I arrived my stand was gone. My material, my braai stand, my braai equipment and my table were gone”.

Yawa said her stand was her livelihood and she was the breadwinner in the family. She had been selling liver for two years now.

Several families were evicted to make way for housing. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Most of the residents that GroundUp spoke to said they were not sure where they would be moved to.

But Makoba-Somdaka said all the evicted families would be accommodated in Temporary Relocation Areas in Langa and Delft. Some would later get houses in N2 Gateway, but not all would qualify.

The new houses on the land would be completed before March 2019, when the next phase of the N2 Gateway development would start.


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“We are only good for votes” say Cato Crest families

1 week 6 days ago
Residents face more evictions in their new community

By Nomfundo Xolo

Photo of shacks
Residents of Ekhenana have been evicted several times. “We are all here because we share one sad sentiment: we are homeless. We are decent people who may be looked down upon because we cannot afford rent or even material for our shacks,” says a resident.

Families who were evicted from Cato Crest in Durban have cleared space in a nearby forest to build themselves Ekhenana - a “Place of Hope”. Though they have been evicted several times they say they are prepared to “die” for their new homes.

The last eviction was on Tuesday and soon after the land invasion unit had left, the residents quickly put up their homes again.

They were evicted from Cato Crest, where they had been renting shacks, in order to make way for a new road. In August they set up home in the forest nearby. According to the Ethekwini municipality, the land belongs to the provincial department of human settlements.

The community lives from hand to mouth, gathering and sharing building material and food. A central area is a communal cooking area. One man who calls himself the chef prepares vegetable soup for lunch.

“They kick us out like dogs. They don’t even recognise us as humans. They even destroy the food we cook and throw sand everywhere. Without even engaging with us they demolish and burn our homes and leave. We are only good for votes, nothing more. We have no jobs and no land,” says resident Wiseman Buthelezi.

Buthelezi, 32, says he will stay in Ekhenana because he has nowhere else to go.

Zinhle Dlamini, 27, from Richards Bay says they dubbed the place Ekhanana because they had hoped to find peace and belonging. She says it is a place where lost individuals united to form a community.

“Each day you live in fear but you have to be strong. I have three children to look after and I cannot go back home to be a burden to my family because they are also struggling. This place is close to schools, public roads and a clinic,” says Dlamini.

She makes a living plaiting hair and is able to send some money back home. She says Ekhanana is a place where lost and displaced people united and formed a community.

“We are all here because we share one sad sentiment: we are homeless. We are decent people who may be looked down upon because we cannot afford rent or even material for our shacks. But we help each other out. Even the food that’s being cooked is a result of our unity as a community. We are not going anywhere, our end and beginning is right here,” she says.

Ward councillor Mkhipheni Ngiba denies any knowledge on the occupation in Cato Crest though residents say he came personally with the anti-land invasion unit and the police.

“The councillor came here two weeks ago and demanded that we leave immediately. He was accompanied by the land invasion unit and the police, he witnessed our shacks being burnt to the ground. He said we had no right to be here. Teargas and rubber bullets were shot without care for our children. All we ask is for an engagement with them. They should at least want to hear what we have to say,” says Maphiwe Dladla, 26.


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William Kentridge: the barbarity of the 'Great War' told through an African lens

2 weeks ago
William Kentridge Goodman Gallery

Produced towards the end of the four-year celebrations of the centenary of the “Great War” of 1914-18, the dramatic art performance of South African-born artist William Kentridge“The Head & the Load” –explodes the traditional understanding of this conflict as a “World War”.

Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba had famously mocked European pretensions ennobling what he called their tribal conflicts into World War status. Kentridge attacks the idea from a different point of view. His project focuses on the impact this “European War” had on the colonies of the principals. It’s an impact that was ignored at the time and subsequently written out of history.

The British, French and German armies employed hundreds of thousands of African support troops for their war in Africa. The Africans were not allowed to carry arms for fear they might turn against them. Many died from sickness or privation in the course of the war.

As an instance, “The Head & the Load” tells the story of how, when the railway and other forms of regular transport from Cape Town to Lake Tanganika gave out, a ship was dismembered and carried to its destination on the heads of African porters.

The original production of “The Head & the Load” was staged in the massive Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern Museum in London in July this year. It paraded mechanised sculptures and actors. Some bore loads on their head and cast giant shadows before a constantly changing backdrop of animated drawings.

