I have a school friend called Carol who has lived out of the country since the mid 1970s but has returned often since the 1990s. Recently her mother died. She had been living at a frail care facility down on the southern Cape coast and had been looked after with loving gentleness by wonderful care-givers. The funeral was on the Friday, the cremation followed and Carol received the ashes on the Monday, the day before she was due to fly back ‘home’. She, her sister and the caregiver took ‘Mom’s ashes’ to the shoreline at the mouth of a river. Finally realizing that the box was sealed not with a hinged lid but with screws, battling against a vigorous coastal wind, clutching the flowers to be sent out to sea with ‘Mom’s ashes’, and teetering on uneven rocks, all presented their own challenges under the emotional circumstances. Nearby was a local fisherman who was watching all this with interest. He came up and asked them if they were wanting to scatter ashes. After accepting that they didn’t want to bury the ashes in their garden, he helped to open the box with his bait knife which he stabbed into the sand to clean. He watched them go through the ritual from a respectful distance, and then came forward and quietly tapped Veronica, the care-giver, on her shoulder and asked “Have you said a prayer?” Veronica said, “We will say the Lord’s Prayer”. My friend Carol has the long-lasting memory of standing on the edge of the sea with her sister, and Veronica, who had cared so lovingly for her mother for the last 6 years, and a fisherman called Daniel – hitherto a complete stranger – all holding hands, with bowed heads and bidding her beloved Mom a final farewell. It is these connections on such a deep human level that make this country so extraordinary. And there are many more stories like this.
The disastrous 2008 power outages in Gauteng and the recent announcements of shocking electricity price hikes, (45% for the next 3 years), bring into focus yet again the political nature of electrical power. There has long been a contest and tussle between municipal power supply and national power supply. The city of Johannesburg historically generated its power from various city power stations: 2 power stations in Newtown, President St 1907 and Jeppe St 1927 -1934; Orlando power station was completed in 1942 and 2 more stations in Kelvin followed in the 1950s. However, the city power stations were not the only providers of power to Johannesburg. The mines, from their earliest days in the late 19th century, had contracted out their own power supply, initially to a great number of companies. In 1910 all these companies had been bought by the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Company (VFP). This company supplied not only the mines, but also areas outside of Johannesburg. Post WWI, increasing industrialization led to the need to electrify the railways. This in turn led to the Electrical Act of 1922 under which the Electricity Supply Commission (Eskom) was established. From this point on, all proposals for new power stations had to be submitted to Eskom and there was an increasing move towards state control of a national grid-based power supply. In 1948 (the year the Nationalist Government came to power) the VFP was bought by Eskom. By the early 1970s Eskom, through refusing permission for new power stations, began to force the City to buy its power and accept being part of the national grid. We are now in a situation where Eskom sells power to City Power, who in turn sell it on to the consumer. With a planned 45% hike from Eskom every year, ironically the light at the end of the tunnel has become extremely expensive.
Except for Sunday evening, Ami is open everyday for lunch and dinner. So … one of the few restaurants open on a Monday evening. The menu has also been changed so light salad lunches and sandwiches are now on offer – all very reasonably priced. The dinner menu is varied and reflects the expertise of the new chef (who was previously the chef on SA’s world famous luxury Blue Train). We have a special arrangement with Ami restaurant whereby, at no charge, you will be driven back to Liz at Lancaster at the end of your meal. And should you be travelling on your own and not want to eat out, Ami will deliver a plated meal from their menu to Liz at Lancaster. Ami also has an exceptional range of Champagnes (around 16 names) and at least 12 Cap Classiques (South African ‘bubblies’), as well as a very extensive, unusual and reasonable wine list. Enjoy a glass of Bubbly with some Southern African oysters (from Knysna or Namibia). High teas are planned over week-end afternoons and there will be a special South African Sunday lunch once a month. See blog of 12th July with photos.
A bronze sculpture of a lone man seated on a chair and holding his precious saxophone, was unveiled on 25th September.
Located outside the ‘original’ Kippies Jazz club in Newtown, and designed by Guy Du Toit and Egon Tania, a second empty chair encourages the spectator to sit next to the figure of Kippie Morolong Moeketsi after whom the famous Club was named when it was built in 1987. Modelled somewhat bizarrely on the still extant Edwardian toilet, about 200 metres to the north to the side of the parking lot, the jazz bar was funded by Anglo Vaal to seat about 80 people.
