We Shall Fly

“The sad reality is that the chances these youngsters who have passed Matric, but who are functionally illiterate and innumerate, will ever get employed is very low. Statistics and our experience show that if learners don’t get employed during their first few years of leaving school, their chances of getting jobs later decline dramatically. As the years pass their opportunity of entering the work world just get lower and lower,”
“Angie Motshekga's education claims - the true score”

                                                                              Mandy de Waal: Daily Maverick – 27 January 2013


The class of 2013’s matric results were released early in January and our Angie seems well pleased with the pass rate of 74%, an increase of 3.7% on the previous year. Great stuff. Problem is that it means that most school leavers – now striving to enter the job market or further their studies - might not be able to do simple sums and are still functionally illiterate. It’s becoming more and more obvious that government’s education system is farcical which stacks the odds against matriculants finding meaningful employment. If I still had kids of school going-age I would rather home school them, or maybe send them to Albert Street school in Marshalltown – The Little School That Can.

The results achieved at the school, whose learners are largely refugee children are miraculous.

There’s no government support, they are reliant on donations and its and ongoing struggle to feed and clothe the more than 100 orphans who considers the school their home and only constant in their lives
Against all odds, Albert Street School class of 2012 of 35 learners achieved a 100% pass rate. Even more astounding is that these kids wrote the internationally recognized Cambridge O level exams which standards are far higher than that of the South African educational system.

All of them have university exemption.

Most of the kid’s short lives are filled with hardship and trauma before finding a safe haven under the care of Bishop Paul Verryn and William Kandowe, Albert Street’s principal. I employed one of the school leavers on a casual basis for a year end stock take in December. Nyson is as sharp as a tack. He fled from Zimbabwe barely a teenager, crossing the border into South Africa illegally trying to find work in the Musina area with farmers. His family was starving and he was desperate to find a way to support them. Eventually he found a job as a farm labourer for less than R50 per week. He got news that his mother died in Zimbabwe and when he wanted to attend the burial his kind employer dismissed him not paying him his wages.
But life under the rule of the right honourable Robert Gabriel Mugabe is harsh and he returned to South Africa, ending up on the streets of Johannesburg - and eventually on the pews of the Methodist Church in Hillbrow. Nyson wants to study Engineering, but as a refugee orphan – even with asylum status - has little hope of doing so as there is little chance for get financial assistance. 

The miracles created by Principal William Kandowe and the teachers together with the kids of Albert Street are awe inspiring.   I often visit the school without prior arrangement and get the warm fuzzies when I pop into the library. This was opened more than a year ago converting a ruin into the Field of Dreams library. Kids are checking out books between classes, reading in the aisles, playing chess, doing homework and clamouring to use the Sunshine online reading programme. 

The library and the two classrooms built with a little help of my friends is by far the most fulfilling project I’ve ever been involved in and the results being achieved keeps me involved.

These Three

Graffiti archeology is a passion and I’ve built good relationships with a number of artists.  There are many detractors to this art form but I firmly believe that it has a role to play in inner city as well as rural communities. It brings colour and vibrancy onto drab walls in places denuded of beauty. It’s also a medium kids strongly identify with.

Towards the end of last year I asked Breeze Yoko,  an independent film maker and a prominent figure on the South African street art scene, to do a piece at the school.   Mid December I got a message that he’s ready to rock and to my great surprise he roped in some other well-known painters, HacOne which with Breeze are members of the Time Keepers Crew, and Fuzzy Slippers a Pretoria based painter. They created a beautiful mural on the outside of the library, generously giving their time, own materials and above all their ability to create magic on a wall acting as their canvass.  I watched them painting magical birds well after dark,  Breeze high on a rickety ladder muttering “I created a lot of work for myself” while painstakingly added fine details like the pattern on a jersey, or detail in a huge orange hairdo.

Hairdresser 1

There are now three murals at the school and a number of artists want to contribute their bit and the school will, over time, become a joyous riot of colour. Aaah Mrs. Rose how very wrong you were when being instrumental in removing the mural from that school in “The Village” without paying attention to what’s relevant and right in a modern Jozi – a melting pot of race and culture
Feeding the 100 orphan children attending the school remains a huge challenge. The ongoing contributions of Oresti Patricios CEO of Ornico Group, The Union of Jewish Women and the fruit and vegetables donated by Gastaldi Distributors in Pretoria have gone a long way to ease the situation.

I recently learnt about Reel Gardening and Reel Life, a revolutionary food gardening method refined and patented by Claire Reid. Reel Gardening has a proven track record in the establishment of gardens in disadvantaged communities. Seeds are planted in strips that are pre-fertilized which ensure that the seeds are planted at the correct depth and distance apart. Reel Gardens recons that their method saves up to 80% of water consumption.

This, as far as I’m concerned can be an ideal vehicle for the orphans of Albert Street to become more self-sufficient. I approached some of the donors that through the years have been unstinting in their financial support of Albert Street School. Mills Litho, The Union of Jewish Women and a private donor donated the startup capital.

Rose Garden

This morning we did a site inspection in Soweto and the soil for the first phase of a 400 square meter vegetable garden will be prepared over the next couple of days.

This will hopefully add another chapter to the inspirational story of the Little School that Can.



Man of Steel
A great photograph can capture a moment in time, a majestic space, and may even move your soul - but it’s a one-dimensional art form. It cannot encapsulate the experience of being at one with a magical place in an almost fifth dimensional way. 

On a whistle-stop business trip earlier in the week through the KwaZulu Natal midlands I made a quick detour to the piece of road outside Howick where Nelson Mandela was captured on 5 August 1962.

I’ve seen a number of photographs of the Marco Cianfanelli sculpture unveiled last year at the place now known as “The Capture Site”. Meeting Mandela up close and personal against the backdrop of green rolling hills was an almost spiritual experience

Here, a half century ago, police flagged down the car in which Madiba was driving, disguised as a chauffeur.  He’s been on the run from the apartheid regime for 17 months.  He just paid a clandestine visit to ANC President Albert Luthuli, who became Africa’s first Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 1960.

