Sala Kahle, Hamba Kahle


The Amazing RESHI Vuvuzelas: Jacus, Anthony, John, Leslie, Michael, Renier, Lehlohonolo, Kgomotso, Rosanne,Thandeka


I’ve never been sure which one is which, but apparently this does not matter. What matters is to reflect yourself in the other. Ubuntu. I am because you are.

Maybe you have to go to the other side of the Earth to hear this loud and clear. Maybe you can just stay home, ride your bike and look around with a more open heart and mind.

This is my last post, my last reflections on this amazing year. I can’t sort the emotions out in a coherent way, it seems, so here are a few very random thoughts:

  • When I am asked about the bad stuff here, like xenophobia, violence, racism, sexism, inequality, corruption, rhino poaching, I have learned just enough to say “It’s complicated”
  • In Canada, social housing buildings fall apart as they age and all the various forms of water take their toll. In South Africa, social housing buildings also contend with: paint peeling because of the wind blown tailings from mine dumps; the copper plumbing risers getting stolen if they are on the outside of the buildings; security cameras zapped by lighting every summer and hail smashing all the windows in a building overnight.
  • I think this is the 27th blog post and I share the credit with Debbie on some of them. I trust they’ve given you a taste of  S.A. and Joburg and I’m glad if you were informed and at times amused.
  • In S.A., you can get your car washed by hand, inside and out, for the princely sum of R30 ($3 CDN). So, if you can navigate the complicated immigration systems and don’t mind living behind walls and electronic fencing, you would do well to retire here, even with only OAS/CPP.
  • On Friday when I came back from visiting SHI’s in various cities, I was picked up by Thuli from Cabs for Women. Two weeks ago, when she came off the night shift and parked in her driveway, bullets started flying around her and then a stolen bakkie (4×4 truck) rammed into the wall of her living room. She showed me the pictures of bullet holes in her windows. As I was flipping through the pictures, I saw one of her daughter’s graduation, cap and gown. Thuli said “That is life, there are good things and there are bad things”.  When she dropped me off, we had a big hug and she asked me to pray for her. I said I would.
  • When you order coffee, they bring you a little pot of warmed milk. And when you (polite Canadian) say “thank you”, they say “pleasure”.
  • I might have to get a cellphone when I get home. Eish!
  • The ANC is not what everyone hoped for. There is a “my turn now” attitude among many of the black elite as well as the Born Frees (post ’94). Lots of BMWs and AUDIs in the mall parking lots. Aspirations to own and have status prevail. Disheartening for many who fought for so long.
  • Don’t try to diet while you’re away in a foreign country for a year.
  • The dung beetle should be part of the Big 6. It uses the Milky Way as a navigation tool!
  • I have to do a dog/pony show at the Canadian Consulate this week. You can download the PPT if you want:Canadian Consulate Pres
  • I might have to come back.


Hlanganani, Johannesburg Housing Company

Hlanganani, Johannesburg Housing Company

Beaver Barracks, Ottawa, CCOC

Beaver Barracks, Ottawa, CCOC

That’s really all for now folks!

The R49.99 ($5) question

Major food group

Major food group

 Should I get another jar?

Making all these difficult decisions, eish!  Went to the Virgin Active yesterday for my Splash class and coughed up $40 to cancel my membership at the end of the month. Made an appointment with Owen at Road King Panel Beaters (auto body shop) to repaint the bumpers and do a few  touch ups on the Citroën before I turn it in to the rental company. Even made an appointment with my dentist in Ottawa for June 1st to look at a loose crown. Strange feelings, sad and glad at the same time.

Meanwhile, 18.3 kms down the road from me

In Alexandra township last week

In Alexandra township last week

The government’s response to xenophobia: send the army in to help police raid the men’s hostels in the townships (township hostels=criminal activity in the minds of most people).  Find a few guns, some stolen foodstuffs, and foreigners with no papers. Make no real difference because the problem is something else.

Reminds me of  Ottawa during the War Measures Act back in 1970. Army trucks trundling down Rideau Street, a bivouac in the fields beside our house in Alta Vista, a guard posted 24/7 at the house across from my friend’s apartment in Sandy Hill. Locking all the Canada Post mailboxes. Did it make anyone feel safer? Not me.

The business sections of the paper are now worried about SA’s international reputation and the impact on trade and tourism. Durban is having a 20% reduction in travel, game reserves are getting cancellations, etc.  Nigeria recalled its ambassador.

But at my local SPAR, there’s a new donations cart, replacing the powered milk one for rhino baby.

I added some Pilchards in tomato sauce

I added some Pilchards in tomato sauce

Oh, and those pesky statues!

Equal opportunity defacing

Equal opportunity defacing


This is the monument at Saartjie (Sarah) Bartmaan’s gravesite.

She was a Khoikhoi woman who, due to her large buttocks (steapopygia) was sold and exhibited in Europe during the early 1800’s. She was known as the Hottentot Venus and resold a few times before dying in poverty in Paris in 1815. Her body was then dissected and remains exhibited at the Museum of Man in Paris until they were finally repatriated in 2002.

For some unthinkable reason, her gravestone was desecrated last week.

Check in out on Wiki. 


At the WITS Art museum yesterday

I spent a couple of hours looking at a retrospective of Penny Siopis’ work. I had never heard of her, but was mesmerized by her versatility (painting, collages, sculpture, film, installations) and her story and “message”.

Maybe instead of sending the army to the townships, JZ should take people to see this show. It’s a great history lesson.

Here is one of her very large (6×6) painting/collages:

Penny Siopis- retrospective

Penny Siopis- retrospective

And here is the detail:

Looking closer...

Looking closer…


and even closer....

and even closer….

 I will miss all the tweets

From my backyard neighbours, the feathered friends I have grown to love. I hope you can find a way to access the media files on this…

The irrepressible Hadeda Ibis

better than alarm clocks

better than alarm clocks


The whiny grey go away bird

"go away, go away"

nice mohawk!


The obsessive-compulsive weaver bird

Engineer at work outside my window

Engineer at work outside my window



And not to forget the floral cousins

Paradise, very quiet

Paradise birds, very quiet

That’s it for now, folks!


This week, toppling of statues went from 50% to 3% of social media. Meanwhile…

coup d'état, anyone?

Coup d’état, anyone?

KING GOODWILL ZWELITHINI, King of the Zulu Nation, said this :

When they (foreigners) look at South Africans, they say let us exploit this nation of idiots. As I speak, you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops. They dirty our streets. We cannot even recognize which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere. I know it is hard for other politicians to challenge this, because they are after their votes. Please forgive me because this is my responsibility…. As King of the Zulu nation, which is respected worldwide because of the role in played in fighting for freedom in Africa, I will not keep quiet while our country is led by people who have no opinion…..We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries”.

And Xenophobia ramps up in Joburg and Durban.

Last Saturday, I took a walking tour in Jeppestown, an old inner city neighbourhood. We visited a building used by foreigners to sell their goods in a sort of mini-mall. This is an old bank building and was converted to this use because it has only one entrance (on the left) which can be closed quickly if there is unrest. Buyers then go to the barred up window on the right of the doorway and they can purchase from the street without coming in to the mall.

Welcome to the Xenophobia Mall !

Welcome to the Xenophobia Mall !

On Wednesday, the first reports started coming out about xenophobic attacks in Jeppestown and by nightfall it started looking like this:

Jeppesetown, April 15

Jeppesetown, April 15

Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi. During the struggle, those countries are where the freedom fighters were sheltered. They trained and were helped by their neighbours. And today the folks who have come to South Africa from there are being told to go back home.