The building was closed down in 2005 after it was found to have major structural flaws. The club was moved down to the former Songwriters’ Club in Quinn Street in 2006, but was closed again in 2008. The refurbished 1987 Kippies building will become an events space and a jazz museum rather than a music venue. Kippie Moeketsi, who played with many of the jazz greats such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Jonas Gwangwa, Hugh Masakela, amongst others, died destitute in 1983 at the age of 58 after many years of alcohol abuse
Project 2010 [Issue 157] reports: ‘National Arts Festival organisers are in the throes of putting together a massive programme to coincide with the 2010 World Cup. The Herald reports that the 2010 festival in Grahamstown has been extended to 15 days from the normal 10 and the hopes are that soccer fans will pour into the City of Saints to lap up South African art and culture.Grahamstown-based festival director Ismail Mahomed said festinos could look forward to shows from every continent in addition to the best South African theatre had to offer.’
If you want to read a gripping courtroom drama and get a sense of South Africa in the dark days of the late 1980s you cannot miss Peter Harris’ book In a Different Time. Published in 2008, Harris’ page-turning drama won the Bookseller’s Choice Award and the prestigious Alan Paton Award in 2009. The book tells the story 4 MK operatives, known as the Delmas Four, who were put on trial for murder in the small East Rand town of Delmas in the late eighties. Harris, as their lawyer, narrates their story. Refusing to testify because they argued they were soldiers, not criminals, the story of their trial and sentencing is completely gripping. Woven in with this narrative is the ongoing presence of a parcel bomb sent from Vlakplaas that ends up being sent to an unintended address. Apart from giving insight into the ANC armed struggle and secret police hit squads, the book (as the quoted from the cover summary) ‘paints a picture – at times poignant, at times devastating – of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events’. Do NOT miss this book.
Don’t miss the major retrospective exhibition of Alexis Preller’s work which opened last night at the Standard Bank Gallery in Joburg CBD. Attended by several hundred people, the exhibition was opened by Esme Berman, well-known researcher on South African art, who co-curated the exhibition with Karel Nel (artist, curator, collector and teacher). Some 60 works construct an historical overview of Preller’s output. and to enrich our understanding of this engimatic artist is a section which deals with material and objects from both Preller’s own personal collection (often quite curio-type), as well as objects from other collections which are similar to those that formed part of his ‘memory-bank’. Accompanying the exhibition is a limited edition double volume book co-authored by Nel and Berman. Published in a very manageable size (some 23 by 26 cm) the books are completely visually seductive, with wonderful juxtapositions of source material and excellent reproductions of Preller’s works. Karel Nel’s extraordinary eye for aesthetic detail is evident in both the exhibition layout and display, as well as his input into Kevin Shentons layout and design of the books.
A superb Johannesburg exhibition ends on Saturday 10th October. If you are local get there if you can. If you are an international traveler, contact Sally Thompson of The Thompson Gallery in Melville (firstname.lastname@example.org or phone on 011-482-2039) for access to Sally Gaule’s photographs of Johannesburg. The Jo’burg Gini takes its title from the Gini coefficient which is the measure of inequalities of income or wealth distribution. Gaule used an old analogue film camera and her photographs are all hand printed. Speaking of the layering of histories and the identity of place, Gaule’s photographs are richly satisfying in their evocation of the inner city of Joburg, with all its vibrancy and contradictions. All the works are very reasonably priced at R3000 (including framing).
Alexandra Township, commonly known as Alex is a mere 4 km from the heart of the wealthy CBD of Sandton. Home to some 350-400,000 people it covers an area of about 28 square km. (Compare this to Soweto’s +/- 150 sq kms and ca 1.7 million people.) Present day Alex is divided roughly into 3 areas. Old Alex or the West bank (ie West of the Juskei River which runs through Alex) is where most of the shack dwellings are found, while middle class residents live in mainly brick houses on the East Bank. 1 700 freestanding, semi-detached and simplex units were developed in Tsutsumani Village on the Far East bank during the All Africa Games in 1999. These are now occupied by Alexandrans who were on the housing waiting list and qualified in terms of certain criteria.
