Saturday, November 29, 2008

Inner City Living

PIC: Room with a view - The Joburg inner city from Calum Stevenson's apartment (by Bram Lammers)
It is dusk and the sun's light reflects against the windows of Johannesburg's office buildings that stretch towards the sky. The effect is one of a bejewelled city, basking in the light of the sun's last rays. Metres below, cars and taxis work their way through the maze-like pattern of the city's roads, their actions punctuated by the sound of hooting horns.  Men, women, students and children mingle about the streets enjoying the late afternoon reprieve from the day's heat. And buses and trains carrying tired travellers and weary workers slowly manoeuvre their way from Johannesburg's Park Station.

Leaning against the balustrade of a seventh floor apartment in Wolmarans Street on the southern edge of Braamfontein, these are some of the stories that unfold below me.

Perhaps I am just recovering from a long day but there seems to be a relative calm in the city at this time that makes the hustle, bustle and flow of activity seem like a well orchestrated piece of music. It's a catchy tune and it makes me want to tap my feet as my host, who calls this seventh floor apartment home, says, "If you're going to be in the city, you have to live in the city." 

Callum Stevenson's two-bedroom, upmarket New York-style apartment is enviably cool. Complete with wooden floors and granite table tops, modern light fittings, big windows and an overall creative use of space, inner city living has certainly come to represent the best in urban living if Callum's apartment is anything to go by.  

To top it all off, his corner flat gives him a 180 degree view of Johannesburg - a fantastic spot from which to witness the changing face of this captivating city.  From up here the era of urban decay that defined Johannesburg's inner city for about two decades is truly reversing itself.

As we look towards the Gautrain crane in the distance, Callum says, "Joburg is without a doubt on its up cycle. You can already see it. The streets are clean, there is police visibility, beautiful public artworks, stunning buildings and new apartments coming up all the time."
To read the rest of this article by Lindy Mtongana :
With credit: "South Africa: The Good News:

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Waterval-Boven: United in the Arts Festival (6 & 7 Dec)

A Village Makes a Stand Against Xenophobia:

In November 1949, 60 Mozambican miners died in a tragic accident on their way home to their families after a year's work on the mines. The steam train, derailed at Waterval Boven, on the treacherous edge of the escarpment where the Mpumalanga Highlands drops dramatically to the Lowveld.

To this day, families of the men return to Waterval Boven from Mozambique to honour their dead, and a memorial has been erected in the village graveyard. The character of Waterval Boven is forever influenced by the legacy of the railways and the importance this development bestowed on the town.

Waterval Boven has always been a railway town. The Nederlandsche Zuid Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij railway line reached Waterval Boven in 1894, opening up a direct line from Pretoria to the port of Lourenco Marques, known as the "Easternline" or "Oosterlijn".

The Festival:

The Waterval Boven United in the Arts Choir Festival Against Xenophobia kicks off in 2008 with the support of Eventáge, SAHRA, the Emakhazeni Tourism Association, local business as well as the Emakhazeni Local Municipality and thanks to their generous sponsorships; this event will soon become an annual national festival.

KORISA Norway (SA/Norway exchange programme for choral music appreciation) is interested in participating the 2009 event. The Mozambican Embassy has provided press coverage and there will be Consular attendance, also the presence of Mozambican choirs and a pledge to become further involved next year during the 60th anniversary of the accident.

This event that will take place on the 6 and 7 of December 2008 and will assist tourism development in this magnificent part of South Africa, as well as support the local community and businesses. It will also act as a reminder that xenophobia in our country is totally taboo and should be combated at all cost.
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Southern Hemisphere Christmas

It's a scorchingly hot late November Saturday afternoon in this part of the southern hemisphere. Despite believing I was au fait with the world atlas - because of a passion to travel and a curiosity that would see the international cat population extinct - I only recently realised that a vast majority of the earth's dry surface is north of the equator.

I've a thing for sipping coffee in shop windows while watching the world go by, no matter where on the globe I am. I'm in another window, in another Seattle coffee shop, in another Exclusive Books, in another Christmas decoration-bedecked shopping mall.

Two years ago, roughly this time (give or take a week or two) I was frequenting coffee shop windows not unlike this one, voyeuring my way through London, Prague and Marrakesh.

I was also reading Stephen King's 'On Writing'. I'd bought it at a Waterstones just off Trafalgar Square on a deeply overcast, cold Saturday afternoon while well-heeled Londoners clipped past in their patent leather shoes, or scraggily expensive trainers, clutching over-size designer shopping bags (that piqued both my curiosity and good natured envy).

