Monthly Archives: March 2015

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!