An exhibition of a reduced version is on display at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. “Kaboom!” entails an exhibition of drawings that were used in the original production, with drawings from Kentridge’s staging of both Austrian composer Alban Berg’s opera “Wozzeck” and German artist Kurt Schwitterssound poem “Ursonate”.

The collection signals the artist’s deep opposition to the barbarity of war. It also shows his attachment to the language of Dada that evolved at the time to critique it. Walking a ship through Africa is patently absurd.

Kentridge underlines the lunacy of the project in every part of the production – from ruined landscapes to caricatural imagery to ironic captions and composer Philip Miller’s fairground-inspired accompaniment. One drawing of a destroyed landscape is dominated by a version of one of the heads in French painter Théodore Géricault’s work “Guillotined heads”. It bears the annotation “This is a Fair Idea of Progress”.

From William Kentridge’s ‘Kaboom!’ Goodman Gallery
Processions

Tellingly, Kentridge interprets the line of porters moving across the landscape as a procession. It’s a motif that he has used often in his work. Processions of the urban poor feature prominently in his early animated “Drawings for Projection” but they take on an absurdist note in works such as the arc drawing “Develop, Catch Up, Even Surpass” (1990, Tate Modern) – as Haile Selassie’s government exhorted the Ethiopian people in 1974 to compete with the industrialised economies of the First World shortly before the Emperor was finally deposed.

The charivari (a noisy mock serenade performed by a group of people to celebrate a marriage or mock an unpopular person), or Danse Macabre element of the procession is developed into dramatic form in “More Sweetly Play the Dance”. It is a 2015 video installation currently showing at Zeitz Mocaa in Cape Town.

It’s also been evolved in monumental scale, in “Triumphs and Laments”, Kentridge’s stencilled dirt drawing on the banks of the Tiber in Rome (2016). In its ephemeral dirt medium, its placement - between the city’s Jewish ghetto and St Peter’s Basilica - and its elaborate iconography, “Triumphs and Laments” seeks to replace a unitary, invariably heroic, account of Roman history by a less glamorous version of the city’s past. In the process, it makes clear that all history is inevitably fragmentary, provisional and partisan.

How history is written

Like the Roman mural, “The Head & the Load” shows that history is written to serve specific interests and that there are always victims of this endeavour.

Correcting the absolutist version of history involves both the deconstruction of the heroic ideal – the demonstration of its fallibility and its dark side – and the bringing to light whole aspects of the past that have been ignored or suppressed.

For Kentridge the Dada procession effects both purposes in appropriately iconoclastic fashion.

The fragmentary and provisional that Kentridge understands as the true nature of history is replicated in his drawing style. It comes to the fore in several parts of the current “Kaboom!” exhibition. In fact, it dates back from the beginning of his career. Kentridge draws quickly in charcoal, refusing the naturalistic tendency of colour and indicating forms and spaces quite summarily.

His “Drawings for Projection” are similarly open and incomplete in terms of both physical definition and narrative sense. Kentridge makes his movies by filming a drawing, altering it slightly, and filming it again to produce the idea of movement until the sequence is finished. He describes this method as “stone-age film-making” whose very “indeterminacy” is a means to refuse definitive reading of any given form, action or narrative.

For Kentridge, this searching and erasure serves a model for understanding our place in the world. It has a profound moral dimension over and above any overt moral in the subject of his drawing or the narrative of his film.

Needless to say, the same indeterminacy that allows the artist to search for the appropriate response to his subject provides an opening, a point of entry for his viewer.

The Conversation

Michael Godby does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Why hipsters could be seen as modern-day colonisers

2 weeks 2 days ago
Hipsters take part in Berlin's "Hipster Winter Cup" of throwing old vinyl records. Hannibal Hanschke/EPA

From Maboneng in Johannesburg to Bandra in Mumbai, Neukölln in Berlin to Gulou in Beijing, and Crown Heights in Brooklyn to Hackney in London, hipsters are everywhere.

Their distinctive look – (beards for the men and ironic retro cardigans for the women) and very particular consumer tastes (most recently, a combination of cream cheese and food colouring that’s called unicorn toast. Yes, really; it looks good on Instagram) – make them a highly visible subculture.

Hipsters are often associated with art, makers, other creative fields and the tech industry. They’re mostly millennial middle-class professionals.

They are also, as I’ve found in my research, considered socially progressive. That’s because they’re often affiliated with progressive political and cultural movements built on socially liberal ideals like anti-racism.

They are environmentalists. They champion women’s rights and queer rights. Many follow vegan diets.