I was also reading Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Writing... a book that ironically spelt out just how nigh impossible it was to survive as a travel writer - I'm pausing to inhale the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans that's making me cross-eyed with satisfaction - so much so that I burst into tears out of sheer hopelessness. I was reading the book at dusk on the rooftop of my Marrakesh hotel, inbetween staring at the full moon above the snow-capped Atlas Mountains distantly outskirting the city. (I put the book away then and have never picked it up again.)

My favourite coffee shop so far must be the Starbucks just across from the Hampstead underground station in north London. Mere metres from another Waterstones book shop, there I've spent hours reading, writing, watching while recovering from the bone deep cold suffered while exploring Hampstead's west heath and enviously tramping her streets.

Reality check: I'm sitting here watching people watching other people, aware, too, in my peripheral vision of those curious about me. All-in-all it's an immensely satisfactory late afternoon heading for dusk. And I thank God from the bottom of my heart that it's not two years ago this time.

Now to check the spelling of au fait in one of the bookshop's dictionaries... can you hear my chuckle? (For those in the know, I pose the question: So where, Charlie Brown, has the sex gone?)
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Friday, November 28, 2008

Read very carefully between the lines

From the Mail Guardian's editorial today:


It's that time of year again when, amid much lunching and launching and ribbon-cutting, the country commits itself for 16 days at least -- to combating violence against women and children. But despite this noble effort, which has enjoyed high-profile government support, South Africa remains a dangerous place for women and children. A recent study that tracked the progress of rape cases through the criminal justice system in Gauteng threw up some startling facts:


  • Almost half the rapes of women and teenage girls involved abduction;
  • 40% of rapes of women involved a weapon; 
  • 43% of rapes of teenage girls were committed by a neighbour or acquaintance; 
  • 28% of girls under 11 were raped in their homes; 
  • Just half of rape cases reported to the police resulted in arrests. Only 42,8% of suspects went on to appear in court and fewer than one in five (17,3%) reports resulted in a trial; 
  • Only one in 10 rape cases reported by girls under 12 resulted in a conviction, while for adult women, this number was just one in 20; and 
  • Of 34 cases in which the perpetrators were eligible for a life sentence in terms of minimum sentencing legislation, only three were sentenced to life.

While the politicians rattle their sabres and trade insults of a simian and entomological nature ahead of the election, we should pay careful attention to what they aren't saying and learn to read between the lines.


When the likely future president, Jacob Zuma, calls for obedience to the Bible and the ancestors, what does this mean for women's equality? Is this a return to the patriarchal ideal of the omnipotent father who holds the power of life and death over his wife and children?


Does this mean an end to women's right to make their own reproductive choices? When Zuma talks disparagingly about gays or women wearing miniskirts, what does this mean for a country in which rape is endemic and violence against lesbians is growing? And why do his plans for banishing pregnant teens not mention the men who impregnate them?


Will the next government move away from the rights-based culture enshrined in our Constitution and bow down to reactionary, populist elements in a bid to win votes?


In the coming months we should evaluate carefully the gender stance of any party asking for our vote and challenge the party to explain how it will make South Africa a safer place for its women and children.



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A Cape Town picture-perfect morning

This morning I want to be somewhere else, like Cape Town. 
The first email in my inbox was from my friend and journalist Andrew October in Cape Town. He had taken a series of morning snaps on his way to the office, and this was one of them. He says it was taken "with the iPhone 3G's rudimentary 2-megapixel camera that does the job pretty well"... and it blogs images straight into Facebook.
I'd love nothing more than a day whiling away the time in Cape Town's Gardens feeding the squirrels, with a visit to the National Art Gallery, later a coffee in Greenmarket Square and then a stroll - with an ice-cream cone - along the Seapoint promenade at sunset.
Happy Friday..!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Soccer fever

Soccerex 2008 is underway at the Sandton Convention Centre and the 2010 passion and vibe is palpable throughout Sandton. People and organisations are focused and driven, all of their eyes on one 2010 ball. This afternoon and tonight the atmosphere swept me along too.

In the heart of Sandton there's a slick, professional feel and I felt proud of what has thus far been achieved despite the challenges and criticism. My only concern is what are we as a nation going to live for once this particular show is over?

Waxing lyrical amidst books...