Mandela was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

At the Rivonia Treason Trial, while facing a strong possibility of the death sentence, he concluded -

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

So started his Long Road to Freedom – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela disappeared for 27 years, becoming a spectre, but also the conscience and catalyst of a nation struggling to do what is just and right for all the citizens of this beautiful country.

The miracle of Madiba and his legacy will always be weaved like a golden thread through the fabric of South Africa’s new democracy - He will always be Tsiamelo, “The Place of Goodness” no matter what mistakes we make.

Tsiamelo was the inscription on the original monument erected at the capture site in 1996.

On the 50th anniversary of his arrest Marco Cianfanelli's extraordinary sculpture was unveiled here. It comprises of 50 steel columns - each between 6 and 10 meters tall. It is by far the most beautiful sculpture I’ve ever seen, not only because of the man it honours but the utter magic of the work itself.

The approach to the site, designed by architect Jeremy Rose, leads one down a gently sloping pathway towards the sculpture. As I walked down the path I saw a cluster of steel columns in the distance. Eventually, like an optical illusion, slowly the image of Madiba looking west emerged almost by magic from the tall steel columns.

It comes into perfect focus at a simple stone in the pathway inscribed:

Comrade    Leader    Prisoner    Negotiator        Statesman

Mandela Capture Site

Cianfanelli says he designed a deliberate structural paradox.

"The 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but they also suggest the idea of many making the whole; of solidarity.

It points to an irony, as the political act of Mandela's incarceration cemented his status as an icon of struggle, which helped ferment the groundswell of resistance, solidarity and uprising, bringing about political change and democracy." 

I’ve never met Madiba. I won’t ever meet him. I know he is not a god, or a messiah, but a very special human being who irrevocably changed my life. He’s an old man now, in the deep twilight of life. My wish is that he’ll be left in peace with those close to his heart so that his passing won’t become a cheap media circus. 

Sweet Freedom

I photographed the sculpture – then walked in between the columns and looked up at the sky – “Sweet Freedom” under African Sky Blue. As all South Africans and many others his deep humanity and above all his gracious act of forgiveness of the sins of the fathers allowed us to move forward on The Long Road.

I walked away up the path with a sense of renewal. I picked a small piece of succulent from one of the bushes growing next to the road and brought it to Jozi. I planted it in a small pot when I got home. It’s only a couple of fat green leaves and a little white flower. I hope it takes; the chances are good because succulents are hardy and resilient plants which survive under extreme conditions. 

It’s like South Africans – a resilient people at the most Southern tip of the continent. We will grow this country, slowly but surely into a beautiful, beautiful place as a legacy to a truly great man.


Maboneng Sign

"I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence, look again at the extra employment a new country added to our dominions gives."
Cecil J. Rhodes, "Confession of Faith," essay included in The Last Will and Testament of Cecil John Rhodes,1902.

I stumbled on Arts on Main early in 2009 during one of my solitary inner city wanderings. This was long before Arts on Main became the lodestone of the über-cool, tragically hip and Spandexed bicycle hordes that now frequent the place in vast numbers over weekends and while participating in the monthly Critical Mass event.

This was once an area of bonded warehouses, fallen into disuse and occupied by the new immigrants looking for a place to stay, after the whiteys took the chicken-run or moved to the outer suburbs or Cape Town to get away from a blighted and beleaguered inner city.

I loved the beautiful courtyard planted with olive trees, the verdant lawn and the car of DF Corlett, a former mayor of the city in the 1930's on the roof. The lawn is now long gone, replaced with crushed stone as grass couldn’t handle the crowds.

Arts on Main was the first phase of property developer Jonathan Liebmann’s brainchild - the Maboneng Precinct (“Place of Light” in Sotho). This now spreads over a number of city blocks, and includes the 12 Decades Hotel, Main Street Life and Revolution House apartment blocks, The Main Change and more and more and more.
Since its genesis I’ve struggled to get my head around the Maboneng concept. I have a severe feeling of disquiet about the place, as it seems totally at odds with the surrounding City & Suburban area.

Graffiti archaeology is a passion of mine. Towards the end of December I photographed a new mural created, as part of the Acrylic Walls Project, by some heavy hitters on the international street art scene. It was a collaboration between Gaia from New York (rated as the world’s top street artist in the world in 2012, Know Hope from Tel Aviv and the Buenos Aires based artist Franco JAZ Fasoli.
Still Hanging With Cecil

There were a number of homeless people stranded at the mural, under the overpass adjacent to Arts on Main. Apparently they were evicted from a pirated building in the area, while paying rent to a unauthorized landlord. As far as I know the fate of these poor souls had nothing to do with Propertuity, Liebmann’s company, which is developing the Precinct.

Why is it that the homeless and the dispossessed have to sleep under an overpass shortly before Christmas adjacent to a “model” inner-city development? What made it even more bizarre is that Gaia painted an image of Cecil John Rhodes on the mural in the background.

The street-art in Maboneng had been a contentious issue. This started with I-ART-JOZI, an event to which Johannesburg writers were not invited. Both I-ART-JOZI and Acrylic Walls was curated by the Cape Town based Ricky Lee Gordon.

I posted a remark on Facebook, stating that it was obvious that whoever created the mural had little sense of the history of Johannesburg and also my feelings about Maboneng. Ricky responded privately that, “the mural is full of symbolism of South Africa good and bad, sharing the heavyweight(s) of our history. This was all sparked by the fact that these people were living there”.

But the history of Johannesburg did not start with Cecil John Rhodes, the megalomaniac imperialist whose remains were transported thousands of kilometres by ox cart and train from Cape Town to his final resting place high in the Matopos in Zimbabwe. Who funded the Jameson Raid, sparking the Anglo-Boer War, so that he could get his grubby paws on the Witwatersrand Goldfields. Rhodes had little regard for the wants and needs of the indigenous populace in his quest to annex the whole of Africa for King and country.

The history of Johannesburg also predates the Voortrekkers who settled in the area long before gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand. The land was originally occupied by early groups of Tswana- and Sotho-speaking peoples and later in the 1820’s by the fearsome warriors of Mzilikazi. His people were forced to flee to Matebeleland after a number of bloody confrontations with Boer settlers. Mzilikazi was one of the greatest Southern African military leaders after the Zulu king Shaka. 

