Monthly Archives: July 2014

What, no more FIFA?

And now we’re on  to the Commonwealth Games! I’ve started a group with a few other gogos to have Aquafitness (or “Splash”, as it’s called here) entered in the next round. The rivalry for hosting is between Edmonton and Durban. I’m rooting for Durban!

I started going to my local Virgin Active gym last week and realized quickly that I was missing some equipment for the Splash classes. Everyone here is expected to have all the gear, so I’m now fully fitted!!

"I am from France...."

“I am from France….”

Housing, it’s all about politics:  Well, everything is always about politics, but here it’s really all about politics.

The Social Housing Regulatory Agency (SHRA), which is the overseer and funder of social housing, had a huge shake up some months ago and the CEO as well as the COO were both “moved out of the organization”. Turns out there were a few skeletons in the closet and probably more to come. One story is that some private sector company in Eastern Cape was given all the capital money up front to build a social housing development but nothing every got built and the money is long gone. That kind of thing….

So, just as the SHRA is re-tooling itself, there’s an election and a new Minister of Human Settlements is appointed. Turns out she’s also the old Minister, who delivered 27,000 units a year under her first mandate. Now things are happening really slowly, if at all.

This minister is Lindiwe Sisulu, the daughter of famous couple, Albertina and Walter Sisulu ( She is referred to as the Princess (kind of like Diana, in some ways). She has a fabulous wardrobe and the opposition leader called her “Barbie” last week and was reprimanded in the House.

Let’s see, how can I ‘splain this.  Julius Malema is the head of the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters), the offishul opposition. They remind me of a hybrid of early Reform, early Knee Dippers and some Social Credit thrown in. So, one of their big statements is that they all wear red overalls to work. For this, they have been thrown out of the Provincial legislature here in Gauteng and responded by demonstrating and breaking some windows and stuff.

So, how does this relate to social housing policy? Not sure, but if the level of political debate is about what you wear to work, not much good can come of it!

Anyway, Lindiwe made her maiden speech last week and has now decided that the housing stuff has to ramp up big time and she wants to revive the idea of “mega projects” (this is not good, believe me). She also indicated that the SHRA might be rolled into the National Department of Human Settlements (also not good, I’m pretty sure). Anyway, all this is making reasonable long/mid-term planning kind of impossible for most of the SHI’s, as you can imagine.

I’m just keeping my head down and plugging away. Whoa, that sounds like a perfect bureaucrat!

imagine the NDP caucus in orange overalls....

imagine Tom & the NDP caucus (in orange, of course…)

Another icon of the struggle dies: 

Nadine Gordimer, a writer and activist, died at home in Joburg on July 13th. She was 92 and had a long life fighting the good fight. I read her back in the days (while not eating grapes and granny smiths). It was very sad to see that, on July 14th, the headline in the papers was all about Oscar Pistorius being drunk and getting into a fight in a bar! Gordimer’s death was on page 3.

I listened to some great interviews on Elinor Wachtel’s show:

What would Tom Thompson Think?

Every morning I pass by this huge pine tree. I noticed some strange fruit growing on it, then I looked closely at the tree bark….

I hear Eric Darwin ranting....

I hear Eric Darwin ranting….

It for now, folks.








Aiishhh, and you thought Canadians talk about the weather….

My new besties: 


instead of insulation and central heating…..

I broke down and bought a blanket and h/w bottle to put at the bottom of the bed.  Although I generally hate winter in Canada, at least we know that investing in insulation and double glazed windows is a good idea. Never mind central heating!

Here, people go around with wool coats, scarves and toques, even while eating in restaurants or sitting at their desk. And they complain about the cold all the time. It’s like being in an elevator on Sparks Street in mid-January….

Canada Day:  I moved and, although I had registered with the Canadian Consulate to let me know about any events, I wasn’t invited to anything. So, my colleague, the lovely Joan, provided some Canuck cheer on my desk July 2nd.

Et c'est bilingue!

Et c’est bilingue!

South-West Township (SOWETO)

On Sunday last I visited Soweto. The acronym is kind of like SOHO (South of Houston in NYC or something about rabbit hunting in London) but does not have the same marketing cachet!

Soweto was a defined black neighbourhood, part of the town planning of apartheid. In part because of it’s location very close to the Joburg centre, it has had a special part in the history of black struggle. I was escorted by Charmaine, and we spent the day walking and taking the local  taxi vans to get around.


Charmaine on the left and her partner Virginia on the right. We’re having late lunch on Vilikazi Street.

There are three main historical sites in Soweto: Regina Mundi Church, Kliptown Plaza and Hector Pieterson Square/Museum.

Charmaine lives in Kliptown (in a rent-to-own scheme by JOSHCO, the Joburg City Housing Company).

There is a plaza where, in 1955, people gathered to adopt a seminal document, The Freedom Charter ( It’s a pretty good read and was the basis of much of the current South African Constitution. In the plaza there is a silo-like brick structure which houses a walk around sculpture spelling out the Charter in bronze. When one looks up to the top of the structure, we see this:


the four directions and the first ballot

According to the old guy who “guides” you, it represents the four directions and the “X” on the side represents a vote. The dude walked me around the Charter, pointing out where things were going ok or not so good (He gave the housing part only 50% rating!). At the end, he played the SA anthem on his little plastic recorder.

Then we crossed the railway tracks and got to another part of Kliptown. Soweto is a huge township and has a great diversity of neighbourhoods and housing. This is the part that still needs so much work:

One outside tap for dozens of families. Portable toilets, electricity stolen from the railway system

One outside tap for dozens of families. Portable toilets, electricity stolen from the railway system

But even here, there is beauty and humour.

Elvis chicken in Kliptown

The Chicken King, Kliptown

In another part of Soweto, there was a dramatic event in 1976 which helped to galvanize not only people working on the struggle here, but also resonated across the world. Black students had been told that, in addition to getting education which was a much poorer cousin of that afforded white kids (sound familiar?), they would now be taught some very important subjects in Afrikaans rather than English. Now only spoken in South Africa by the Dutch Boers who first colonized the country, this language had no usefulness other than to better serve the white masters.

So the children of Soweto took to the streets and demonstrated against this. On July 16, 1976, thousands of them marched to the Orlando stadium. The police actually shot at the kids, and killed 12-year old Hector Pieterson (and hundreds more over the next few weeks!). Hector’s death was recorded on camera and his death became an icon of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Hector Pieterson, carried by Mbuyisa Makhubu

Hector Pieterson, carried by Mbuyisa Makhubu, July 1976

There is now an interesting story coming out of Canada about Mbuyisa being held in detention in Toronto. (

I have to admit that my only contribution to the anti-apartheid movement was refusing to eat South African grapes and oranges, as part of the boycott of goods from here. I can’t think this had any great impact, but between South Africa and the Cesar Chavez boycotts, I didn’t really eat a grape for most of the eighties.

And back at the cottage:

Sometimes I get lonesome and like to think of home:

my friends saying "hi"

my friends saying “hi”

And now that I don’t have a washer anymore, I have to go to the laundromat.  I guess I’m lucky to get home with all my socks and undies!

good to know....

good to know….

Talk later.