Monday, September 29, 2008

Spring afternoon

After a short, icy spell over the weekend, spring returned with a vengeance today.
The last weeks, even months, I've spent intensely travelling with work; these last three months have stretched me beyond what I thought I was capable of. That's why it was good to be home on a Monday (of all days), to appreciate (all over again) why I had made the move - with the aid of 3G, a laptop, camera and mobile phone - to the so-called 'platteland' or country.
Fifteen months later I do not even for second regret my choice of lifestyle.
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Friday, September 26, 2008

Africa Geographic highlights climate change

Polar bears? Pacific islands disappearing beneath the waves? French wine in crisis? In an unprecedented and unique collaboration, Africa Geographic has joined together with the leading Geographical titles from around the world - Australian Geographic, New Zealand Geographic, Geographical and Canadian Geographic - in a global climate awareness campaign.
"The initiative grew out of a meeting of the magazines' respective publishers and editors last year," says Sarah Borchert, editor of Africa Geographic.
"The impetus was the declaration of 2008 as the International Polar Year and, initially, the features were going to be focused on the North and South poles. The more we chatted about it, though, the more we realised that the effects of climate change, though most extreme at the ends of the earth, are being felt everywhere and it was decided to put together a collective 'pot' of strong human-interest stories underpinned by accessible and informative science. As far as we know, this is the first time that 'unrelated' magazines have embarked on such a joint venture."

Each magazine commissioned and produced a feature from its part of the world that takes its readers into the day-to-day realities of climate change for people around the world. From the African continent, the magazine presents an investigation into how altered rainfall patterns and shrinking icecaps on Kilimanjaro have resulted in weakening flows of one of Tanzania's key rivers, the Pangani. In 2000, this diminishing resource saw several outbreaks of communal violence along one of its tributaries and, although, structures to manage conflict have now been put in place, the question still being asked is, 'Is this the start of the much-touted water wars?'

From there, the magazine moves into insights into sea-level rise from the perspective of the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu; Arctic ice melt from Grise Fiord, Canada's most northern community and last outpost of the Inuit; the effects of climate change on the European wine industry - and what winemakers are (and aren't doing about it); and the effects of retreating ice in the Antarctic on the region's key seabird predators - penguins.

"Certainly, we are pushing our editorial scope," acknowledges Borchert, "but we have done so without compromising two of our trademark qualities - our photographs and editorial excellence. We've also extended the front section of the magazine to encompass even more African animal news to ensure that our readers get what they came for - plus a bit extra."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

First rain

Late Friday afternoon I watched, with hope but not much expectation, the storm clouds gather. At this time of the year it's quite normal for the weather to play charades, for the first rains to come only much later in October.

We had a quick but welcome shower on Friday night. Then - after thick purplish cloud dramatically poured over the mountain and clotted the valley last night at sunset - a terrifying downpour of note.

This magnificent morning the cloud is low-lying, pregnant and the wind slices icily: there's snow in the south, Antartica must be impinging on the Cape. It's wonderfully moody and atmospheric, and I pull myself in towards myself and withdraw with joy to under the wing.
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Friday, September 19, 2008

Room with a view

These photos of Emgwenya, the township alongside Waterval-Boven, were taken on Tuesday by Trina Matheson of the Emakhazeni Tourism Association. She can be contacted on 082 892 1364.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

IJW - The Right to Know

It's the third and final (two day) session of the Investigative Journalism Workshop hosted at Wits University.

Charlotte Young of the Freedom of Information Project, SA History Archives is talking to the workshop about the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) - in other words when, how and from whom you can demand information.

Once the theoretical part of this workshop is over, each of us will have to submit an investigative story to IJW, by the end of the first week of October.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Trying times will make us stronger

In order to do their job, journalists need to keep faith with their audiences, writes editor Mondli Makhanya in his column in the Sunday Times. In a week when the paper ran a front-page article backing away from a much-criticised report that Transnet had sold a section of Table Bay, Makhanya says the paper will be tightening up on internal procedures.  

Sunday Times Editor Mondli Makhanya writes: Sunday, 07 September 2008

The Sunday Times is not about to give up on its proud tradition of bold reporting and laying out the truth in its most naked form.

But in order to do that, we have to maintain the intimate trust relationship we have with our readers

It was French writer Marguerite Duras who uttered these words: "Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It's absolutely unavoidable."

Cynics will snigger at this and say that we are just a tribe that rummages through closets and hangs around smoke-filled bars in search of the next sensational headline. They would say that "morality" and "media" cannot be used in the same sentence.

We would obviously argue otherwise.

One of the main things that attracts journalists to this profession is a sense of idealism — a belief that the world can be better and that each human can do their little bit to make it more livable. And our bit is to tell stories: we inform our readers about their world and their societies, we entertain them, we anger them sometimes, and sometimes we make them sad and despondent.