However, this post is about Maboneng as a whole, and not just the mural. Although the mural does, in a sense, reflect the disconnect between Maboneng and its immediate surroundings. To a certain extent Maboneng is New-Colonialism that keeps on pushing away the people who occupied this space in the last twenty years calling it their home.

I’m in the city most weekends doing Urban Exploration. I trawl through Newtown in the west, through Braamfontein, the CBD, and beyond Maboneng to the east photographing graffiti, street scenes, city decay and redevelopments. I usually do this early mornings or late afternoon. The streets are relatively quiet and the light lends itself to better photography. In the mornings, the whole of Maboneng is like a ghost town with only the odd guard on security patrol.

Braamfontein is abuzz with activity at that time of morning. Redevelopments in this suburb are in an area that has always been a mix of residential, retail and offices. Newtown was great and lent itself to some great street art photography and catching the s8aterboys in action - unfortunately this area has been destroyed by the recent developments around the Old Potato Sheds.

This last year or so I have hardly ever gone into the Precinct except to photograph street art early mornings or late afternoons.  The hype of the place has lost its shine for me which was exacerbated when I was stopped from taking photographs in Fox Street by security one Sunday as it was “prohibited by the owners”. I posted my views about this incident on Maboneng’s Facebook page and they apologized for the misunderstanding. That’s fair and fine but I am still wondering how the residents of the surrounding area are treated should they dare to walk down Fox Street in the middle of a Loincloth & Ashes fashion show or other “Urban African Experiences”
I am not an expert on inner city developments, and I admire Liebmann and his crew for the guts and vision they have in Maboneng. Unfortunately, in my opinion it is totally out of touch with its immediate surroundings as it does not cater in any way for the needs of residents outside the precinct.  Put a high security fence around it and it’s just another boomed security village like those one finds in the leafy suburbs.

Maboneng’s website is slick and user-friendly and features a video clip where Liebmann explains his vision – “It is the creation of and development of an enlightened community, ........but also the creation of a new lifestyle, a lifestyle where people can engage on a proper urban African level”

In a TEDX video he compares Maboneng with the 44 Stanley Avenue development in Jozi’s Milpark area which also mostly caters for the creative market – the difference is that Maboneng was created in a vacuum. 44 Stanley started within an existing mixed use environment – close to the Milpark Hospital, a major hotel, the University of Johannesburg, the SABC, and AFDA and many high rise offices.

The Maboneng website also links to a Mail & Guardian article – “How the inner city got its groove back” - and quotes Professor Keith Beavon; an urban geographer with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Johannesburg’s past, says of a tourist city:

 “If you are going to want to make it attractive, you need a few gimmicky things that relate to the past,     present and future … packaged in an interesting way. Things you could do over five days — that’s as much as     any tourist spends in a foreign city.”

The aim of the creators of Maboneng is also to attract “extreme local tourists” living three kilometres away who haven’t been to the inner city for 20 years” This is where I get really confused – does Maboneng at its core cater for the middle and upper classes who seeks an “Urban African Experience” and tourists?  Is it a gimmicky thing that is packaged in an interesting way? Holy shit!

What has that got to do with real inner city development catering for the residents of the inner city?  Extreme local tourism is, as that great sage Trevor Noah said, like going skateboarding in the Kruger National Park and thinking the lions will not eat you. Real extreme local tourism is Die Antwoord’s – “Fatty Boom Boom”

The Precinct is rapidly expanding, but in the process it’s moving further away from the needs of the immediate City & Suburban area. How long before it implodes and the fickle tragically hip find the next best thing? Liebmann says that Main Street Life has about 300 permanent residents in Main Street Life. I’m sure the with the apartment development in Revolution House and other spaces it might be say about a thousand at present. I also believe that it created a number of job opportunities but again, how integrated is Maboneng with the socio-economic needs of the local community?

On Maboneng’s website and in Liebmann’s video there’s reference to a “One Crèche at a time” project which does not form part of Propertuity’s portfolio but is an initiative of one of the Main Street Life residents. There is a Facebook page, a blog and from what I can gather there’s some work being done in two crèches.
I have been involved in education in disadvantaged communities for more than a decade and strongly believe that the needs of the inner city are as large as those in deep rural areas, and was interested to find out what work is being done. I phoned the number provided on the Maboneng website and the person who answered had no idea what I was talking about, saying they sell retail space.  Shruthi Nair, whose name is mentioned on the site, will be back in “about a months’ time” Ah well.

I am not the expert in inner city development; I did not have the guts, the vision or the money to even dream of starting a development like The Place of Light as Liebmann had.  I do however firmly believe that education is not only a basic human right for children but also a vital building block in socio-economic development and urban renewal.

To rely on government to provide education is well past its sell-by-date and it’s the responsibility of all citizens to be actively involved. If Maboneng only has some ad-hoc talks at the Bioscope addressing the issue of education, then something’s radically wrong with their model. Maybe there are other educational developments outside of the creative fields in place that I’m not aware of, and I sincerely hope there are.

I ordered “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs which seems to be a landmark publication about urban renewal. She argued against urban renewal projects where the model seems to be at odds with the surrounding space -
  “[The] most prevalent was and is the separation of uses (i.e., residential, industrial, commercial). These policies, she claimed, destroy communities and innovative economies by creating isolated, unnatural urban spaces.”
Worst enemy

At present, in my opinion this is what’s wrong with Maboneng. I can hardly see the rag and scrap collectors cruising by the outskirts of the precinct each day to barter the leavings of the city, the back yard mechanics or the customers of Titties Furniture’s across the road in Main Street going for yoga classes in the Precinct or sipping wine in the shade of the olive trees on Any Given Sunday after buying a bed.

I just can’t


I haven’t blogged much in the last year. The release of the Annual National Assessment Results by the Department of National Education is so shocking that I decided to write a blog post, the only other alternative was bursting into tears and hiding under my bed.