A smooth skinned young man with a shrill voice tells the young woman across from him that he does in fact shave. Neither of us believe him. She begins telling him, in quite an intricate manner, about the sadomasochistic (my word) art of waxing. I'm convinced, listening to her, that neither him nor me will ever consider going under the wax.

She's so wonderfully articulate despite her braces, he's so well brought up. It's wonderfully obvious.

I'm sitting at one of my favourite Seattle coffee shops, the one that's dunked in the well-stocked Mandela Sqaure Exclusive Books. I'm in my element - sipping a cafe mocha surrounded by a hundred thousand books, while a late afternoon thunderstorm brews outside.

Oh my word, they're now discussing OCD. I hope they can't see the glimmer of my smile. They're so wonderfully unaware; I'm so unashamedly aware, despite my innocence creeping back with age.

Now he's touching her nose with his point finger (are they lovers!); he says something about the colour of her iris, in a second she snaps out a cosmetic mirror and stares intensely at her own eye.

If they ask really nicely I'll hold up the mirror for them....

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A bloody marvelous time out in Gauteng

Photos: From the front, the Maropeng Tumulus Building resembles an ancient burial mound, from the back it's futuristic. (Credit: the Gallery at
A sun burnt, bright red forehead, photos and great memories are the only reminders I have of a magnificent morning spent 'recceing' Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (COH WHS), north west of Jozi in Gauteng.
While this morning was merely an unexpected taster, I've promised myself to get back there within the next two weeks - this time to properly immerse myself in these two gems. 
When I arrived at Maropeng - the world-class visitor centre for COH WHS - I was able to enjoy the unexpected hospitality and kindness of its GM, Tony Rubin, and marketing manager Erica Saunders. They invited me to lunch at Maropeng's Tumulus Restaurant, which I can testify serves a mean cappuccino and a delicious buffet. I'm looking forward to spending more time with these passionate, interesting and hospitable folk.
In these challenging economic times I would strongly recommend these destinations, and the Cradle of Humankind, as fantastic cost-effective opportunities to get away to in Gauteng. I experienced both of destinations as world-class.

Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves

The Cradle of Humankind is one of seven World Heritage Sites in South Africa, and the only one in Gauteng. It is widely recognised as the place from which all of humankind originated.
The 47,000 hectare site has unearthed the best evidence of the complex journey which our species has taken to make us what we are – a place of pilgrimage for all humankind. It is not only a place of ongoing scientific discovery into our origins, but also a place of contemplation – a place that allows us to reflect on who we are, where we come from and where we are going to.
The Gauteng Provincial Government is the designated Management Authority responsible for developing and protecting this extraordinary site for posterity. There are 13 excavated sites which have been identified within the area. These have already been internationally-recognised in the World Heritage Site listing, and have now individually been declared as national heritage sites by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). The careful management of these unique sites is a clear priority if the site is to be preserved and sustainably utilised.
The world-renowned Sterkfontein Caves is home to the oldest and most continuous paleaontological dig in the world. It is also the site of discovery of the famous pre-human skull affectionately known as "Mrs Ples", and an almost complete hominid skeleton called "Little Foot", dated 2.3 and 4.17 million years old respectively. No one knows what still lies hidden in the rocks of the Sterkfontein Caves and other sites. The World Heritage Site status the area now enjoys ensures that what is deep within its core will be protected and explored forever.

Exhibition: Landscapes of Emotion


Poet Mari Peti's latest collection of poems: Amytis

Amytis. A collection of poems / 'n versameling verse by Marí Peté (umSinsi Press):
"Marí's poems are like stones dropped in a pond. She writes in between the ripples.  Her images splash into our faces and her rhythms lap at our feet." - Dorian Haarhoff

The book's title Amytis (also the title of the first poem in the book) refers to the beloved wife of King Nebuchadnezzar, who pined, after marriage, for her lush native land, and for whom the king constructed the hanging gardens of Babylon.

In this collection of poetry Marí Peté explores dreamscapes, everyday experiences, and the thin membrane between these two states of being.  In many of her poems she weaves connections between the realms of Nature and Spirit.  In contrasting mood, writing in Iscamtho or Tsotsitaal (an urban South African street dialect), Peté takes the reader on alternative guided tours of her home city Durban ("Umgeni Road", "Durban Taxi", "Local is Lekker"). 

A prominent theme which runs through the volume is the poet's attempt to capture "that moment when the bird sings / Very close to the music of what happens" (Seamus Heany) -- whether it be the moment when a "small stirring beneath inland sea" sets in motion the formation of a cave (in "Four Elements"), or "the moment the sun shifts over the spine of the earth" when an armadillo is dreamt into being (in "Beneath a Fig Tree"), or "the moment a hiker in a forest dreams of a shrine" that makes "gravel waves ripple" (in "Stream").