It’s a complicated issue, like many other issues in this complicated country. Yes, there are so many South Africans without work and without much hope of work. People come from other countries and take jobs or open businesses. This is an old story of the migration of people the world over.

How many times did I hear “Those Somalis get all the subsidized units before us real Canadians” when I was at CCOC? And the white folks in my Ottawa neighbourhood always complain about “Chinese garbage” on Somerset Street.

So, since King Z  made his pronouncement:

  • There are now refugee camps for foreigners in Durban
  • Mozambique has closed its border for fear that vehicles with SA plates would be attacked
  • Bob Mugabe came down to beg for $ and irritated everyone here with his usual claptrap
  • Two Somali shopkeepers in Cape Town were locked in their shop and the place set on fire
  • Some neighbouring countries are talking about boycotting South African goods
  • I got an email from the Canadian consulate, telling me not to attend any demonstrations and avoid large gatherings.
  • On the plus side, there was a  huge anti-Xenophobia demonstration in Durban

And I heard on the radio last week that the Department of Education was thinking of making history a mandatory subject in schools. Apparently only 22% of SA students take any kind of history! And what’s the saying about those who forget the past being doomed to repeat it?

Making lists, drinking beers…

Things to give away, people to thank, work to finish, all things that need to happen before I head home. Yes, I now have one “foot” in each of Joburg and Ottawa. And I think the weather in both cities now is about the same (sunshine but needing a jacket).

In one of my latest posts, I attached my work plan for those who were wondering what the heck I was doing here. One wag (Future Landfill guy) posted a reply asking what kind of mischief I was really up to.  Well, here it is:

my secret work plan

my secret work plan

I have to drink a lot of beer to make sure the Rhinos are safe. But the Boucher (pronounced Bowchur) Legacy project will continue even after my return to Canada.  You’ll have to admit to being born before 1997, but check it out:

And speaking of beer

There’s a big craft beer movement here too and all the upscale venues try to keep some in stock.  The Western Cape, home of wineries galore, is now also the birthplace of many small breweries and they make some excellent ones. My favourite right now is Darling Slow Beer.

However, “craft beer”  has actually been around forever in South Africa. It’s called Umqombothi (the “q” is a click sound like a horse hoof clop). It’s the home brew and still is the staple in most township shebeens. Women tend to be the brewmasters, since they also tend to be the shebeen owners. It was one of the reasons that police could arrest women during the bad days of apartheid and many spent time in jail for it.

Interesting article/videos at:

But none of the venues in trendy Melville have any umqombothi on tap, so I may not get to sample that brew before I leave. Too bad. 

And speaking of trendy

Like elsewhere, shipping containers are being plonked around town and re-purposed for retail and residential uses. I think it might work better here, where you don’t have to worry about living in a metal box at forty below. But I’m curious what these buildings will look like in 20 years.

Up the street from me, there’s a retail development that’s been advertised since I arrived last May. Called “27 Boxes” and I think initially there were 27 containers on site. Now there seems to be 127 but work is finally progressing. However it doesn’t look like it will open before I leave, unfortunately. Supposed to have a small outdoor amphitheatre for live music and they’re redoing the original kids playground that was on site.

another mini-mall

another mini-mall

And down in the CBD, the same company re-purposed containers to provide residential units for the thousands of university students who flock to Joburg every year. They obviously had trouble finding cheap land and decided to put them on top of an existing structure! Pretty cool.

what to do with your old silos.

what to do with your old silos.



That’s all for now folks….



Semana Santa, the S.A. way

 Gimme that ole time…

It’s Easter and that means four days of unusual peace and quiet in buzzy Joburg.  Half the city leaves to “go home”. Joburg is not home for many who live/work here, it’s where they live/work; home is where they came from, where the gogos live, and where the ancestors are buried. On Monday, people will gather at the graves, tidy them up, plant flowers and have a picnic with family.

This morning at Aquafitness, our instructor, Mfundu, was giving the class from the pool deck wearing black slacks, a white shirt (with cufflinks!) a tie and highly polished black brogues. He cut the class a bit short so he could get to church on time.

South Africans are way more religious than Canadians. And some of the religions are a bit of a mishmash of traditional stuff and “Christian” add ons. On most Sundays around Joburg and elsewhere in S.A. there will be churches meeting outside, usually under a tree. The one below is on a strip of land I drive by every day to work.


Rainbow headgear nation!

And, like elsewhere, there are religious wing nuts. This guy I call The Friday Preacher.

Repent, ye minions of Mammon!

Repent, ye minions of Mammon!

Great garments, Batman!

Great garments, Batman!

He comes and parks below our offices in the CBD on Friday mornings. Driving a big black SUV, he opens the back gate and installs two great big speakers that blast Jesus tunes. He’s dressed in some kind of half-Zulu, half God only knows, hold up a cross and stands there for 1/2 hour. Then he comes down and shakes hands with folks. I shook his hand and thanked him for his prayers. He told me that, after the CBD, he goes to Sandton and does the same at the Stock Exchange. I’m sure there’s a really good story here…

This would make Stevie squirm…

But here in South Africa, there is not much discussion about who is the bad guy in the Palestine/Israeli debate. The words Israel and Apartheid are used in the same sentence without anyone blinking. There are huge demonstrations, with unions, politicians of all stripes, religious leaders from all faiths and many people who remember the bad old days here.

No debate here

No debate here

You may by now have heard about Trevor Noah, a stand up comic from SA who will be replacing John Stewart. There is a lot of chatter about his suitability, partly because of anti-Israel jokes he has tweeted out.
South Africans know how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful”  It’s gonna be hard for him in the States, I’m pretty sure. But it’s true, South Africans can’t recycle worth beans!

Oh, and speaking of Apartheid (alive and, well…)

If you’re ever in the Northern Cape, you can visit the lovely town of Orania. That is, only if you’re white (and better yet, if you can speak Afrikaans). Yes, about 15 years ago, they trekked up and formed an “intentional community” to ensure the survival of the Afrikaaner culture. I went to see a great documentary about this place. It probably won’t come to Ottawa soon, but if you get a chance, it’s worth catching. The black men who have been delivering bags of chips and cans of pop to the local pool for over ten years have never been inside the town limits. The pool caretaker meets them on the road and loads up his truck!  Here’s a vimeo trailer:

When is a statue ever “just a statue”?

In Ottawa, we removed the “Indian scout” at the bottom of the Champlain Astrolabe statue when Ovide Mercredi, the chief of the Assembly of  First Nations pointed out that the position and relative size of the scout was demeaning. The NCC agreed to move the statue and have it sit alone. The Ottawa Citizen reported receiving over 500 letters objecting to the removal, saying it was “re-writing history”.

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

This happened about 20 years ago, after the Oka crisis and way before  Idle No More. But probably around the same time many aboriginal women started disappearing out in B.C.

Is this Samuel de Champlain’s “fault”? Do his descendants (I might be one, who knows?) have to wear the burden of oppressors forever?

The question comes up again here in South Africa and has made the news for the past couple of weeks.

Cecil Rhodes was one of those larger than life guys who had a huge footprint on this land,mainly by removing diamonds from the ground. He founded DeBeers, made a whack of dough, did some nice stuff like donating land to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and started the magnificent Kirstenbosch Gardens. He also funded a well known scholarship (Rhodes), producing excellence in many fields (Bill Clinton and Bob Rae are Rhodes scholars, but let’s not go there!). He was probably gay, and he was definitely a colonialist, believing that:  “We (English) are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”. So, there is a statue of Cecil Rhodes at UCT and students have mounted a campaign to have it removed. This has included throwing excrement on it.