Dear Angie, Chairperson of The ANC Women’s League, oh sorry the Right Honourable Minister of Education seems well pleased that the results are better than that of last year.  The average learner performance in literacy at Grade 3 now stands at 52%, compared to the 35% in 2011 - an improvement of 17%

Great stuff Angie but it still means that more than half of South African children in Grade 3 can hardly read.

Even more disastrous, if at all possible, is that Grade 9 pupils scored an average of 9% for Mathematics – but that is not the whole truth – Equal Educations analyses reveals for that only 2.3 % of them passed adequately (by 50% and more). The national average performance in language stands at 43% Home Language and 35% First Additional Language at this grade.

It means that nearly 80% of 15 year olds can barely count and nearly 70% can’t speak English fluently. Oh Angie, please tell me how are they going to be able to find a meaningful occupation when they finish school?

 I heard Graeme Bloch a “senior researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection” (whatever they reflect upon I dunno) on 702 stating that we "shouldn't lose confidence" as it is as bad in Spain and in Portugal - How bizarre - in other words it's OK for our children to be failing because kids in other countries are failing. No way.

Professor Sarah Gravett, the University of Johannesburg’s dean of education   believes that a poor foundation for maths at Foundation phase in primary schools and poorly trained teachers and language difficulties may have contributed to the results.  It is not a MAY - it is what it is!

Trevor Manuel, The Minister in the Presidency, (Whatever the hell that is) spoke at the launch of the "SA Child Gauge 2012", a report on children released by the University of Cape Town in October -

The work we are doing in the National Planning Commission is about the next generation. It is about addressing the forms of inequality that run all the way through South African society, and that, in many cases, affects children, especially in vulnerable and rural communities."

Hey Trev - so what you're saying is we are writing off about three to four generations of kids now in their twenties that have passed through a dysfunctional educational system since 1990. With no work, no hope, no prospects. If you don't address the NOW there will be NOTHING for the next generation.

In excess of 50% South African youth are unemployed at present. This figure is increasing by at least 300 000 per year, a conservative estimate in my opinion. This is a time bomb waiting to explode and the clock is ticking.

The time for planning committees and talking about what needs to be done, and how long it will take to eradicate is way past its sell by date. If South African teachers are not equipped to teach go off-shore and hire teachers that have the skill and qualifications to teach the children and pay them handsomely.

Use online teaching programme delivery to get away from book based education to teach maths and literacy.  These programmes do exist and the connectivity infrastructure can already cope with online education – it’s been tested.  Downloading is slow but you’ll definitely achieve a better result that the dismal ones currently being achieved. 

Unleash the Young Dream

I recently discovered the work of Hloni Dhlamini, a promising new artist, through Mandy de Waal’s article in The Daily Maverick titledPainting Marikana’s Tragedy” -

I bought his “Unleash a Young Dream” without even seeing the original –it captures the hopelessness and aspirations of South African children. It is a haunting work depicting a little girl trapped behind barbed wire and her larger shadow looming in the foreground.

When I saw it I thought of a statement by Emile Jansen of Black Noise in the must- see Laura Gamse directed documentary “The Creators” that explores the chaotic reality of modern day South Africa by peering through the eyes of its artists. Emile talks of how extremely difficult it is for the disadvantaged to break free from the bubble of poverty and become equal citizens in this beautiful country – even nearly two decades after democratic rule.

When I showed my Girl “Young Dream” she couldn’t understand why I bought the work. It’s entirely different from the rest of the art we’ve collected over the years which are filled with colour, happiness and vibrant life.

I told her that I bought it because it spoke to the disquiet in my soul and conscience - the iniquity of the fathers that’s being visited on the children and the children's children….but THE VISIT has become completely fucked up bestowing the shit of Apartheids rule on all children.

I hanged Hloni’s work in my study to remind me of what needs to be done. The young dreams if this country must be unleashed to ensure a meaningful future for our children’s children under African Sky Blu.

Each year that passes another half a million young minds are ending up on the trash heap of broken dreams and promises as they are functionally illiterate and with no hope in hell to break out of poverty’s bubble in a society where job opportunities are almost non-existent.

The sad reality is that there is no way that We the People can rely on government to do what it right. Most White South Africans might think they’ve done their part by giving the country over to majority democratic rule.  It is now the responsibility of the New Order to clean up the mess Apartheid left behind and wave a magic wand supplying basic services, education, and health care to all citizens. There is a massive backlog and it’s a pipe-dream to put the responsibility on politicians that’s otherwise engaged.

I acknowledge that the New Order is largely corrupt, inefficient and so wrapped up in political power games and money making schemes that they’ve long ago forgotten about the children but that does not mean that we can abdicate the responsibility to be a catalyst to change.   

Leave the politicians to play Age of Empires and Monopoly. I believe in an Army of One approach - Take responsibility for the education of ONE disadvantaged child; adopt ONE classroom, ONE school. I don’t necessarily mean financial responsibility but the transfer of knowledge and skills by on-going personal involvement in the lives of these children – If four million South Africans do this we can really make a difference.

We have a choice.

We can remain comfortably numb. We can hang around hipsterville. We can hide in the leafy suburbs. We can flit and skate on the surface of a shattered society and play blame games or really become engaged in doing a little bit. Not the flavour of the days stuff like LEAD SA or 67 Minutes for Mandela or Occupy Whatever or Stop Kony Shit.

Who remember these the week after?

It’s doing the hard yards.

Active Involvement

Every day.

Do it. Do it NOW.


 Professor Jonathan Jansen wrote something about this in his weekly column in The Times today



During the desert years (don’t ask and I won’t tell) one of the questions I struggled with was the concept of reincarnation.  A deeply religious man walked the road with me, and we once discussed reincarnation and the exclusivity of a Christian heaven where only those washed “in the blood of Christ” will have penthouse suites. According to the New Testament all the infidels are going straight into the seven circles of hell in a handcart in painful and horrible ways.

Professor da Silva died many years ago of the Big C.  In his opinion reincarnation is not a loony tunes concept.  He was also of the view that we’ll be surprised who we’ll find on the other side amongst the saved and blessed. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists and maybe even Vegans at a stretch -  as it is after all for God and not man to judge.

