Monthly Archives: February 2015

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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-script:

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:

http://www.inyourpocket.com/southafrica/johannesburg/Joburg-Graffiti_73484f

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

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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.

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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!