But, my fieldwork also shows that hipsters are a paradox. They appear progressive, but they actually demonstrate some parallels with the practices and ideologies of the settler-colonialism of earlier centuries.

My research on global hipsterification – hipster-led gentrification – focuses on what happens when hipsters move into lower-income urban neighbourhoods. When these areas are “regenerated” by hipsters, real estate developers come too. These areas become more expensive and the original residents are pushed out often causing controversy. This is happening in both developed and developing countries.


Read more: In their rush to become "global", cities risk creating spatial apartheid


The link between hipsters and settler-colonials, then, is more than metaphorical. Both these groups literally displace less powerful occupants.

In the case of hipsters, these displacements are often hidden behind their oft-stated claims of advocating inclusive urban renewal. But there is a vast divergence between hipster progressive rhetoric and the reality of how much they contribute to gentrification and displacement.

And they exhibit a nostalgia for the past that goes beyond their sartorial choices and actually echoes the hearkening back to the past seen in contemporary right-leaning political movements around the world.

Evoking the past

Globally, nostalgia is a general feature of our current political and cultural landscape. Supporters of the UK’s Brexit want Britain to go back in time to a period before immigration supposedly “ruined” the country. US President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” nostalgically refers to an era some time in the past when America was ostensibly “great”.

India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party relies on the evocation of “past Indian glory” to gain support for its programmes. And Europe’s right-wing nationalist parties traffic in xenophobic notions of a past Europe which was supposedly better because it was more culturally homogeneous.

Hipster culture also demonstrates these nostalgic tendencies. Quite often it harks back to the colonial period, and particularly the Victorian era.

This manifests in several ways. When it comes to architecture, hipsters gravitate towards city neighbourhoods with Victorian-era buildings. Cafes and co-working spaces that are “hipsterified” tend to have a very distinct aesthetic. This includes 19th-century memorabilia and antique industrial machinery like pedal-driven sewing machines as décor.

Even when they don’t use vintage cameras to take photos, they use photo editing apps on their smartphones to give pictures a retro sepia-tinted look. Steampunk – a trend that fuses Victoriana with technology, film, literature, fashion and so on – is very popular. The founders of a food company even named their brand after Sir Kensington, an imaginary Victorian coloniser they made up to give their startup an exciting origin story.

Hipsters are also known for their eclectic fashion. Many of these clothing choices are throwbacks to the colonial period. It isn’t uncommon to see South African hipsters wearing suspenders and veldskoene, which was formerly a shoe associated with the lifestyle of the old-fashioned white farmer.

In the US, hyper-masculine frontiersmen style clothing consisting of work boots, distressed denim and checked plaid lumberjack shirts constitute one hipster look known as the “lumbersexual”. And that brings us back to male hipsters’ general obsession with beards, another potent symbol of the rugged 19th-century frontiersman.

This may all seem fairly harmless. But when hipsters’ nostalgia for the past combines with gentrification, it actually places others at risk.

A dangerous trend

Gentrification can be romanticised by hipsters as living on the edge. As they move in to the “Wild West” of lower-income neighbourhoods, dressed like 19th-century colonials, hipsters often think of themselves as “adventurers” or “pioneers” who are striking out into the urban jungle’s “unsettled frontier”.

But this masks its less than romantic consequences for lower-income residents who are displaced from their homes and neighbourhoods.

Many hipsters don’t recognise the colonial overtones of their “hipsterifying” practices. Even when these are pointed out, some refuse to accept “gentrification guilt”. But that’s another manifestation of their relative privilege. The lower-income residents who are displaced don’t enjoy this luxury – they might only be left with nostalgia for their former homes.

This article is based on a new book, Reversing Urban Inequality in Johannesburg, edited by the author. It will be published in paperback in November 2018 by Jonathan Ball.

The Conversation

Melissa Tandiwe Myambo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

School has 196 learners and ten grades but only four classrooms

2 weeks 4 days ago
“I feel like I am running three different schools,” says principal

By Yamkela Ntshongwana

Photo of a rondavel and children
Nozukile Nokhonya, a Grade R teacher who has been at Mpovane Senior Primary School for ten years, gives class in a rondavel that is too small to accommodate chairs, desks and a cupboard. Photo: Yamkela Ntshongwana

Mpovane Senior Primary School has seven staff members and 196 learners in Grade R to Grade 9. But it only has four classrooms, which date back to when the school was established in 1988. Mpovane village is outside Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape.

According to school principal Matambeka Votile, a letter requesting the education department to undertake renovations and provide additional classrooms was sent in 2015. The school was told there was no budget.