I since realized that reincarnation is an undisputable fact. I’ve been reincarnated many times in the past forty years. I know the person I was say fifteen or twenty-five years ago is truly dead. Too many things changed, in my inner life, in my belief systems and the history of this beautiful country for me  to have remained the same person.

Life is a whim

And when the last of my earthly reincarnations shuffles of the mortal coil what remains will be absorbed into the universe. It will become a microbe, a cell, maybe part of a Parktown Prawn, a fucking radioactive rat in a post-apocalyptic new world, whatever.  

In a darkened movie theatre on a Saturday afternoon not so long ago watching “Searching for Sugarman” I stumbled into a time-warp, into a previous life.

“Sugarman” is a wonderful film about the American muso Sixto Rodriquez “the greatest rock icon that never was”.  Rodriquez recorded two albums “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality” (released as “After the Fact in South Africa) in the early seventies. The albums didn’t sell in major world markets, Rodriquez was dropped by his record label and he faded into obscurity……

….except in South Africa where somehow “Cold Fact” surfaced and have since become part of a country’s history. People like me, born in the mid to late fifties  suffered from raging hormones and left school, and were conscripted into the army  at a time when Rodriquez songs like “Sugarman“, “Crucify you Mind” and the daring “I Wonder” were played over and over again in steamy bedrooms, disco’s, parties, and at jols.

And then there were the legends about Rodriquez, that he was dead, that he committed suicide by setting fire to himself on stage. He was a shadowy figure that kept slipping out of sight of our consciousness and also of those serious music researchers trying to establish what happened to him.

By accident it was discovered that he was alive in the late nineties, working construction in Detroit.  He had no idea of his cult status and the fact that he was “bigger than Elvis” in South Africa. This story is told in “Searching for Sugarman” 

The bootlegs of “Cold Fact’ was doing the rounds in the early seventies in Serf Efrica, and that was a definitely a previous life as far as I’m concerned.  I believed, for instance, that women had stars and not nipples on their bountiful breasts. What a wonderful   surprise it was when I discovered the REAL THING WHOOP-WHOOP first-hand (hah pun intended) – I lie - I saw the true beauty of womanhood au naturel on the centerfold of some illicit Playboy magazine long before discovering THE REAL THING.

This was during a time South Africa where Apartheid reigned supreme and most youngsters of my generation were conscripted for military training. The only option was to skip the country if you could. I was too stupid for that and ended up doing a stint in the Caprivi Strip of the then South–West Africa. Nothing happened. It was before the real shit started. No one got shot, maimed or blown up. But during that time I realized how bizarre and unjust the whole concept of Apartheid was. I thank the god of my understanding that I never voted for the fuckers responsible. 

“Searching for Sugarman” jerked me back to a life-time when the most draconian censorship laws were enforced to keep the minds and souls of the youth safe from the fucking devil and his communist cohorts.

The National Party even viewed television as a threat to the Afrikaner Volk.  They believed TV would give undue prominence to English. Dear Albert Hertzog, then Minister of Posts and Telegraphs said that TV will come to the country “over his dead body” and he argued that; “South Africa will have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make Africans (non-whites) dissatisfied with their lot” regarding it as “the devil’s own box, for disseminating communism and immorality”  (Wiki)

Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, compared it to atom bombs and poison gas. “They are modern things, but that does not mean that they are desirable. The government has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical”   

What Verwoerd didn’t realise was that the checks and balances of life’s turning wheels works in very strange ways. He died after a schizophrenic, Dimitri Tsafendas, who believed that he had a speaking giant tapeworm living in his intestines, stabbed Verwoerd in Parliament.  Verwoerd thus joined his mates, Hitler, Saddam, Pol Pot and many others in that special half acre of hell reserved for them. 

Life was strange indeed.

Each Friday the Government Gazette published the banned list of the week – all kinds of stuff, literature, music, bill-board posters, naked rabbits whatever. Saturday nights we’ll listen to the LM Hit Parade broadcasted from the then Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) and sometimes songs banned on Friday appeared in the Top Twenty Hit Parade on the Saturday. “Sugarman” was banned because of its reference to drug use. “I Wonder” because of it reference to fornication. Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” was banned because it incited the black hordes to rise up against the education system. “Spanish Train’ of Chris de Burgh was banned because it referred to God and the Devil playing poker with souls of the dead. Classic literature like Harper Lee’s  “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Nabokov’s “Lolita” were also verboten. Even poor Dr. Frank-N-Furter didn’t last long – the movie version was banned about a week after it started showing in theaters. Luckily I saw it in that week. The list went on and on.

Imagine discovering a song like “I Wonder” with its catchy six bar opening riff and then these suggestive lyrics

I wonder how many times you've been had
And I wonder how many plans have gone bad
I wonder how many times you had sex
And I wonder do you know who'll be next
I wonder I wonder, wonder I do



I do many things badly – like playing the guitar, and I played this song lots of times together with all the other protest songs, such as Dylan’s “The Time They Are a Changing” and “Military Madness” of Steven Stills.

We are old men now or at least ‘seniors”–  oh I hate that word - me, myself & I, Dylan, Leonard Cohen,  Sixto Roderiquez, Stills, Keef Richards - but we’re still rocking even after we’ve been reincarnated many times. We are survivors.  And I live my life to the to the lyrics of Herr Zimmerman’s “My Back Pages” – “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”

In “Searching for Sugarman” Rodriquez is hardly shown in the first part of the movie. Then he’s filmed appearing live in concert in Cape Town in 1998. The crowd went wild, cheering for a long time with Rodriquez looking totally bemused. It must have been such a magical moment for an artist who never knew fame and the audience discovering a mythical part of the fabric of their shared history alive and in the flesh.

 I didn’t see that concert but the scene in the movie reached out and touched me in a very special place. I felt the tears streaming down my cheeks. It jerked me back forty years in an instant, when the world was still young, full of possibilities and I thought I was immortal.

Rodriguez will be appearing live in Jozi in February next year and I have already booked my tickets.



Social Media is a great networking tool and I have, by far, more Facebook friends than friends in real life. By nature I’m a solitary soul and these far off friendships suit my personality. I don’t have to get embroiled in the often tiresome ritual of having meaningless conversations for the sake of social convention. I suppose I’m a bit strange and selfish but I’m comfortable with that.