It looks like the statue will be removed and now the discussion is about where it will land. One of the options is apparently Mary Fitzgerald Square in Joburg. This is a huge public space, often used for concerts and events, more often used as a parking lot. I can’t imagine this will happen without debate or dissension!

And now there is same happening in Pretoria over a statue of Paul Kruger (President, Afrikaaner) and in Durban about a statue of King George V ( English King, grandfather of current Queen) in Durban.

And ISIL is destroying ancient (7th Century) statues in Nineveh. I dunno….


Re-writing history?






Easter is when you get out your socks and scarves

It’s getting chilly in the mornings here and I’ve taken out my jean jacket. Keeping an eye on the Ottawa weather, where there are still frostbite warnings from the homelessness folks, so not ready to head home until it gets a bit warmer, svp!

And even though the temp is going down and Joburg is getting dryer and dryer, it can still produce this gorgeous thing outside my window:



That’s all for now folks….!





A lot of the time, Joburg looks like this…


It’s called “load shedding”, an obscure term invented by the Power Rangers at Eskom to explain why they have to do rolling blackouts across the city.  One learns to plan for outages, have lots of salad stuff in the fridge, always have a flashlight (with working batteries) at hand, keep devices powered up as much as possible.

The explanations for this situation are also hard to see. S.A.’s electric power is coal generated and there are three or four generating stations that are supposed to have come on stream but haven’t yet (this will be familiar to Ontarians!). The Zuma government is also negotiating with Russians, Chinese and French about some “nucular” stations. (See previous post – Greenpeace)

And just yesterday the government laid off four top Eskom executives. Shed, shed, shed….

In the meantime, the local energy company, Joburg Power, puts out schedules for load-shedding. These have 3 “stages” where stage 1 means a few areas are shut down for 2 hours each and stage 3 means pretty well everyone gets it for 4 hours. But in true Joburg public service fashion, they rarely adhere to the schedule.

Joburg Power

“ouch, stubbed my toe again”!

“What is it am I doing here?”

I’m told some folks back home are curious about my work, so here is what my official work plan says:

Catherine Boucher Work Plan

The bulk of my work is to help five social housing institutions (SHIs) to develop the capacity they will need to manage a rapidly growing stock. Thus, I have named them RESHIs (rapidly expanding SHIs). This will be delivered in various ways (workshops, visits, mentoring) and unfortunately won’t be fully realized by the time I leave.

“Are you going to extend”? is what I am hearing quite often now when I say I’m leaving end of May. Apparently this is what happens to a lot of Rooftops folks, many of whom have come back over the years. I’ve been meeting with Jim Duke, who I knew 35 years ago in Halifax. He’s now officially living in England,but seems to come back to S.A. regularly for 3 month stints (visitor’s permit rather than the onerous visa requirements I had to struggle through).

I think it’s safe to say that, in this type of work, one year is a long time and a short time.

I miss home, my friends, my bike, walking anywhere anytime, lying on the dock at the cottage, Bridgehead coffee on Anderson, walking into CCOC office and hanging out for a bit, etc.

But I’ll miss my new friends here and lots of other stuff I’ve blogged about (not load shedding!) And I hope that the RESHI work has helped and maybe kickstarted a program that will continue.

Post-its, masking tape and dots...

Post-its, masking tape and dots…

RESHIs toot their horn!

RESHIs toot their horn!

Theory of the oppressed, not just a theory

In January, xenophobia and the availability of cheap drugs combined to start a plague of sorts in the townships.  In Soweto, a Pakistani spazza shop owner shot at some looters and ended up killing a 14yr old boy who had been sent to the store by his mother. This was the fuse that lit up a series of lootings and more deaths, not only in Soweto, but as far as Kayelitsha in Cape Town.

Foreign-owned shops were targeted, especially those owned by Somalis, who are accused by SA shopkeepers of price fixing and getting advantages from government.  Cooler heads tried to remind folks that Somalis have been traders since time began and are very sharp business people. This does not seem to calm folks and the looting continues. Many of the looters are actually addicts, looking for stuff to sell for a fix.

Here’s a bit of an article from an SA on-line paper, the Maverick.


Johiy Khan, 27, from Bangladesh, has lived in South Africa since 2006 and has run the Blue Container Shop in Emdeni for four years. A bakkie sits outside his store loaded with refrigerators. Everything else was stolen when about 50 locals smashed a whole in the store’s brick wall with tools like pickaxes. “The problem with South Africa is that it’s that’s too free. Thugs do as they please. They walk into our shops wielding guns and knives,” he says, before suggesting that the store owners will, of course, retaliate. “We don’t come from the same country as Somalis. We come from Bangladesh, but they are looting us all,” Khan finishes before he leaves in the bakkie with his workers.


 An employee of Emdeni Bazaar, South African-owned and untouched during the looting that targeted foreigners, makes a transaction.  

Down the road, Joseph Mthethwa, 62, manages the Emdeni Bazaar. The South African and his store weren’t attacked. He says it’s because the looters wouldn’t have been able to find “loopholes”. “Leaders must call us all together and we should all work on the causes of this misunderstanding in our community to avoid future occurrences […] Foreigners make us very unhappy. They have brains, they can do things that we can’t, but they are starving us of business.” According to Mthethwa, local stores, including those foreign-owned, meet regularly to discuss prices. However, he says the foreigners then change their prices without telling the locals and undercut stores owned by South Africans.

It’s complicated.

And meanwhile, in “Little Somalia”…

“Foreign” shopkeepers  live behind two sets of gates. When xenophobia rears it’s head, folks retreat and close up shop. This is in Fordsburg/Mayfair, an older neighbourhood downtown. A long time Indian area full of shopkeepers, it has attracted new arrivals who are coming often from parts of the world that are Muslim. Somalis, Ethiopians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis,etc. Like in my Ottawa neighbourhood (Little Italy/Chinatown), they arrive where the lodging are cheap and there are opportunities for work.

The informal economy allows people to buy/sell almost anything and they do. Brooms, feather dusters, corn chips, blankets, second hand shoes, pot scrubbers, belts, watches, grilled meats, combs, etc.  Lay a blanket out on the sidewalk and try to sell enough to eat and rent a bed by the hour upstairs.

If all goes well, you can rent a little shop and maybe send money back home. And if the tour guide chooses your establishment, you get to sell 30 cups of delicious coffee at $1 each to people like me!

Comes with sweet popcorn!

Comes with sweet popcorn!


 Canuck invasion continues:

Karen from BC is still living in the cottage next door,  Barry Pinsky, the Rooftops ED is in town for a few weeks, Jim Duke is kicking around. And on Wednesday my old Ottawa friend  Nicole arrived as part of her month+ tour of SA, Namibia, Swaziland and more.

Both Karen and Barry are vegetarians (well, Karen has been known to nosh on some biltong!) which is not easy in South Africa, the land of big bbq.

And if you really like your red meat “pink”, you can always fry up some polony!

Apparently, it's French!!

Apparently, it’s French!!

That’s all for now folks!



Debbie’s last post, really.

 How do you know you’re in Cape Town Central?

You’re surrounded by awesome views of Table Mountain and the Ocean. Easy access to world-class vineyards. The streets are pristinely clean and every street corner has at least two security guards upholding Cape Town’s Central City Improvement District (CCID) vision: “To be safe, clean caring and open for business!” That’s right folks, Cape Town is a safe and walkable city.

We were lucky to be able to stay at a friend’s fantastic loft apartment with a view of the harbour, in the heart of the city.

Looking down from Alison's Cape Town loft where we stayed for week at the  Soho on Strand.

Looking down from Alison’s Cape Town loft where we stayed for week at the Soho on Strand.