In 2016, school staff and community members contributed R100 per family to buy building materials, but the funds were insufficient to complete the two additional classrooms the parents had planned. The school then approached people for space on their private properties.

“Grade R and Grade 2 are schooling outside the school premises in some households because of the shortage of learning rooms. We only meet in the morning in the school assembly. Then after eating the school porridge, they leave with their teachers to their places,” said Votile.

Both learning venues are about a kilometre from the school. If it is raining, Grade R learners don’t go to the class as it is too far for them to go in the rain. When Votile has school announcements to make, he has to go by car between the various learning venues.

“I feel like I am running three different schools because every day after my lessons I have to go to these outside learning places and check if the teachers and learners are still fine.’’

The four classrooms the school does have must be shared between grade 1 and grades 3 to 9. “In this situation, if the grade 4 teacher is teaching, grade 5 and their teacher have to be quiet and wait for their time while in the same learning room. It is very disturbing for grade 1 as they are sharing their learning room with the kitchen. The nutrition helpers would be cooking while teachers are doing their job. At the same time, they are at risk of getting burned by the hot pots if not supervised,’’ said Votile.

The private owners are not charging, but the spaces are far from ideal. Bulelwa Velem teaches Grade 2 in a mud plastered room. The owners of the main house are away working in Johannesburg. Nozukile Nokhonya, a Grade R teacher who has been at the school for ten years, gives class in a rondavel that is too small to accommodate chairs, desks and a cupboard.

‘’Every morning I have to carry a bucket full of water in case the kids get thirsty because we have no tap where we are,” said Nokhonya.

Spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Education Malibongwe Mtima provided GroundUp a copy of an undated letter sent by TV Nkhulu, the Chris Hani East District manager, to the acting district director. It recommends that immediate action be taken to improve the situation or to include the school on the department’s priority list.


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Why it takes so long for schools to be built

2 weeks 4 days ago
Equal Education demands transparency from government to improve delivery of school buildings

By Phathiswa Shushwana

Photo of an Eastern Cape school.
Many schools in the Eastern Cape are in a terrible state, and replacing them often takes far too long. Photo courtesy of Equal Education.

Equal Education (EE) has launched a report on why it takes so long for school infrastructure to be delivered. After several meetings with the Eastern Cape Department of Education, school visits and meetings with implementing agents in the province, EE launched its report – The Implementing Agents: The middlemen in charge of building schools – on Wednesday, at the Isivivane Centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

According to the report, “Implementing Agents (IA) can be state-owned enterprises, government departments, public entities and non-profit organisations. They provide technical support to departments, especially in rural and historically disadvantaged provinces such as the Eastern Cape.”

The report says that it is the provincial education departments that decide which projects to allocate to a particular IA.

In her presentation, Nika Soon-Shiong, former EE Eastern Cape researcher and author of the report, said, “Building a school should take about three years maximum. There are eight implementing agents in the Eastern Cape, including the Coega Development Corporation, The Imvula Trust and Amatola Water-Amanzi. We have seen schools like Lutholi Primary School in Umtata, where IA’s were supposed to build a school, and they only laid a foundation and never returned.”

There are processes and procedures involved in the building of schools, which also takes time. The signing of documents by one department to another can take weeks before procurement of the implementing infrastructure is finalised, according to Soon-Shiong.

The report found that “each procurement typically takes three months, yet there is no law stipulating that it has to happen within a three months’ timeframe. If an IA appoints a contractor past his four month limit, there can be an extension of the tender validity period. During that time, prices of materials often escalate and a contractor might foresee that continuing with the project will cause them to lose money, resulting in the contractor to abandon the project, and then a new tender process is needed to appoint a new contractor.”

“In order to enable the public to hold the government accountable for building schools and delivering infrastructure, we need the status of these projects to be made available for public access,” said Nika.

Itumeleng Mothlabane, EE Eastern Cape Junior Organiser, said it is not easy to engage with the IA’s in the province. “Most of the time IAs and the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) do not know what is happening on the ground … due to inaccurate data. They do not have the capacity to address infrastructure backlogs. They struggle to provide oversight, that can assess the performance of contractors. There is a lack of accountability, as the IAs do not want to form steering committees and they do not want to share information with EE. And there are poor channels of communication, as sometimes we have to present the same thing to the IA in a meeting and have to say it again to the ECDoE in a different meeting.”