My network of Facebook friends mainly consists of photographers, street artists and other creatives with interests similar to mine. These cyberspace friendships in the wide blue nowhere sometimes have the most serendipitous outcomes!

I have a FB friend in London – I can’t remember how we originally connected. During April I received a private message from him saying he’ll be in Jozi later that month suggesting that we meet. It transpired that he was an internationally known street artist with the painting name Solo One, one of the international artists invited to participate in the City of Gold Urban Arts Festival.

We met at the launch of the festival and I mentioned my involvement with the Albert Street School and how I feel that street art has an important role to play in Art as Healing as it’s a medium inner city kids identify with. Rasty and Curio of the PCP crew already did a mural at the Field of Dreams library and I asked him if he would be interested in painting something at the school. He readily agreed to do a piece free of charge, taking time out from a hectic schedule of painting the week he was in Jozi.

The City of Gold Urban Arts festival was a great success. It’s really fascinating to watch and photograph artists creating pieces. I’m always amazed by the sheer artistry, skill and control these guys have over their chosen medium and what they can create in a short period of time. There’s little hesitation once they start and it sometimes seems as if there is some creative telepathy at play when they paint on the same wall – each one adding his bit to the whole without exchanging a word.

Originally I had a small dead-end passage in mind for Solo One to paint at Albert Street but I showed him a photograph a large blank wall in the Grade One classroom. “Not a problem I’ll do that” he said. I dropped him at the school after nine one morning and went back just before three that afternoon to check progress.

The mural was finished

In less than six hours he created a stunning mural with a map of Africa as the central piece. Sun-rays expand from Zimbabwe far over the borders of the continent. In the one corner he painted a tree which represents growth.

The piece truly reflects the spirit and strength of Albert Street School, how the little School That Can has become a haven for so many refugee kids giving them a first class Cambridge education while relying on handouts and donations.

The enthusiasm and joy of the kids and educators, the appreciation of Solo One colouring their world rocked my world.

Boyd, this is a belated thank you for sharing your amazing talent so generously. I watched you explaining to little kids what you’ll be painting, showing them your album, telling them that you are from London and with much caring and gentleness explaining to them what snowflakes are. You were great.

Solo One is involved in the UK -  - that uses street art and graffiti workshops to supplement school art syllabus as well as creating large murals as community upliftment projects

Solo One also has a blog - - He posted recently that he painted a mural together with Rolf Harris CBE, now 82, who amongst his many achievements, was commissioned to paint a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth for her 80th birthday.

Oh Mrs. Rose I still remember you saying that street-art and graffiti promotes drug dealing and crime. Life has moved on.

We are busy painting three classrooms at Albert Street School and some other well known painters have promised to add their work.

Art as Healing.

Say something beautiful or be quiet…..

The last two images are not mine but that of Solo One - please do not reproduce


Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks

All those men were there inside,
when she came in totally naked.
They had been drinking: they began to spit.
Newly come from the river, she knew nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way.
The insults flowed down her gleaming flesh.
Obscenities drowned her golden breasts.
Not knowing tears, she did not weep tears.
Not knowing clothes, she did not have clothes.
They blackened her with burnt corks and cigarette stubs,
and rolled around laughing on the tavern floor.
She did not speak because she had no speech.
Her eyes were the colour of distant love,
her twin arms were made of white topaz.
Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light,
and suddenly she went out by that door.
Entering the river she was cleaned,
shining like a white stone in the rain,
and without looking back she swam again
swam towards emptiness, swam towards death.

Pablo Neruda



For most of my life I’ve been a Constant Reader usually averaging a book a week. For some reason I fell out of the reading habit last year only finishing 19 books. Dreams, Schemes and Themes also sort of petered out.

Stephen King got me back into rhythm of reading.

 I don’t appreciate the classics but as far as I’m concerned a good King novel beats Dickens, Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy hands down. I’m still disappointed that Anna didn’t kick the bucket on page 20 of that horrid Tolstoy book which is the last “classic” I’ve read.

I am a Cultural Philistine.

I know.

Through the 1970’s and 80’s in my opinion King was primarily an author who in the horror genre. “Christine” is one of my favourites from that time.  I still have the hots for a 1958 Plymouth Fury – an ideal car for a road trip – but definitely not with Ronald LeBay riding shotgun.  

“The Stand” first published in 1978 is features high on my list of best books I’ve read.

His recent novels like Lisey’s Story and Duma Key have beautiful storylines with a touch of the supernatural but they are not traditional horror stories. 11/22/63, the book that kick-started my reading habit again in January is in a similar vein.  

John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on that fateful date and the world changed forever. The premise of the novel is that, if you had the chance to chance the course of history, would you? And would the consequences be worth it? Strangely, that day is one of my earliest memories as an 8-year old, even in faraway South Africa. A neighbouring kid ran breathlessly across the road shouting “There’s going to be war with the Russians. Kennedy was killed……”

I’m currently reading “Full Dark, No Stars”, a collection of novellas by The Man, which one reviewer described as “relentlessly horrible”. I agree.

1922, the first in story in the collection has already scared the living bejesus out of me. It’s the first person confession of Wilfred James for the murder of his wife because she wants to one-hundred acres of farmland bequeathed to her. Wilfred manipulates his teenaged son into helping him murdering his own mother. They dump her body down a well on the farm. Obviously this has horrific consequences for dear old Will.  No more spoilers except that rodents - like in R.A.T.S.  - feature large in the plot-line. I don’t really suffer from musophobia or whatever; girl does, but the R.A.T.S.  in 1922 are really relentlessly horribly!

One of the beauties of Stephen King’s writing is that he can create a whole movie script within the confines of a novella; as he did with The Shawshank Redemption.

1922 will make a classic creepy Noir American Gothic film. Mr. King, thank you for re-awakening the love of a good book in me.

 And I still refuse to read on Kindle.




I regularly fly to Cape Town on business. I often sit in a window seat staring out over the wide and barren Karoo landscape passing down below. I sometimes wondered who would choose to live in such a seemingly godforsaken place. But beauty is where one finds it.