As we set out on our walk to discover Cape Town, we discovered a number of Greenpeace signs. Turns out the Rainbow Warrior was in port and we got to tour the new vessel.


The Greenpeace Warrior advocating "Renewal Energy is the Solution" in the ports of South Africa

The Greenpeace Warrior advocating “Renewal Energy is the Solution” in the ports of South Africa with a little help from Catherine’s Imandla (power to the people!) arm gesture.









To address the electricity crisis in South Africa, the government plans to partner with Russia, France or China to supply additional nuclear reactors…. Greenpeace is currently travelling to the port cities in S.A. advocating for a national debate on nuclear energy and encouraging alternative sources of energy generation (solar and wind power). We were shocked at the almost total absence of solar panels in Joburg and wind turbines in Cape Town. Missed opportunities indeed!.



The old story of gentrification…

On our first day, we cabbed to Woodstock, the new hipster heaven.  The headline of a recent Times article is “No place for poor folks as Woodstock goes trendy”.  When District 6 was declared a whites-only neighbourhood, people who refused to be relocated to townships migrated about a kilometre down the road to Woodstock. Now these long-time residents are being economically evicted as property values go up and up and up.

Fully participating in the trend, we went to the Old Biscuit Mill, transformed into yet another foodie market. Also poked around art/craft galleries before heading to the Waterfront.

Out of this world food. Our favourite was grilled wild mushrooms on a stick. The vendor kept feeding us more due to our enthusiastic appreciation.

Out of this world food. Our favourite was grilled wild mushrooms on a stick. The vendor kept feeding us more due to our enthusiastic appreciation.

Nelson and Desmond on the waterfront:

Our plan was to take the ferry to Robben Island, but no such luck as tickets are booked way ahead. So, we visited the museum attached to the ticket office. Interesting history of the island, first as a leper colony, then a British jail before becoming the home of Mandela and many other freedom fighters.

One exhibit was about the notion of the rabbit or hare as a subversive symbol. Various artists exhibited related pieces and we subsequently learned that the artist who sculpted the 30 meter high statue of Nelson Mandela in front of the Pretoria government buildings snuck a small rabbit into his ear. This caused much uproar and is still being debated.

Bunny, where's the bunny?

Bunny, where’s the bunny?

Outside the museum was a wonderful photo exhibit entitled “21 Icons”, the work of one photographer. You would recognize many, like Nadine Gordimer, but our favourite was Desmond:

Gotta love Desmond with his tutu...At the waterfront in Cape Town there was a wonderful outdoor photo exhibition on 21 South African Icons.

Gotta love Desmond with his tutu…

 Hop-on, Hop-off the Red Bus and the local to Simon’s Town

Spent two days on the bus, one in town, one up/down the peninsula. Also took the commuter train going south through small fishing villages. The great thing about the bus and train was the ability to stop and go as we pleased, without arguing about where to turn next. Taking in the sights and beauty of the vast and varied landscapes.

Here are some places we loved:

Clouds rolling in over Table Mountain. This is known as the tablecloth.

Clouds rolling in over Table Mountain. This is known as the tablecloth.

Camps Bay on the west side of Table Mountain along the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped here for lunch.

The Twelve Apostles, on the other side of Table Mountain along the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped at Camps Bay for lunch.


The boomslang (tree snake)   canopy walkway at Kirstenbosch Gardens. 130 meters of curved steel and timber. Inspired by snake skeleton. Wobbles!

The boomslang (tree snake) canopy walkway at Kirstenbosch Gardens. 130 meters of curved steel and timber. Inspired by snake skeleton. Wobbles!

Groot Constantia, S.A's oldest wine estate. Had a delicious lunch with their award winning Sauvignon Blanc. Restaurant was nestled in the courtyard next to the vineyards.

Groot Constantia, S.A’s oldest wine estate. Had a delicious lunch with their award winning Sauvignon Blanc. Restaurant was nestled in the courtyard next to the vineyards.

St.James beach change huts with the Metro train skirting the coastline all the way to Simons Town.

St.James beach change huts with the Metro train skirting the coastline all the way to Simons Town.

And back in the CBD:

St George's Cathedral, with Tutu as Bishop. From here, he led 30,000 people in a peace march in 1989.

St George’s Cathedral, with Tutu as Bishop. From here, he led 30,000 people in a peace march in 1989.




And today, a block away, the demonstrations continue in front of the Provincial legislature. Amandla! Awethu!

And today, a block away, the demonstrations continue in front of the Provincial legislature. Amandla! Awethu!

And on the edge of the city, there are Townships:


Imizamo Yethu, (Through our collective efforts). Great view and location, but pretty lousy infrastructure!

Imizamo Yethu, (Through our collective efforts). Great view and location, but pretty lousy infrastructure!

Kwa Sec, a shebeen in Gugulethu township. Great music, chicken and rice, beer in buckets. Felt like New Orleans.

Kwa Sec, a shebeen in Gugulethu township. Great music, chicken and rice, beer in buckets. Felt like New Orleans.

Langa (Sun), established 1927, oldest township in CapeTown. Crucible of much anti-apartheid work.

Langa (Sun), established 1927, oldest township in CapeTown. Crucible of much anti-apartheid work.


There is slow progress, but most townships are improving conditions. Solar h/w tanks, Langa

There is slow progress, but most townships are improving conditions. Solar h/w tanks, Langa














Although Cape Town would be the ideal place to retire…there’s just something about Jozi…It’s really hard to put into words and to figure out Johannesburg. There’s a vibe to Jozi…she has been a broken city for so long but things are beginning to turn around for her. The city is still gritty and dirty and crime-ridden, but when you walk her streets and get up close to her, you come face-to-face with her people. They are friendly and warm and resilient. They are innovators and entrepreneurs. These are dynamic individuals who are changing the face of the city. They are the change-makers…people like Josie Adler who saw a way to take back her neighbourhood by engaging the entire community and convincing the city to invest in the infrastructure.  There is Jonathan Liebmann, a 30 year old developer who is turning old industrial buildings abutting the CBD into a centre of creativity and commerce in the Maboneng Precinct. Gerald Garner, a writer, photographer, tour guide and entrepreneur responsible for reimagining an old warehouse into an artisan food market and music venue, called The Sheds@1 Fox. He also has documented Joburg’s inner-city regeneration over the past 10 years in his book, Johannesburg: Ten Ahead. On the cultural front there are all those wonderful graffiti artists who animate the streets and who give us beauty while helping us question and remember there is still work to do. Check this out:

Steve Mokwena, a film maker, opened the Afrikan Freedom Station just 2 years ago. It’s an intimate multimedia gallery and music venue in Westdene, just next door to where the original Sophiatown was razed in the 1950’s. This hole-in -the-wall venue hosts some of the best musicians in South Africa and he ensures the venue is accessible to all by charging a mere R80 ($9.00!). These individuals represent the future of Jozi and that’s what makes her special…

Joburg's vibe &anthem

Jozi’s vibe & anthem

And let’s not forget our social housing colleagues here, people from  JHC,  JOSHCO, and Madulammoho  who work to ensure that some of this City is a good place for low and modest income families and individuals to work, live, learn and play.  And kudos to the NASHO staff and allies; the ones I met like Malcolm, John, Vanessa, and Alison, as well as many others. And to Barry Pinsky and all the Rooftops staff, interns and technical advisors who have come from Canada for many years to participate in this important work.