We go where many others are not willing to go: tramping through damp swamps, dodging dangerous people and taking risks that would not make sense to other humans.

But we do it because, in our deepest of hearts, truth is our calling.

Most importantly, we hold power to account — be it state, corporate or social power.

Sometimes we do this well and sometimes we do not do so as throughly as we should.

We are not angels and — as idealistic as we are — we have never purported to be on a higher plane than the rest of human society. Just as others make mistakes, so will we.

And when we do, it is incumbent on us to say sorry — sorry not only to those we have hurt, but to the readers who consume our information.

This newspaper has been under fire from various quarters in recent weeks over a front-page apology we ran regarding stories on the Land Bank, and a story about Transnet's sale of the V&A Waterfront.

Much has been said by all and sundry on the V&A matter, and the Sunday Times has been castigated for inaccurate reporting. The fact that the story ran on the day we published a front-page apology exacerbated matters and gave ammunition to those seeking to undermine the credibility of this 102-year-old institution.

It would be worth talking a bit about the role of journalists beyond reproducing the press release and regurgitating the media conference — a sure-fire way to stay out of trouble.

In conducting our reporting, we journalists rely on public documents, secret documents, live sources and the public platforms where issues are discussed.

Where the documentation is inadequate and the live sourcing is stronger, we do our utmost to verify and cross-verify our facts.

We are always conscious that sources have agendas, and we do not simply swallow a source's word, hook, line and sinker.

Sometimes the subject of a story is able to respond strongly to one's sourced information with hard documentation, and sometimes it's a case of smoke and mirrors.

These are the travails of journalism, particularly when the stakes are high. Sometimes the spin machine is just so much more powerful than the truth.

As the Sunday Times, we are aware that the information we publish — no matter how accurate we believe it to be — has to be irrefutable, regardless of the nature of the source.

We owe this not to ourselves, but to the nearly four million people whose weekly diet this newspaper is. We respect our readers and we want them to believe every single word they read on our pages and to trust the information that we share with them in this Sunday conversation called the Sunday Times.

At the same time we do not want to be held back from unearthing nefarious activities by those with powerful spin machines and legal firms with names the length of psalms.

That would be the death of journalism, and South Africa would be done a great disservice.

To read the rest of the article click here:

*Makhanya is editor of the Sunday Times.  This column appeared in the newspaper on 7 September 2008.

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‘Citizen journalism turns consumers into creators'

Citizen journalism turns consumers into creators and takes media from lecture to conservation - something traditional media has not been able to do for a long time, Dan Gillmor, of Arizona State University, told over 700 media practitioners gathered in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, on Monday, 9 September 2008, for the 12th edition of Highway Africa.

As citizen journalism continues to surge dramatically around the world, delivering a massive blow right into the heart of traditional media, journalists, analysts and scholars are divided as how to define it and in which context to classify this new form of media, which many fear might take over in the near future.

But Gillmor said: "It is only a shift from the media environment that is adding to the media eco-system, but not replacing it. It is no longer about lecture but conversation and listening. Basically, news media organisations are now working with communities to create a better and participatory journalism.

"In 10 years' time, we are going to see a very strange situation whereby many people will be carrying HD cellphones to capture images and get connected to digital networks.

"I don't know how we will respond to that but it is something we would definitely have to get used to."

Questions remain

However, despite the rise of citizen journalism and the flow of information that is generating, questions remain about the accuracy and transparency of some of that information.

"We would have to find ways to sort out that flow of information," Gillmor said.

Gillmor advised media organisations to encourage their audiences to seek the principles of scepticism (don't believe everything you see or hear), judgement, research, free-thinking and techniques.

Furthermore, he advised journalists to double efforts to seek thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, indepence and, something new, transparency - qualities that will perhaps make audiences to trust them more.

Vincent Maher said citizen journalism is about two types of economies, the old economy (scarcity, selling and corporate money) and the new economy (abundance, sharing and social attention).

"Traditional media is based on gatekeeping and scarcity of space and time and profit maximisation, while social media is all about vast amount of content (seldom of high quality) and attention maximisation," Maher said.

Journalists themselves are a threat

He, however, believes that citizen journalism does not constitute a danger to traditional media, but that journalists themselves are a threat to their profession because they refuse to learn new methods about the new media.
For the rest of the story click here:
About the author:
Issa Sikiti da Silva is a freelance journalist and short stories writer whose work has been published in local and foreign publications, both in English and French. He contributes to as a news writer. Email him at

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For Highlands News: Waiting for Godot...

- Charles King

 "Who is my neighbour?" the young man asked the teacher. The teacher then told him this story.

Late one night a farmer was travelling from Dullstroom to Lydenburg, when he was attacked by hijackers. Stripped of his clothes, beaten up and his bakkie stolen, he was left half dead on the road.