As a wannabe photographer I was captivated by the purity of light when we drove those roads less traveled – The Prince, Captain Underpants and I.  Harsh at noon and in mid-summer the sun shines late into the evening. It cloaks the world in soft hues of blue, rose and orange as darkness falls.  This brought peace to my jaded soul so used the bustle, noise and artificial light of big city living. Driving some 2 000 kilometers meandering through small towns, little hamlets and stopping in places I’ve never been before showed me the true splendor of wide open spaces

Living in the Hardemanskaroo is not for sissies. It’s a special type of solitary soul that chooses to live here, even in the small towns. Farming in such an arid and isolated part is definitely not for the faint- hearted or the café culture crowd, We drove almost horse shoe shaped route from Merweville, where we did not see a single human being or a motor-vehicle in the main street at high noon a couple of days before Christmas during the time we stopped to photograph the imposing church – I still think the town had been taken over by zombies who hide in the church during the day, onwards to Williston, Carnavon and finally to Loxton, some 400 kilometers. It’s really the back of beyond – a handful of homesteads, a sprinkling of the famous Karoo sheep, sparse semi- desert vegetation, no trees.   

What was it like 200 years ago? The trekboere must have spent months on end without having any interaction with others which resonates in the age old adage of “in sickness and in health, in good times or in bad, in joy as well as sorrow” – It wasn’t an option to bugger off to dear old mum when the going got tough – If she was close she would have been living in the room right next to you!

I’m currently reading “Trackers” by Deon Meyer a South African novelist which I stumbled on recently. I’m reading it in Afrikaans, the language of my birth; the language of the Karoo. It’s a great read and the action is partly set against the backdrop of a farm in the Loxton area. Deon Meyer has a house in Loxton, but I don’t think he lives there permanently

In “Trackers” he writes, loosely translated -

These people belong to the Karoo, their intertwined (hi)stories stretches over many lifetimes and is part of the regions DNA. Here they tolerate and they forgive as loyalties had been forged over many generations.  Their forefathers fought and died side-by-side in the Anglo-Boer War, there’s a shared suffering in an unforgiving landscape – through drought, pest and plague. The isolation meant that they had to learn to rely on each other and to tolerate. Tomorrow you have to face the same people, over and over, day in, day out – at the trading store, the church fête, and the sheep auctions

Beyond Williston there are some strange beehive shaped structures - Corbel houses built by pioneer farmers in the early 1800’s. There no trees in the Hardemanskaroo – miles and miles of nothing, sparse vegetation and rock. The area, however, has an abundance of flat stone and these were layered to build domed shaped huts. A mixture of wheat chaff and soil, preferably from ant hills as this has excellent natural binding properties, mixed water was used to bind the structure together and plaster the exterior. The floor consisted of a mixture of cow dung often smeared with animal fat and blood polished to a high gloss.

There is usually only one door and not many windows. The openings were originally covered with animal hides as there was no wood available to make proper doors or shutters.  The high ceilings and thick walls provided excellent shelter – The Corbel houses were cool in summer and the walls retained the heat of the winter sun.

One of the unique features of these houses is that large flat stones protruding out of the dome at regular intervals. This was an ingenious solution to a unique problem. No wood – no ladders. These were used to stand on when the dome was built and also to reach the large flat stone placed at the top which could be removed for ventilation.


Corbel houses usually had outside cooking area and a Jacuzzi. The houses have survived for close on two centuries and one wonders whether its coincidence that very similar structures are found in Mali and also in the Mediterranean countryside – a building style that’s been around for some 4,000 years.



Some Corbel Houses had been turned into tourist accommodation and we spend a night on one on the farm Osfontein between Carnavon and Loxton. It’s a great stopover when traveling through this area.

The Osfontein Corbel house had been mostly been kept as close as possible to how it used to be two centuries ago. A bathrooms in the original style was added and an electrical point for a small stove, microwave and fridge. The three roomed structure is lit with candles at night. There’s no cellphone or internet connectivity, no radio, no television – Quite a reality check for the Prince and I – both tech junkies who are used to be in touch at all times via social media and e-mail.

But it was absolutely wonderful to spend a night looking up at clear night-sky sprinkled with a constellation of bright stars. This is what I wanted – to get away from artificiality of Christmas in Jozi and this was the best way to acknowledge the existence of a God of my understanding.

(Oh ....I lied about the Jacuzzi)




I posted some photographs here – there’s a lot more in my Flickr album;

 And there’s even more as they say in the Verimark ads. There are some Facebook albums about the Journey with The Prince and Captain Underpants, with commentary.

  • Current Music
    Wide Open Spaces - Dixie Chicks


“I have my hands and can make something out of nothing. Leave the world a better and prettier place than you found it.”

Outa’s philosophies

The subtext of Dreams, Schemes and Themes is “Here’s to the Maniacs, Visionaries and Wide-Eyed Dreamers” to pay tribute those amazing people marching to a different drumbeat than most of us whose stuck in the maze of the daily drudge. The late Jan Schoeman better known as plain “Outa Lappies” - The Philosopher of the Plains -  as he’s described in “Karoo Keepsakes” needs a special mention.

I’m fascinated by graffitos, street artists and other creatives who make amazing stuff from cast off junk and found things. I’m fascinated by the early work of Jean-Michel Basquait, Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot garden in Tuscany, Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Garden in Philadelphia, Fanozi 'Chickenman' Mkhize road signs, The Owl House of Helen Martins in Nieu Bethesda, the photography and journals of Peter Beard and Dan Eldon. I recently stumbled on the pictorial record of the ongoing construction of The Chapel of Jimmy Ray, Andado McLauchlin’s gallery in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico on Flickr, . I’d love to visit this hodge-podge of colour one day.  One more dream to add to my bucket-list.

I’m not enough of an art snob or critic to have an opinion whether Outsider Art constitutes real art or whether it’s rubbish. I like what I like because these creations speak to my unquiet soul.