I’ve had a wonderful journey here in South Africa on so many levels. I’ve learned much, have more to learn…As I leave today, my heart and my head are full of full of fond memories of this beautiful and complex country…

Love, Debbie xoxo

Debbie’s last post, almost

Walking in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela…

We took a walking tour of downtown Joburg, exploring what the city looked like during the ’50’s when Mandela was a practising lawyer. His law office was shared with Oliver Tambo just across from the Magistrate Building. Theirs was the country’s 1st black law partnership. The small building, restored in 2010, has now been turned into an outdoor museum telling the story of the freedom struggle. Between 1952-56, Mandela & Tambo represented blacks against the draconian apartheid laws, like the Group Areas Act (1950) and Pass Laws (1952). We passed the building where Mandela sparred on the roof and the statue of him in boxing pose across from his law offices.

He fought the law and the law won, but only for a while!

He fought the law and the law won, but only for a while!

Saw the Kholvad House, flat 13 on Market Street where Ahmed Kathrada lived and Mandela was a frequent visitor. This was where history was shaped by the intelligentsia of the freedom movement. Our guide Ishvara mused what a different South Africa there could have been had these men not been arrested at Rivonia and sentenced to prison for the best years of their lives.

The group of young freedom fighters

Mandela and the freedom fighters intelligentsia

We visited a mining compound for male migrant workers (now a Workers’ Museum) with conditions resembling a jail.  Later these hostels for men became the dominant form of housing with families being separated and dire conditions prevailing.

Our guide pointed out some of the original buildings still in the neighbourhood with many under threat of demolition and others ripe for redevelopment.  Johannesburg is a prime example of urban renewal and rejuvenation providing initiatives such as tax-relief to bring investors back to the CBD.  For sale and sold signs abound.


Prime corner property in the CBD

Diagonal Street is a historic area, a very lively street with storefront shops lined with blanket sellers, bold african prints, hardware & kitchenware stores. You’ll also find many informal traders selling fruit & vegetables, candies, roasted corn on braziers as well as Muti shops where Sangomas (traditional Zulu healers and herbalists: Inyangas) continue to practice today.

The local Muti shop

The local Muti shop

Very popular street food, roasted corn. The woman is cooking it on her brazier which she carries on her head.

Very popular street food, roasted corn. The woman is cooking it on a lit brazier which she carries on her head

William Kentridge: Fire Walker, a woman walking carrying a brazier on her head. Sculpture located in Newtown, Joburg.

William Kentridge immortalized the image in his sculpture: Fire Walker, a woman walking carrying a brazier on her head. Sculpture located in Newtown, Joburg.

We visited a shweshwe shop, Becker Street Wholesalers, with floor to ceiling bolts of fabric from the DaGama Textiles with the 3 cats label. Shweshwe is a very durable fabric used to make dresses for (mostly) domestic workers.  Textiles are important to South Africa’s history. Starting in the apartheid era, people around the world took to wearing tribal cloth shirts in solidarity with the blacks in South Africa and America.

Ishvara, our tour guide and Catherine in a scheshwe

Ishvara, our tour guide and Catherine in a shweshwe shop next to the ‘in solidarity’ cloth

 Rosebank Mall Rooftop Sunday Market

What a great alternative to the crazy mall culture that is so pervasive in South Africa. In an upscale suburb of Rosebank, every Sunday this market is a happenin’ place! Located on the rooftop, (the parking lot really) of a very popular mall. Handcrafted jewellery, art, crafts, clothes from all over Africa, plus local cheeses, meats, and other food items are sold. Such an innovative idea.

Namukolo Mukutu, one of my favorite artists at the Rosebank Rooftop Sunday Market (on top of a shopping mall;what a great idea!). She does custom made clothing and accessories. Both Karen & I could not resist...

Namukolo Mukutu, one of my favorite artists at the Rosebank Rooftop Sunday Market. She does custom made clothing and accessories. Both Karen & I could not resist…

 Visits of Gauteng Social Housing

Karen Hemmingson, Director of Research at BC Housing arrived in Joburg to do a 3 month volunteer job with Rooftops at NASHO. I was fortunate to participate with her in some of the briefings on the status of social housing in South Africa as well as tour a number of social housing developments in Joburg and Pretoria.

This is a very young sector, with most of the housing having been built in the last 12-15 years. Some of the stock is much older, worker hostels for men and later used by families. This stock is now being either replaced entirely or refitted to better accommodate family needs.

JOSHCO refit of hostel in Selby

JOSHCO, a municipal SHI, refits a hostel in Selby

In downtown Joburg is an area called Hillbrow. Built in the early 60s for middle class whites, it was abandoned after Apartheid. White flight meant the buildings sat empty and were ripe for squatting and “highjacking”. Hillbrow became a “no-go” zone, with the city refusing to provide basic services (water, sewer, police). Thugs and gangs ruled the area for many years.

The Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC) came in first, buying up buildings for a song and refitting them for low and modest-income working families. JOSHCO (Johannesburg Housing Company) joined in as did a new SHI, Madulammoho, an offshoot of a church-based organization, MES.

A old nurses' residence transformed by Madulammoho.

A old nurses’ residence transformed by Madulammoho.

The new Hillbrow, complete  with too many satellite dishes!

The new Hillbrow, complete with too many satellite dishes!

Recognizing that the public realm is a crucial part of neighbourhoods, JHC and other SHIs as well as a private landlord, Trafalgar, worked to start eKhaya, a regeneration partnership between the SHIs and private sector owners.  Started in 2004, they registered as a City Improvement District (CID) and have transformed much of the area. Reducing criminal activity, cleaning up and securing lanes between buildings, convincing the city to bring services back, setting up a security patrol system (BadBoyz).  One of their major achievements was the reclaiming of a derelict lot which had become a haven for drug dealers. eKhaya Park is now a magnet for the area, running sport and recreation events for the thousands of children who live in Hillbrow.

eKhaya Park

eKhaya Park

Much of this is due to the dogged persistence of a magnificent woman, Josie Adler. She was born and raised in downtown Joburg and has now devoted her time and energy to this enormous task. Pretty well everyone who is anyone in the City will know Josie, at least by reputation!

Josie and her successor, Bafikile, coordinator of eKhaya

Josie and her successor, Bafikile, coordinator of eKhaya


Catherine’s 66th Birthday Dinner

CB's birthday celebration with friends & colleagues: Karen (BC Housing), Alison (housing consultant focusing on special needs), db, Malcolm (db's boss at NASHO), cb, Emmanuelle (Malcolm's partner and a health policy analyst). Catherine is showing the bottle of Canadian ice wine brought all the way by db. A gift from Chris & Laurie! It was a lovely top off to the evening!

CB’s birthday celebration with friends & colleagues: Karen (BC Housing), Alison (housing consultant focusing on special needs), db, Malcolm (ED of NASHO), cb, Emmanuelle (Malcolm’s partner and a health policy analyst). Catherine is showing the bottle of Canadian ice wine brought by db. A going away gift from Chris & Laurie! It was a lovely top off to a wonderful evening and dinner at La Luna’s on 7th Street in our neighbourhood!

We got invited to “a doppie in the Koppies”…

A doppie is an Afrikaans name for a drink. As you know from previous blogs, the Melville Koppies are hills overlooking the city. George and Heike, the 5th Street gatekeepers of the nature reserve, invited folks to meet at the rock outcrop to have a doppie on the koppies and watch the sun go down.

A sundowner on the Koppies with friends, canines, shared wine and munchies.

A sundowner on the Koppies with friends, canines, shared wine and munchies.

Here's what we sundowner's were waiting for...

Here’s what we sundowners were waiting for…

That’s it for now folks….!