The reader will find various contemplations on kinship (what Mary Oliver calls "your place in the family of things").  In a sense the work becomes a networked conversation -- voices that emerge are, amongst others, mystical theologian Thomas Berry; spiritual scientists Michael Faraday and Albert Einstein; eastern philosopher Tao Te Ching; and Old Testament characters Noah and Sarah.  References to praying mantises, dassies and geckoes, illuminate "the voice of the infinite in the small" (Sir Laurens van der Post).  This conversation culminates in a multi-layered poem entitled "The Great Echo".

Two thirds of the poems are written in English and the remainder in Afrikaans.

"A sensual storyteller, Marí Peté shifts effortlessly between English and Afrikaans. Layer upon layer, subtle lines unfurl into imaginative explorations of the sacred in everyday life." - Michelle McGrane, LitNet
ABOUT THE POET   Durban poet Marí Peté grew up on the Eastern Highveld of South Africa and has worked in e-learning at the Durban University of Technology since 1994.  Over a period of twenty years her poems have appeared in a number of literary journals.  Her first volume of poetry entitled Begin was published by umSinsi Press in 2002.  She was the winner of the Woordgilde poetry competition in 2005.  Marí Peté and Bianca Bothma edited the book "Look at me. Women artists and Poets Advocate Children's Rights" (Art for Humanity, Durban).

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On the Road Again: Sesame seeds

An afternoon off is just what Charlie Brown needed. Space, time to watch and reflect, to fade into the background. Charlie B says in Dickens' ("I'm not worthy") time he would have been described as a flaneur.

This cafe has been a haunt of many years, Charlie B thought to himself. Previously it was also a hunting and perving ground too. How things have changed, he thought almost sadly.

The rain is pouring down. I couldn't wish for anything better. But I've moved inside, my notebook was getting wet and my ink was running.

Now I need to acknowledge a headache, louder music, also - because this is like sitting inside a large concrete shoe box lying on its side - everyone's voices and laughter amplified. And the delicious racket of the rain.

Every now and then a cool-almost-cold and unexpected breeze scrapes along the hairs of his arm as he imagines a ghost, who was trying to get his attention, might consider doing.

It makes me shiver with anticipation at... well... - Charlie B thinks looking up and frowning - ...nothing. Previously times like these would most likely have been a respite from hunting - flesh hunting. Flesh hunting before more flesh hunting. And the anticipation would be sheer, unadulterated lustful excitement.

The aluminium sliding doors, tall and slim, have been closed against the rain. And with the shutting Charlie B suddenly realises he's sitting in the smoking section.

I'm looking at the world through tear-stained but happy windows. The smoke makes it only slightly uncomfortable, almost sexy. That was until my left brain bitch kicked in.

A fat, barefoot woman with long black curly hair, silver spectacles and a triple ivory-coloured chin momentarily blocks out the dusk- light from outside. The eclipse, albeit brief, is enough to make Charlie B look up. He notices that her shoes are gripped in her right hand. She also has cracks in her heels but smells suprisingly lovely.

Although her scent is a citrus, summery one, Charlie B doesn't shiver with anticipation.

Tshwane blues...

Tribeca, Brooklyn Square: After Dinokeng I met my good, but rarely seen friend Sudeshan Reddy for a great cafe mocha in Eastwood Street, not far from the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Sudeshan is the information officer at the United Nations office here.

I've got a soft spot for this city and it's Jacaranda lined avenues, it's warmer climate than Jozi and bushveld vegetation. Despite the suit- and-tied diplomats, this is a predominantly student city. People seem much more chilled here in their t-shirts and shorts, they also look different - good different.

After coffee I went back to his stunning home in Pierneuf (spell?) that looks over Pretoria North. Then a quick visit to the UN office in the centre of the city before diving headlong into peak hour traffic. Nope, I didn't need that, hence my 'sho't left' turn to Brooklyn Mall and now relaxing at Tribeca, one of my haunts for over a decade.

It's a great time of the year and the summer holidays are already in the air.

Dinokeng open day

It's an overcast and thankfully cool day in northern Dinokeng, approximately 40km north of Tshwane. Dinokeng is the 240 000 hectare geo-spatial tourism destination situated in north-west Guateng, but also straddling Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces.