Not much later a dominee drove past rushing to get home after a late appointment. In his headlights he saw the man lying there, but quickly veered to the other side of the road and passed him.

A travelling salesman, with business in the town the next day also drove past, briefly slowed down and quickly averted his gaze, then sped past.

Then a refugee fleeing from violence in his country to the north came along on foot. When he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the refugee soothed his wounds with river water from his old bottle and bandaged him with his T-shirt.

He put the man on his back and carried him to a B&B 4 km away, where he washed his face under the garden tap and nervously called the owner (he had no papers and feared being arrested).

He handed the B&B owner his last two faded brown R20 notes and said to him, "This is all I have, will you take care of this man?"

"Now which of these three would you say was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by hijackers," the teacher asked.

"The one who showed him mercy," replied the young man.

Then the teacher said, "Yes, now go and do the same – go and love your neighbour as yourself."

Last week, as part of the Wits University-based Investigative Journalism Workshop (IJW), I spent a morning outside the main refugee reception centre in Johannesburg.

I say outside because our group was thrown out after having just made it through the gate, past the aggressive, pompous-angry security guards.

While luminous yellow reflector jackets were garish badges highlighting their egos, cruelty and pseudo-power, their megaphones and batons were straight out of fascist Italy or Germany, apartheid South Africa... or modern-day Zimbabwe.  

I saw hundreds of this continent's most disempowered people waiting. They were waiting in a ripping August wind laden with the grit-and-dust-and-shit of the winter, amongst the reek of human excrement.

The public 'portaloos', maybe ten of them, had only arrived the day before. Until then, those waiting had shat-and-pissed, menstruated-and-spat-out-their-phlegm on the pavements and in the surrounding open lots.

Arrogantly think what you like, but even for the poorest of the poor, time is money. People waiting here for permits, papers and extensions (only 50 refugees and asylum seekers from the daily hundreds are processed every day) already lost outside 'the system' stood to lose what menial jobs they had.

Every single person I spoke with told of bribery and corruption that started at street level with the translators, but seeped like sewerage though the gates and into the refugee centre.

Tonight as I type these words, a couple of hundred people at least -  including children and babies - are sleeping in the bitter cold on the filthy pavement, maybe in rain, but certainly in the reek.

Those I'd spoken to had got there on the Tuedsay morning in the hope of making it into the reception centre on Thursday, maybe Friday. If they didn't make it, they'd be back next week. And the week after that. Nobody gives a damn.

Most of those I spoke to were Zimbabwean. Despite May's xenophobic attacks, not a single one of them would go back even if they could. They'd rather face violence, bleak conditions and destitution here than Mugabe's poverty of spirit and mind.

Sleep easy tonight, when you do.


Charles King is a writer and journalist living in Waterval-Boven. His blog Beautiful Mind, which celebrates life, tourism and travel in Mpumalanga's Highlands can be seen at






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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Below the lighthouse, Mossel bay

To soothe me today, and to put out all the fires, this atmospheric photograph was taken just below the St. Blaize lighthouse in Mossel Bay by my friend Ronelle Rust.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008


The Welcome Dover stove, above, kept the Kaapsehoop fire station tower claustrophobically hot on Sunday afternoon, while the forester had his hands full on the telephone and radio tracking the fast-moving fire raging through the forests in the valley below. The satellite image shows the smoke from the fires being swept eastwards by the wind.
The photo was taken by Wynand Kemp; he also forwarded me the satellite image.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

On the other hand: A Cape foam party...

While fires have been raging up north and in many other parts of the country, after a night of heavy storms and two days of hail, Capetonians were treated to a break in the weather and a rare Atlantic seaboard free-for-all foam party this morning.
"This is the largest swell Cape Town has experienced in many moons, with swells of over 8m being reported on Kfm this morning," says my freind and Cape Town-based journalist Andrew October.
He captured all the images with a Nokia N96.

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Don't worry about life, just live it

I've just heard that yesterday's inferno in the Schoemanskloof and Kaapsehoop area put Christo of the Kaapsehoop Horse Trails into ICU in Nelspruit. He was trapped in a firebreak between two raging infernos while trying to rescue horses. From what I can gather neither him, nor the horses, nor the stables were touched by the fire. 


I also heard that the fire completely destroyed the home of a good friend who lives in the forest. Again no lives were taken. My heart goes out to him....


Just after hearing this, I receive the following in my inbox:


Precious I have taught you that nothing in the world is stable.  You are living in an unstable, fluctuating world.  It is the sign of the times with rapid growth and rapid change.  I have taught you that all will fail unless I hold it up.  I alone must be your Source.  Simply trust that I hold your future and your hope.  I yet remain changeless and faithful, true and loving.  I AM your beloved Father and I will take care of you, My child.  Your faith is strong as you have learned how to lean on Me.  You are doing fine.  Don't worry about life, just live it.

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