Escape to the Dragon Mountains

In the green embrace of the dragon gods

We took the long route to the Drakensbergs as recommended by the lodge staff. “If you have a low riding car, do not use the R74 “! If we’d had a 4×4 we’d have been there in 3 hours rather than 4.5. But we saw lots of the beautiful agricultural part of S.A., cattle farms and corn or soy fields.

The site was an oasis in the middle of spectacular mountains. Rolling green hills of waving grasses dotted with wild flowers, protea covered slopes, steep rocky ravines with tumbling waterfalls. Hidden sandstone caves as well as outcrops and flat top “mesetas”. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, well deserved designation.

Arriving mid-afternoon at the Cavern Resort and Spa, we settled in to our Superior Suite, complete with four-poster bed and fireplace (and TV for CB). Also came with some Cavern crunchies and a carafe of sherry for afternoon tipples. The view from our window included the beautiful green mountain and some baboons coming up the Nature Trail.

Our mountain nest

Our mountain nest

King of the mountain

King of the mountain







The Cavern is a family-owned business, now in it’s third generation. The original farmhouse buildings remain and were re-purposed. The owners are very invested in the community, with a beautiful school on site for staff and locals, as well as support for a dozen nearby crèches (daycares) through a breakfast program.

Staff are local, most of them coming from the nearby villages. Unfailingly helpful and willing to share the beauty of their world. Our waiter, Mhlengi a sweet young man who also sang in the Cavern Choir and convinced us to try the kudu steak.

One of the owners, Megan, sat with us one evening in the cave bar and regaled us with tales of growing up at the Cavern.

The dining room

View from the dining room


Hiking was the reason we (well, Debbie) came here. Every morning, she opted for the “long walk” which lasted about 4 hours with differing levels of difficulty. (Catherine walked around the hotel a couple of times).

One of the more difficult treks...

One of the more difficult treks…

Hardy hikers on the trail

Hardy hikers on the trail

Echo Cave

Echo Cave

The walk to Echo Cave was the hardest, with the terrain described as “difficult: steep, slippery and scrambly in places”. Strenuous trekking, not helped by the high altitude, especially going up. The rest at the top was most appreciated, especially with our guide Stanley bringing out the tea and crunchies. Replenishing our glucose levels made the trek down easier.

Our guide Stanley, in the morning mist

Our guide Stanley, in the morning mist

Although it wasn’t a game reserve by any means, there was lots of flora and also some fauna to be admired. Other than baboons, and the bull mastiffs who were supposed to chase them but seemed more interested in hanging by the fireplace, there were tons of amazing birds and some other critters scurrying around.

Cape Ash, the oldest tree around (200+ yrs)

Cape Ash, the oldest tree around (200+ yrs)

Dwarf chameleon needing to change colour...

Dwarf chameleon needing to change colour quick!

Protea bush and Sugarbird

Protea bush and Sugarbird







There were also horseback riding opportunities and Catherine was tempted to try some equestrian pastime…

Catherine thinking about a horseback ride....

Catherine has found her trusty steed!

But it wasn’t all just fun and games. This was not called the Cavern Resort and SPA for nothing! After the morning trek and a delicious lunch buffet on the terrace, there was some serious massage, foot scrubbing and even facial rejuvenation to be had. Debbie spent most afternoons  at the Forest Retreat Spa, leaving barely enough time for a nap before being summoned for sundowners and supper.

The view from my massage table.

The view from the massage table.


So, after four nights in this oasis, we had to head back (long way) to buzzy, scruffy Joburg and it was all good.

That’s all for now folks!


Hop on to the Joburg vibe with Debbie and Catherine!

Hillbrow and Ponte towers from the Carlton Centre

Hillbrow and Ponte towers from the Carlton Centre

Had a busy couple of weeks doing bus/walking/self-guided tours of various parts of this amazing and confusing city.

Most of the time we were accompanied by a new Canuck colleague, Karen Hemmingson from BC Housing. Karen is spending 3 months as a Rooftops volunteer doing various pieces of work for NASHO.

We managed to snag the cottage right beside ours, in Ruby’s backyard. So Karen is our neighbour as well and we can share dinners as well as power outages, rides to work and nice rosés. Malcolm, the ED of NASHO, thinks there’s a conspiracy to have Canadians take over the SA social housing sector!

Hop on/Hop off bus tour:

On a perfect Joburg day, Sunday the 11th, we found parking at the train station and took the tourist bus around town. It gave Debbie and Karen an idea of how spread out the city is and stopped at some of the well known destinations like the Casino (évidemment), the Apartheid Museum, the Transportation Museum (who knew?), the Carlton Centre (tallest building in Africa when it was built), etc. We only got off in Newtown to spend an hour looking at an amazing photo exhibit from the struggle period (Rise and Fall of Apartheid) at the Museum Africa.



Special “turista” week

On the evening of that perfect day, Catherine succumbed to what turned out to be a rotavirus. After three days of staying very close to the bathroom and not doing much else, some chicken soup revived her and the nasty bug went away without affecting anyone else. There are no pictures related to this event.

Every city has one

A Chinatown, that is. On another perfect day a week later, Saturday 17th, the three Canuck gals took a guided walking tour of Cyrildene, the “new” Chinatown of Joburg.

It is a very small area in one of the (previously Jewish) burbs, where the Chinese community migrated once their traditional CBD area became unsafe.

Nice, but Ottawa's is nicer

Nice, but Ottawa’s is nicer

For us the highlight was visiting a Buddhist temple and hearing from their head monk and then participating in a tea ceremony.

High Mountain  Tea on the roof of the temple

High Mountain
Tea on the roof of the temple

Cyrildene temple head monk with Kwan Yin

Cyrildene temple head monk with Kwan Yin

As in Ottawa and Vancouver, “Chinatown” is a broad term and encompasses Thai and Vietnamese shops. We recognized many of the typical vegetables and ended up having lunch at a Thai place.

Just like the Kowloon, but outdoors!

Just like the Kowloon, but outdoors!

Yummy prawn sticks, only fifty cents!

Yummy prawn sticks, only fifty cents!

Maboneng, place of light

After driving past highjacked buildings , surrounded by bundles of razor wire covered in garbage, we arrived at the Maboneng Precinct, an entirely different world… Funky whitewashed warehouses full of galleries and shops and a smorgasbord of gourmet food to meet all cultural tastes.

The area, which was predominantly industrial, manufacturing and small business, fell on hard times. Consequently there was opportunity to snap up some originally very well built, vacant buildings at reasonable cost.

A 29-year old “entrepreneur”, Jonathan Leibman, formed a company called Propertuity, which has been the driving force to transform this area into a center of creativity and commerce in the heart of Joburg.

Good advice

Good advice







Sales trailer for the tiny affordable condo units

Sales trailer for the tiny affordable condo units

But what to do with/for the "binders" who work/live in abandoned warehouses?

But what to do with/for the “binners” who work/live in abandoned warehouses?

One of the first businesses to be established, taking advantage of a City program to encourage youth entreprises, is Curiocity Backpackers Hotel. The owner, 21-year old Bheki Dubé, showed us around and mentioned some of the history of this site,

Bheki Dube at Curiocity

Bheki Dube at Curiocity community kitchen

which included being the gathering place for the Black Sash (white middle class women fighting apartheid). It is believed that Mandela and others were also sheltered here at some point.

Black Sash women protesting the passbook laws

Black Sash women protesting the passbook laws

Another business, I Was Shot In Joburg, is an arts-based entreprise for at-risk youth to manufacture retail items (bags, tshirts, books, cushion covers) that speak to the inner city vibe. The kids were given cameras and the images they captured are used in the making of the merchandise.

I Was Shot in Joburg and all I got was this tote bag...