I'm attending the first of two joint Dinokeng tourism meeting and environmental management framework open days. There are incredibly interesting and postive developments underway - particularly around the Dinokeng Big5 Nature Reserve and the proposed Cullinan and Dinokeng tourism hub developments - which I'll report on as they unfold in the future.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Rainy day in Maputo


Very, very Hopeville...

I had no idea that Waterval-Boven even had a 'public swimming pool'. Apparently the producers of the tv series that's currently being shot in town (Hopeville) had to trawl the whole country loooking for a 'dorp' with a pool in as bad a condition as ours (see the photo).

How did it ever get to this condition? Dumb question actually. Judging by the trash all over the town, even down by the river, the potholes and the dangerously missing manhole covers, soon the rest of the town might be looking like our swimming pool.

Okay, so I musn't be negative, but rather to be very hopeville and to supply a solution to the challenge than moaning about it... anyone got any ideas?
Heartlines Press Release:
Waterval Boven has been invaded — by lights, cameras and lots of action — as a six part television series is filmed in and around the town.

The TV series, called Hopeville, is the moving story of one man who has the courage to do what is right and live his values. Amos, a single father and recovering alcoholic arrives in a small town, Hopeville, hoping to make a new start with his son Themba, By taking action to repair the public swimming pool in the town, Amos' vision and courage to live out what he believes, impacts on his relationship with his son and the community at large, transforming the town "for good".

Filming in Boven started on 4 November and end on 19 December. But first Boven needs to be transformed into Hopeville — a very old and tired Hopeville. So, various buildings around the town will be painted to make them look old and uncared for, trees will also be sprayed so they look like they are dying, a big 'rubbish dump' will be set up in town, and certain roads will be closed for filming.

But Boven residents don't need to worry — the non toxic paint on the buildings and trees will wash off in the rain, the 'rubbish dump' isn't real and will be easily cleaned up, and Boven will shine at the end of the film. For instance, the swimming pool that's repaired in Hopeville will really be fixed up for the residents of Boven to use after filming ends.
The main actors starring in Hopeville arrived in Boven on 3 November. Locals will be hired as extras and for bit parts. The filming company has also asked for assistance from locally-based carpenters, welders, truck drivers and cleaners. If you can help, please contact Karel on 083 382 1347.

Hopeville will screen on 24 February at 19h30 on SABC 2.

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Greenpeace opens first African office in Joburg

Pic: A pod of dolphins swimming close to the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise

International environmental activists, Greenpeace, have opened an office in Johannesburg to tackle climate change, deforestation and overfishing on the continent, it was announced late last week.

"While the environmental threats facing Africans are urgent and critical, Africa is in a position to leapfrog dirty development and become a leader in helping to avert catastrophic climate change and protect the natural environment," Greenpeace Africa executive director Amadou Kanoute said in a statement.

"We are here to help make that happen," he said

He said a second office would be opened in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo on November 24 and a third in Dakar, Senegal, next year.   "While Africa contributes very little to global warming, the region will be one of the hardest hit by its effects," said Kanoute.

"Over 180 million people in sub-Saharan Africa could die as a result  of climate change by the end of the century.

"Unpredictable rainfall, lower crop yields and dwindling resources are causing mass migration, increased tension and conflict.

"South Africa needs to take a strong stand at the UN climate talks [in Poland next month] for a deal that includes substantial funding from the industrialised world for developing countries to adapt to and mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.

"The South African government should also support central African countries by backing moves to create a funding mechanism that makes protecting tropical forests and the climate more economical than logging," he said.

Kanoute said South Africa was the 14th highest carbon emitter in the world and had to commit to measurable actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, including ending its dependence on coal, without resorting to expansions in nuclear power.

"The country, as with Africa as a whole, is in a position to harness  abundant renewable energy sources - solar, wind and biomass - and take a lead in an African energy revolution.

"An energy revolution that would not only help reduce climate changes but would bring electricity to rural areas, which is crucial for rural development, provide jobs and economic growth."

For more information, visit the Greenpeace Africa website


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Storm and reward

At about 18h00 today a terrifying storm hit Waterval-Boven and sent trees and signs flying and caused my roof to leak profusely. It hit the house with such rage that fear momentarily gripped me by the throat and tightened my chest. Then I could just stand at the window to stare in awe. As soon it calmed down I was in the car and down to the muddied, angry Elands River to watch it torrent by. I drove back home in surreal light and was greeted by the most distinct rainbow I've seen in years. 

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