Mathlabane also acknowledged some of the challenges faced by the IAs. “IA’s often complain that the payment process takes too long and there is lack of communication from the ECDoE.”

The EE report is in line with its Norm and Standards for School Infrastructure Campaign, known as the Michael Komape campaign (named after a child who drowned in a pit toilet at his school in Limpopo). It has had some success: “Forbes Grant High School in King Williams Town has a new fence; Vukile Tshwete, also in King Williams Town has a new site being fenced; Qonce High School and Imiqhayi High School both have [new] toilets,” said Mathlabane.

Correction: The story originally said there were three (instead of eight) implementing agents in the Eastern Cape.


Published originally on GroundUp .

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Africa's roads are badly built, and there aren't enough. This can be fixed

2 weeks 6 days ago
Rift Valley Road in Ethiopia. Shutterstock

One of the fastest growing economies in Africa, Ethiopia, has an ambitious plan to cut a green, sustainable path to becoming a middle-income country by 2025. Along the way, the country faces growing urban migration and rising demand for food – challenges that are linked by, and depend on, roads for access, supply and mobility.

In 1997, the total road network in Ethiopia was 26,550 kilometres. By 2014 it reached 99,522 km. For the country to reach its ambitious growth targets it’s aiming to double this to over 200,000 km by 2020.

But new roads in Ethiopia and across sub-Saharan Africa often change the landscape, bringing dust, flooding and erosion. The impact is felt most by rural communities. Roads can negatively affect water flows to wetlands, block fish movements and cause landslides, as well as impact the livelihoods of millions of people.

There is a solution: an approach to road building developed by Dutch social enterprise MetaMeta shows that it’s possible to reduce the impact of new roads and support food production by harvesting excess water.

Under a project rolled out in Ethiopia as well as nine other countries including Bangladesh, roads are being built using innovative designs and drainage structures to collect water caused by flooding. This has solved an infrastructural issue while conserving water that can be used for crops and to feed livestock.

Well built roads

Practitioners at MetaMeta found that more than a third of households in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, reported flooding as a result of new roads with negative effects on crop production for around one in ten households.

The study found that poor road construction can lead to soil erosion on farms and plots of land hugging the roadside. In addition, construction can increase the cost of road maintenance and repairs. This in turn limits transport options, including restricting access to markets, schools and hospitals. The net cost is damaged livelihoods.

One solution, developed by MetaMeta, helps both mitigate the impact of new roads and support food production by harvesting excess water with “smart roads”. A project called Roads for Water is testing the concept. Funded by the Global Resilience Partnership, an independent partnership of public and private organisations focusing on the most vulnerable people and places, this project uses innovative road concepts, designs and drainage structures to collect water caused by flooding.

For example, roads can route water to storage ponds or underground aquifers. Road drifts can help to retain water in dry riverbeds, and ensure systematic spreading of floodwaters.

By harvesting rainwater, communities living near road networks can increase their resilience to shocks such as floods and droughts.

In Ethiopia the project showed that USD$1,800 per km investment is sufficient to implement such measures, and can directly benefit over two million people.

This compares favourably with annual maintenance expenditures per kilometre of USD$1,100 per year on rural roads in sub Saharan Africa and a periodic maintenance of USD$11,200 often incurred from water damage.

These smart roads are increasing resilience to shocks, such as floods because water is being harvested and maintenance costs are reduced. They are also driving down the cost of road construction through, for example, the reuse of borrow pits for permanent water storage rather than requiring them to be backfilled. This is a considerable cost saving measure and additionally creates a local water resource.

In Bangladesh, for example, smart roads are helping build resilience to floods that submerged a third of the country last year. If countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh are to become more resilient they will need innovative solutions to an increasingly uncertain climate.

The importance of building resilient roads will only intensify as populations grow and countries develop.

Globally, an estimated 900 million rural people still don’t have access to road and transport infrastructure. The investment gap on global roads is expected to approach USD$1.6 trillion per year for the next 40 years as increasing amounts of roads are built, especially in the developing world.

But solutions for better roads won’t work unless they are driven by local ideas and are compatible with local needs and contexts. Collaboration and buy-in between local partners – from engineers to technicians, farmers, labourers and governments departments – is critical. Solutions as simple as bringing the ministry responsible for roads together with the ministry responsible for water and talking them through the challenges and opportunities can produce remarkable results.

_Frank van Steenbergen, the head of MetaMeta, also contributed to the article. _

The Conversation

Nathanial Matthews is the Program Director of the Global Resilience Partnership.

Frank van Steenbergen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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