As far as the tourist visit, Alex takes a back seat when compared to Soweto, being less of an international household name. However, recent guests from Australia who stayed here at Liz at Lancaster (and who also visited Soweto) really preferred their Alex experience which they found more immediate, warm and vibrant. They were driven there by Clio of ATT (who also arranged for a lunch at his relatives’ house in Alex) and their guide was Linky Ramodike (+27 83 474 5886). There are a number of other guides available, all of whom will collect from Liz at Lancaster: Gerson Rasehlo Tel (mobile) +27 82 927 9919 email@example.com or Rachel Phasha Tel (mobile) +27 76 385 4574; Rachel can also be contacted through www.openafrica.org/route/alexandra-township-of-rhythm-route So, if you can fit it in, try to make a visit to Alex a part of your itinerary.
Alex was established in 1904 by Stephen Papenfus who named the area after his wife Alexandra. As it proved to be too far from the city centre to be viable as a white residential township, Papenfus began selling land off to black buyers and in 1912 the settlement was proclaimed a Native Township. Because it was established before the infamous Land Act of 1913 (which restricted black ownership to 8% of the country’s land), it was one of the few urban areas where black people could own their properties. By 1916 the Alexandra Health Committee was established to manage Alexandra, with inadequate funds for a settlement which now accommodated around 30 000 people. Alex has been the Cinderella of Gauteng townships with continued underdeveloped infrastructure and often non-existent services. Parts of Alex (particularly the older parts) still bear testimony to the lack storm water drainage, resulting in potholes and dongas; lack of proper water supply with one tap serving several households; lack of refuse collection; inadequate street lighting; and overcrowded shack settlements
Alex has long been associated with resistance and contestation. During the 1940s and 50s there were bus boycotts to prevent an increase in bus fares and in 1957 there was strong resistance against the enforced use of municipal beer halls. In the early 1960s the Nationalist government decided to turn Alex into a hostel city which meant that families would be forcibly removed from Alex and single sex hostels housing migrant labour would be built. Although only 3 hostels were built (now redeveloped into family units), between the late 1950s to the early 1970s some 71000 residents were moved to Soweto and Tembisa on the East Rand. In 1963 some 2000 property owners were stripped of their freehold rights.
In 1986, with the abolition of influx control (the apartheid government’s means of controlling the movement of blacks from rural to urban areas), shacks began to go up everywhere. According to Paulene Morris ( ‘Alexandra township – A history, lessons for urban renewal and some challenges for planners’ unpublished paper 2000), shacks increased from 7,352 to 20,000 by the early 1990s. This stretched the already inadequate services and infrastructure to even more unmanageable proportions. Many who had built shacks on the banks of the Juskei (below the flood line) were forcibly removed in 2001 and relocated to another informal settlement (Diepsloot) about 30 km away. This move was very unpopular with many saying it recalled the apartheid era forced removals.
During the early 1990s prior to the first democratic elections, Alex was the site of violent clashes between residents of the two men’s hostels – ostensibly between the two opposing parties of the Zulu Inkatha Fredom Party (IFP) and the ANC. In early 1992 some 60 people were killed and nearly 600 people were injured and around 10 000 people were displaced from their homes. (Morris, as above)
In February 2001 President Thabo Mbeki announced the Alexandra Renewal Project, a presidential project set to uplift the township, with an allocated budget of 1.3 billion over 8 years. Much has been done: new houses have been built, over 3000 trees have been planted, a new primary school as well as a library have been built, the 80 million rand Alexandra shopping plaza was opened in 2005, the 16,000m2, Pan Africa Shopping Centre opened in May 2009, and the Alexandra Tourism Association was initiated. (See also Ndaba Dlamini ‘Alex renewal on course’ www.joburgnews.co.za 28/11/05 and Ndaba Dlamini ‘Alex set to make its business mark’ www.alexandra.co.za 08/04/09) Bu there is still much to be done.
Alex’s fraught history has been compounded by the recent additions of shack developments to house immigrants from neighbouring countries, primarily Malawians and Zimbabweans, immigrants who then became the ta
There has been a long silence on my blog as I was out of action for a couple of weeks in September. So energy levels coming back and lots to catch up on. The rains have come, the days are crisp and clear with new spring shoots washed and sparkling, and the dry and burnt dustbowl of nearby Delta Park has transformed into a softer more inviting green parkland. With the Spring Art Tour this weekend the Joburg art scene is buzzing. Part of the first stage of the REA VAYA (Bus Rapid Transport system) is up and running (took a ride myself); it’s 247 days to World Cup Soccer and the press is buzzing with revelations being made in the current trials of various public officials. There is lot’s on the go.