I Was Shot in Joburg and all I got was this tote bag…

We came back twice after to attend movies at the Bioscope. The owner also runs the Chalkboard café next door where one can buy pizza and a nice merlot to bring in to the movies. (Hint to Bytowne owner…) The documentaries were both worth the drive. The first one was based on Franz Fanon’s writing and called “Concerning Violence”. The second one, which we really loved, is called “Jeppe on a Friday” and was done by two women filmmakers. It follows 8 people who live and work in the very same area (Jeppestown) and takes place all in one day. Turned out that one of the filmmakers, Shannon Walsh, is associated with the NFB and made a very similar movie called “26 August, St.Henri” in Montreal a few years ago.

Here is a link to the trailer for Fridays on Jeppe.:

Note to readers: there are a number of links to YouTube on this blog. It’s possible that you are not getting them if you are reading this on a lower rez device like a phone or tablet.

Another dinner at the Leopard

With Canadian friends, of course. On Tuesday 20th, we spent a lovely evening with Ottawans Penny and Gautam as well as Penny’s brother-in-law, Iyavar, who lives in Joburg. They were doing a couple of weeks in SA before heading to Zambia and then India.

Iyavar is a lawyer working on issues of child pornography and travels around the world offering his knowledge to police and courts trying to deal with this terrible scourge.

Gautam related their attempt to get to Beijing, where apparently you can land, but can’t leave. The upshot was they were “deported” straight from the transit lounge and managed to get an early flight to Cape Town.

The Melville Canadian Consulate and restaurant

The Melville Canadian Consulate and restaurant

Where the music and the struggle met

And the whole place was bulldozed to the ground in the mid-50’s, when Sophiatown was declared a “whites only” area.

Until they come with guns and bulldozers....

Until they come with guns and bulldozers….

Sophiatown was a private piece of land which the owner subdivided, hoping to attract white middle class buyers. But it was poorly located (near waste management plants), so he gave up on that and decided he would sell to whoever was interested. Turned out that a large number of black and coloured folks bought up the area and it became a very vibrant neighbourhood.

There were a number of gangs formed (The Americans, The Berliners) who ruled much as they do elsewhere, though most of them stole only from the rich (=whites). They even developed their own lingo, Tsotsitall. So when the cops were coming heading their way, folks would warn them using this secret language.

Sophiatown was where the music was, spawning ground for folks like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe and many more. Of course, this music was also part of the resistance to apartheid. People met at the ODIN theatre where they pretended to watch gangster movies while actually sitting in the back rows and planning the revolution. If you get hold of the 1951 version of “Cry the Beloved Country”, you will see some scenes filmed in Sophiatown.

There are only 3 buildings left of the original Sophiatown, one of them is now the Cultural Centre and that is where we started a walking tour of the area. It was a bit disappointing, since our guide could only point to places and say “that’s where…. used to be” But the museum had some great photos and write ups. And it was another blue sky sunny day in Joburg on Saturday 24th.


Sophiatown Cultural Centre and our guide (forgot her name!)

And now we are in the Dragon Mountains where Debbie is hiking and Catherine is not hiking. More on that in the next post.

So… that’s all for now, folks!


Debbie’s adventures in Game Land

On the way to Madikwe…I almost got arrested!

The N4 divided highway was great and at 120 km an hour, it proved to be clear sailing…until I got pulled over in Swartruggens at a speed trap. As you enter small towns the speed limit goes down to 60. I was leaving the town and assumed the speed limit had increased again. The highway patrol woman told me I was going 96 in a 60 km zone and showed me the chart with the respective list of fines. When I asked what my fine would be, she said that anything over 90 km  was automatic arrest. She said we’d have to go with her to the Police Station which was down the road. At which time Catherine asked whether we should contact the Canadian Embassy. She hesitated, I think having assumed we were locals. Catherine asked whether we could just pay the higher fine. She stated that no there was no higher fine; the penalty was arrest. At this point, I started to cry…This obviously got to her and she said, “Please don’t cry. Oh, just pay me R200 (the equivalent of $20 Can!)”. We thanked her and went on our way, realizing just what happened there. We were just implicated in bribery! Thinking back on the situation, there was definitely something fishy…she didn’t ask for my driver’s license; she didn’t show the picture of our car at the speed limit she asserted and why would she asked for a mere R200 when the fine for going 90 km was R800! She obviously pocketed the R200.

Mosetlha Bush Camp & Eco Lodge

Named after the Mosetlha tree, which grows in abundance in the Madikwe Game Reserve. It’s a very valuable tree providing food and shelter and its flowers are favoured by bees. It’s also know as the “toilet paper tree” because of it’s soft, feathery leaves. But one must beware to not confuse it with the similar Acacia tree, which has thorny spines along its leaves!

Our gracious hosts at Mosetlha. The owner, Chris is standing and Greg, the Manager. After each game drive they would meet us and debrief about our sightings and experiences.

Our gracious hosts at Mosetlha. The owner since 1995, Chris is standing and Greg, the Manager is seated. After each game drive they would meet us and debrief about our sightings and experiences. Chris just left the corporate world last year seeking to live a more peace existence..I think he’s found his niche..

The Madikwe Game Reserve is one of the closest game reserves to Johannesburg, about a 4 hour drive. This is the 4th largest game reserve in S.A., with just over 75,000 hectres of land. Bordered by Botswana to the north, the Dwarsberg Mountain range to the south and the Marico River to the east. The unique location supports a rich diversity of landscapes, from bushveld to dry, grassy, savanna plains to rocky outcrops and mountains, to natural streams, manmade damns and troughs running from the Marico River. The rich diversity of land lends to an unusual variety of game sighting. Our reason for being there!

“The little unpolished gem in Madikwe’s crown”

The Mosetlha Bush Camp is off grid, with no running water / electricity. This is the only eco-lodging within the Game Reserve. A maximum of 16 guests are accommodated in 8 cabins located around the perimeter of the camp. Facilities are rustic with comfortable beds in raised wooden cabins, open at the front and back but having canvass covers for privacy and to keep out the rain. The day we arrived it was 38 degrees, so the cross ventilation in the cabin  was a godsend. It’s surprising how quickly things cool off once the sun goes done.


Each night when we return from our evening game drive we were greeted with over a 100 oil lamps that grace the paths to our respective cabins and the central area where we share our evening meal together. It is a magical sight. At the centre of camp is the lapa, where the lounge, reference library and bar are located, the boma (fire pit and seating area) where we gather after evening dinners and the dining room with the massive table which comfortably seats 20 people  under the thatched roof.

A place to relax in the lapa.

A place to read, relax and cool off in at the lapa.

Our dining area

Our dining area at the Mosetlha Bush camp

The outdoor toilet and shower areas were impeccable given their bushveld rusticity. These are of roofed timber construction and fully surrounded by wire mesh fence (to keep out the animals). There are long drop, ventilated toilets with real wooden seats and never a smell. (Always a point of interest for us housing folk!) The showers used a traditional donkey boiler system.

And if you’re really interested…here’s the link to the UTube video by the owner’s daughter:

Basically here’s how it works: Cold water from the reservoir goes into the funnel, down into the metal barrel which is heated by the fire below and hot water comes out immediately on the other end. The hot water is then taken to the shower room and placed into the safari shower (a hanging metal bucket with a shower head attached to the bottom). That one bucket of water gives a 3 to 5 minutes shower. Amazing, simple technology and conserving water to boot! Do I ever feel guilty about the amount of water I use in my bathtub at home! Catherine and I actually preferred the cold, refreshing showers to cool off between game drives and after dinner before going to sleep

Bush Camp Schedule

5:00 am: wake up and relighting of oil lamps

5:30 am: morning game drive

7:30 am: coffee break on the bushveld

9:30 am: return from morning game drive & hearty breakfast

10:00-2:30: chatting, napping, checking reference library on game, bird, reptile and tortoise sightings and Catherine reading aloud the stories of Herman Charles Bosman: “a feast of S.A. best-loved tales” of the area!