This definition of Art Brut is about how I see it;

 "Art Brut", or "outsider art", consists of works produced by people who for various reasons have not been culturally indoctrinated or socially conditioned. They are all kinds of dwellers on the fringes of society. Working outside fine art "system" (schools, galleries, museums and so on), these people have produced, from the depths of their own personalities and for themselves and no one else, works of outstanding originality in concept, subject and techniques. They are works which owe nothing to tradition or fashion.

Often, outsider art illustrates extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, or elaborate fantasy world

The Prince of Orange and I, when road-tripping through the Karoo in December, planned to visit Outa Lappies Schoeman an outsider artist who retired in a tiny railway house at Prince Albert Road Station after wandering the Karoo for years pulling a hand-cart.

While overnighting in the nearby picturesque Price Albert we learnt that Outa Lappies passed away in July last year. His house was next to road we were travelling to Williston via Merweville and we decided to go there anyway.

Prince Albert Station is one of the many railway stations scattered through the Karoo and rural South Africa where the trains stopped running a long time ago. The Prince, who is a portfolio manager when he’s not a Symbol, told me that one of his role-models, Warren Buffett, is busy reviving the rail systems in the United States.  Buffet recons this is the way to go with the rising fuel prices to cart freight over long distances. It makes a lot of sense. Large tracts of the South African heartland have become cut-off from the outside world when the rail services were discontinued.

A lot of the Karoo towns have no maniacal mini-bus taxi services or buses transporting passengers. This has a huge impact on job opportunities and the mobility of many of the citizens of the greater Karoo and regular train services will contribute a lot to resuscitate these almost forgotten little villages.  

Prince Albert Station Road only consists of a few houses and it was easy to find Outa Lappies’s home. His famous hand-cart stood abandoned in the neglected overgrown yard. The house was locked but the front gate open with a number of his creations packed next to the cart. We wandered through to have a look and snap some photographs.

Soon after a next-door neighbour, one Frans appeared. Hans told us that Outa Lappies died of burn wounds after his Joseph’s coat of many colours caught fire in front of the house. Frans gave us a graphic account of how he helped dousing the flames. Only Outa’s shoes remained – the rest of his clothes were gone. He suffered bad burn wounds - the old man was taken to hospital where he passed on.

I was surprised that some of Outa Lappies’s creations and his cart were left so unprotected – open to the elements and vandals. Maybe it was my Jozi-psyche acting out – in the City of Gold you lock everything away otherwise its gone-baby-gone in a flash. Frans told us that there were plans afoot to turn the house into a museum. I’ve visited the Owl House in Nieu-Bethesda a couple of years ago which has become a great tourist attraction in another little Karoo hamlet. I see no reason why this can’t happen in Prince Albert Road as well. It’s close to the N3 highway and not far from the town of Prince Albert.

When we left I noticed dusty charred A4 book among the rubbish in the overgrown front garden. Maybe it was scorched in the fire the caused the death of Outa Lappies. I picked it up and stuffed it into my camera bag.

Back in Jozi I did some research on the old man and found out some surprising facts about this character that featured large in the artistic history of the Karoo. He won the 2001 Western Cape Tourism Personality of the Year for instance. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him and used an article that appeared in the SA Art Times in 2006 titled “Legacy of a loner: Something out of nothing: Jan “Patchman” Schoeman also known as Outa Lappies” as a reference

Jan Schoeman was an obsessive traveling man who set himself the goal of covering “ten thousand miles” on foot. He pulled a hand-made rickshaw, which usually trailed a train of smaller wagons from somewhere to nowhere, wandering where the spirit took him. At night he’ll slept by the road-side and the cart was lit by candles.  This resembled the lights of passing trains.

Along the road he collected discarded objects which he later turned into artworks – mostly lanterns – “lighuisies” – hands and animals assembled from crushed tins, shards of coloured glass, pokerwork, nails, sticks, feathers, whatever.  

Outa Lappies chose to live as a true hermit, sleeping on a concrete floor surrounded by piles of scrap metal and fabric, even when he was home in Prince Albert Road. He created with an almost obsessive zeal, toiling by candlelight late into the night. He saw as his calling to make something out of nothing; creating beautiful and interesting pieces from found items.

The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife once Cherie Blair received a “lighuisie” as a personal gift. Outa made one for “Baas Tony Glair” (sic) and found somebody to deliver it to No. 10 Downing Street. Cherie Blair’s handwritten thank you note, on heavily embossed official stationery, was apparently somewhere in a pile of dusty papers in his small house.

Whenever he returned to Prince Albert he embroidered maps of his journeys, featuring highlights of his trips. These were known as his “Chapters” recounting his adventures throughout his long and unconventional life: his joys and his hardships while growing up and working on farms, and his nomadic life.

The “Chapters” feature rhyming verses in a misspelled Afrikaans/Dutch/English pidgin, accompanied by characters and landscapes with Outa as the main protagonist: a vibrant embroidered figure in multicoloured patchwork clothing. Although he embroidered some of the work himself, he employed local women to do most of the needlework after drawing his designs and verses on the cloth. He insisted that each craftswoman embroider her initial and surname on the chapter.

Nobody seems to know how many Chapters there are. Most of them he sold to foreign buyers which is a huge loss to South Africa. I cannot find a single image of these works on the internet using Google.

It doesn’t seem as if Outa Lappies was ever recognized as a bona-fide artist in this own country and although Gudrun and Bodo Toelstede, friends of Outa Lappies in Prince Albert, are planning a museum and gallery of his work. For the time being his cart remains standing in front of his little house.

I glanced through the charred book I picked up outside his house the other day. It’s mostly blank with a few pages covered in what must be the old man’s writing. Only one page is dated – 2 July 2011 and seems to be a sort of Last Will and Testament. Jan “Outa” Lappies Schoeman died in 7 July 2011, five days later. Coincidence, precognition? I don’t know.  I phoned Bodo Toelstede who told me that they searched high and low for Outa’s books after his death. Maybe he burned it on the pyre which led to his death. But that is just my over-active imagination at work.

I have since e-mailed a scan of the page to Bodo Toelstede and I’ll pass the book on to him as it forms part of his legacy which will hopefully be safely preserved somewhere sooner than later. 

I hope that the old man’s spirit is still wandering, pulling his cart beneath the star-studded sky of the majestic Karoo at night.