Monthly Archives: December 2014

Where is everybody?

Don't atheists  get a happy new year too?

Don’t atheists get a happy new year too?

It’s true, everything in S.A. shuts down mid-December and nothing much happens till mid-January. Every email gets bounced back with an “out of office” message, my favourite coffee shop is closing at noon today until Jan. 19th. And there’s no traffic in town, other than taxi vans full of folks “going home” for the holidays.

Work, what’s that?

So, there’s nothing to report on the work front. I’m planning a workshop early February with my RESHI (?) (Rapidly-expanding Social Housing Institutions) to discuss their property management systems (computer programs, basically). My back door wish is that they will agree to work on a sector-wide system that could be managed through NASHO, but we’ll see.
One thing I’ve learned about systems is that every social housing provider hates theirs but is always reluctant to move to a new system. Devil you know and all that…

16 Days of Activism

From November 25 (UN day for Elimination of Violence) until December 10 (Human Rights Day), people are encouraged to participate in actions and events to highlight the need to reduce violence against women and children. There’s lots of media coverage, people calling in to talk shows, banners and parades, bike and foot runs.  And on the street where I work, I felt something as I passed under a tree on my noon walkabout.

An angel on Main St.

An angel on Main St.

The angel's story

The angel’s story

Yesterday in the Star there was a report about the allocation of widow’s pensions. Apparently the allocation panel takes into account the widow’s “marriage prospects” when making their decision. So if the widow is young and attractive, she’s not as likely to receive benefits. ARRGH! There’s some activism required on that file, I’d say…

Drug safety

At the DisChem, where I had to line up for 30 minutes to buy some Ibuprofen, which is kept behind the counter, I was pleased to see that no one could steal my drugs while I walked back to the other 15 minute line up for the cashiers. My 200mg pills were jailed for the duration and only “released” once I’d paid up and the cashier snipped off the plastic tie!

Now, there's a system!

Now, there’s a system!

And the receipt slip came with this affirmation from my cashier, Ntombele: “Always remember you are BRAVER than you believe, STRONGER than you seem, SMARTER that you think and twice as BEAUTIFUL as you’d ever IMAGINED!”  Better than ibuprofen…

Informal Economy, part II:

Since I arrived, I’ve had to duck around the 7th Street hawkers who sell their “beadwork” to tourists. I’ve not been entirely successful, but I have been adopted by Shepherd. He is my official hawker, much to the dismay of the others.

He is my Shepherd...

He is my Shepherd…

The City of Joburg does have a formal recycling program, at least in my neighbourhood where people are given special bags, one for paper and one for plastic/metal/glass. However, there is a very large informal economy of “binners”.  We see them in downtown Ottawa too, of course, looking through blue bins on garbage day. Most of the guys here are either from Zim or some other nearby country and can’t get work permits.

Next stop, 41 Florence porch

Next stop, 41 Florence porch

Recycling and traffic calming!

Recycling and traffic calming!

They walk in the middle of the street, pulling these large plastic bins on a makeshift cart system. It’s very dangerous and dirty work.

They mostly live either on the street or in dismal flophouses, sharing floor space in shifts.



 The Rusty Radiator awards

Are put out each year by the Norwegian Students and Academics’ International Assistance Fund. They are meant to remind people that “foreign aid” comes with a whole bunch of misconceptions and that we need to think twice (three times) about how we “help”.

Watch this, it is hilarious!

Only four more sleeps…

Until my Christmas present arrives at OR Tambo. Yes, Debbie is due in at 10 PM on Xmas and that will be soooo good.

If anyone is looking for help with Christmas shopping, I think a gift certificate for a session with Professor Musa would be a great stocking stuffer:

This guy could replace Dr. Phil. 100% guarantee!

This guy could replace Dr. Phil. 100% guarantee!

That’s it for now, folks




One more rat changes the world…

and “Africa” becomes a non-colonized continent. In a scenario where everyone in Europe gets wiped out by the plague, by 1355 no one is left to “colonize” other parts of the world. Swedish artist Nicolaj Cyon was intrigued enough with this idea that he re-mapped the continent.alkebu-lan-1260In this non-eurocentric map (merci Michel), where Alkebu-lan is actually at the top of the map, the countries are aligned by languages and peoples and have no relation to current borders. For more on this, check out: map of africa

The Canucks are coming,the Canucks are coming…

Yet another Canadian invasion this week, when eight Rooftops Canada visitors arrived in Joburg. This is the Study Tour contingent and I was part of it two years ago, when I fell in love with Joburg.