2:30 pm: lunch is served & more chatting, napping, researching & reading

4:30 pm: evening game drive


At 6:30 we stop for our sundowner on the bushveld with our favourite libation. Justice, our trusted guide is on the far right. We shared our lovely vacation with folks from Amsterdam, Moscow and England.

8:30 pm: return from evening game drive & late dinner

10:00 pm: lights out

Sort of like summer camp as a kid! But way better.

4 days, 6 game drives

We were awoken each morning at 5:00 a.m., had coffee and fruit before leaving at 5:30 just as the sun was rising.


Stunning Madikwe sunrise with the unmistakable Leadwood trees skeletons

Perfect bird watching/listening time! Thanks to Richie, I’m always lucky when I wear my crow earrings she made. Although many S.A. birds were similar to ours (finches, starlings, doves, crows, buzzards, eagles, herons, ducks) there were many new birds to me (not that I’m a serious birder though): pied babbler, weavers of all kinds!, kites, hornbills, francolins, louries, nightjars, redbilled oxpeckers (we saw one go into a rhino’s ear!), many different kinds of shrikes, swifts and waxbills. One of the most interesting birds was the male Paradise Whydah. He has this incredible 23 cm tail on his 15 cm body. It’s there to attract the gals. Once he finishes mating, he no longer has need for this long appendage and he loses it.

Yellow billed Hornbill outside our cabin

Yellow billed Hornbill outside our cabin

Besides seeing “the big 5”! (elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino) we also saw many herds of prey, including: impalas, burchell zebras, wildebeests, kudus, giraffes, warthogs, red hartebeests, steenbok, gemsbok (oryx gazelle). They tend to hang together for protection against their predators: cheetahs, jackals, spotted hyaenas (also sighted) plus lions and leopards.


Red Hartebeest with her baby. Our cabin was named after this mammal.


A small herd of Wildebeests with their young.


Giraffes, a most elegant and regal species….


A Burchell Zebra and her baby. No zebra has the same pattern. Each is unique.


Female Kudu

Female Kudu with a Zebra in the background

Male Kudu

Male Kudu. Try and get a close up of the unusual shape of the horns. What a perfect setting.

Leopard Tortoise, one of the "little 5"

Leopard Tortoise, one of the “little 5” often seen crossing the roads

Justice: Our driver and field guide

He was fantastic. He knew exactly where and when to look for game, birds, reptiles, tortoises and the ever-incredible dung beetle. Catherine liked these guys the best of all!


The male is front centre and the attached female is off to the left.

The male dung beetle positions himself upside-down and uses his back legs to push the ball of elephant poo, while his female partner attaches herself and goes along for the ride. Once the ball gets to a sufficient size, they bury the ball and the female lays her eggs inside. When the larvae hatch they feed on the dung and eat their way out. Fascinating stuff those poop balls and beetles!

We lucked out in seeing a leopard!

There had been no leopard sighting in over 2 months at the Reserve. Justice knew she was around because another field guide spotted an impala kill up a tree; a sure sign of the leopard’s handywork. Leopards do this to keep scavengers, like hyaenas away from their kill. The next day, Justice took us back to the location, the kill was gone but we later sighted the leopard as she took off into the bush and then escaped into the culvert. I was able to get a picture before she escaped our vision; it was fleeting but worth it!


Leopards are solitary and exceptionally strong, having the ability to carry the large carcass of an animal up a tree away from scavengers.

Only 7 cheetahs at the Madikwe Game Reserve

We saw 4 bachelor cheetahs on two separate game rides. The males stay together. Justice told us that there are 2 females that are quarantined on the Reserve and they are just getting ready to release them. Hopefully, more cheetahs in future! Cheetahs are recognizable by their “tear stripe” leading down from the corner of their eye. They also have longer legs than leopards.


Lions: the most social of “the big cats”

They live in groups called prides, usually consisting of a male with several females and their cubs and maybe a few other males. Our first day out we saw a male and female together. Our last day we came upon a pride with 1 male and 4 females. Justice told us they were 2 pairs of twins. The male was getting on, at 10 years. The average life span of a male lion is 15 years. Males are constantly marking their territory by spraying and scuffing. We didn’t see any lion cubs because the females are currently contracepted to keep the numbers in check.

Lions are found in savanna grasslands with scattered Acacia trees, which serve as shade.

Lions are found in savanna grasslands with scattered Acacia trees, which serve as shade.

Rhinos: endangered species

There is a poaching crisis in S.A. due to the rhino horn demand from Asia. In 2011 alone there were 448 rhinos killed. Word has it that much of the poaching is due to inside jobs or from locals who are offered lots of money. There is quite a lobby effort in place in S.A. and more money has been put into anti-poaching park rangers that do surveillance of the reserve 24/7.

We only saw white rhinos. Black rhinos are now extremely rare. Most Game Reserves no longer publish their numbers to deter poachers. It is heartbreaking to know this cutting off of the horns and the killing of these animals continues to occur on a regular basis.

Rhinos love to roll in the mud. It not only helps them cool off but the mud acts as a sunscreen and insect repellent. I guess we’ll be rolling in the mud come July in Ottawa. I’m sure this is hard to fathom given the deep-freeze temperatures now…


The female rhino has the larger horn


African Buffalo: this guy gets to be on the back of the 100 Rand banknote

There were a few African Buffalo and their babies that roam through the bush camp due to it being unfenced. This aspect adds greatly to the experience of being in a true bush camp. They’re attracted to the watering hole located in front of Chris’ house, the owner of the eco-lodge. Apparently they can be one of the most dangerous animals in the bush. One came crashing through camp one night. Luckily I was sound asleep. Another night, upon arriving from our 4 hour evening game drive, around 9:30 we came upon one almost charging into the Land Rover. Other times we’d see them in the distance, but given I only had a pocket camera with limited zoom capability, I’m afraid I never had the opportunity to get a picture. Pictures of rhinos, however are everywhere…for it’s on the back of R$100 banknote. Worth about $10.00 Canadian. In fact all “the big 5” are on the back of the South African banknotes, with Mandala, of course on the front. Only the leopard rates higher, on the 200 Rand banknote!

Who is the favourite of them all…?

Of course the blog would not be complete without reference to the all time favourite of the big 5, the elephant. We saw many elephants, only bulls, however and no babies…There is a popular folklore that elephants get drunk on the fruit of the Marula tree (which also grow in abundant at the Reserve) but wildlife specialists argue that they could not possibly eat the huge quantities to compensate for their enormous size. Amarula is a popular after dinner liquour made from this fruit tree. It was served on my KLM flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. Similar to Bailey’s.


There comes a point when you just need to get from behind the camera and be in the moment with the animals when they are displaying the fullness of their behavioural traits, the things that so fascinate us about these amazing creatures the elephant bulls playing with one another, interlocking their tusks and wrapping their trunks around each other before heading off to cool down and spray themselves at their favourite watering hole.


… And there was the night display as the “king of the jungle” roared many times as we sat in awe listening and watching. The sound does not come from his throat. It comes from the very pit of his belly and we could see the reverberation of his body as he roared. It was an enthralling experience to be apart of. To see all these animals in their natural environment is such a privilege and so awesome.


Not only can he roar but check out the paws on this king of the jungle…

We are indeed lucky gals…!