They spent a week in Nairobi first, visiting Rooftops partner NACHU, a wonderful union of housing cooperatives making miracles with so little. Right now, Rooftops is helping with NACHU members’ struggle to bring potable water to their homes. As one coop member says: “Water has no alternative. If you cannot install electricity, you can use a kerosene lamp, but water has to be water,” – Peninah Wanbua. So, if you haven’t yet checked it out, here is a bit more info on the work we are doing there: Water in Kenya

Apart from having some lovely dinners at various Joburg eateries, the visitors had a full agenda, including a day in Soweto, and walking in Hillbrow with Josie Adler (always an eye-opener!). I spent most of Saturday with them, visiting Constitution Hill, which is the old prison site, now turned into a museum and new building housing the Constitutional Court. It is a very well used public space and while we were walking around a terrible memorial to those who were jailed and tortured for believing in human rights, there was a huge Peoples’ Pride event, mainly attended by a very young GBLT crowd. These “born frees” were celebrating on the same spot where they would have been put into solitary only 20 years ago.

The visitors headed out to CapeTown on Wednesday and will be flying home soon. They will bring with them some incredible stories and share them with Canadian colleagues. If you get an opportunity, take one of them out for lunch or better yet, have them come speak to your bridge club or church group or work colleagues and, if you work for a social housing organization, your Board!

Constitution Hill

Constitution Hill

Roland, Keith, cb, Hugh, Shelagh, Vanessa & Heather @ the Leopard

Roland, Keith, cb, Hugh, Shelagh, Vanessa & Heather @ the Leopard

Hey Melissa, nice rug you got there!

a girl and her kitty

a girl and her kitty

Melissa Bachman, who apparently has a hunting show in Minnesota or somewhere, has now bagged herself a lion. There are indeed sanctioned areas where these animals can be legally hunted. If you have the cash (not cheap!), you too can go canned hunting for lions. These animals are actually bred to be hunted and killed. They’re penned up until a hunter books a kill and then they’re released into a fenced area where they can be “tracked down” (like fish in a barrel).

This great “conservation technique” is applauded by many and reminds me of Ducks Unlimited in Canada, which sounds like they might care about ducks, but really…. (guess the rest).

Oh, how many Strategic Planning Sessions must one attend?

Well, this week it was NASHO’s turn to have a 2 day facilitated workshop about it’s 3 year strategy. Unlike at CCOC, we did not make alien-proof hats out of aluminium foil, but we did use a lot of post-its and masking tape!

financial sustainability, branding, lobbying, fish paste

financial sustainability, branding, lobbying, blah blah fish paste

Of course, some of the discussion was about member dues (how much, who pays more/less) and all that took me back to many similar debates at the ONPHA table, and then later at CHRA. And then there are user fees…That delicate dance of associations – how much are members willing to pay to help others?  I always think of the fable by La Fontaine about the lion and the mouse, and remind people that the big guys need to agree to pay more so that the little guys can survive. Because sometimes the little guys have more political heft. On a souvent besoin d’un plus petit que soi.

All in all, it was a good two days. Those who came were engaged and the suggestions were made with thought and care. It will mean more work for staff, as these sessions always do. But there were offers of help from the members and I know they are willing to make sure NASHO continues as the effective representative of the social housing sector.

"and now we're going to break up into groups...."

“and now we’re going to break up into groups….”


The Informal economy, part I

As you can imagine, with an unemployment rate of over 25%, South Africans find ways to earn cash without the help of a regular job. In my neighbourhood (cool Melville) there are many “hawkers” who try to sell  their wares to tourists and locals. These two mammies work 7th Street, just up the block from my home. The one in the red skirt is Busiwa, I can’t remember the other gogo’s name.  Joseph sells household cleaning tools to the large informal economy ladies who arrive from Alexandra or Hillbrow every morning to all the Melville houses to clean and look after the kids.

how do they do that???

how do they do that??


"get your brooms, get your mops...."

“get your brooms, get your mops….”

And the reindeers are prancing…

At the mall, the seasonal fever is on. It’s strange to walk around in a hawaiian shirt and sandals and be surrounded by snowflakes, elf hats and snowmen, and even stranger when you think that the holiday is a celebration of something that happened in Egypt, but there’s no avoiding the hype.

Everything is big in Africa!

Everything is big in Africa!

I’ve been humming a terrible and beautiful song from one of the true geniuses of American music, Randy Newman. It’s not for everyone, so it comes with a warning. Here’s “Christmas in Cape Town”:

December 5 today

And it’s year since Nelson Mandela died. Much died with him, it seems…

Rest, Madiba, rest now

Rest, Madiba, rest now

That’s it for now, folks.