Life’s been happening to me the last couple of months while I was making other plans. There was little time for blogging and I haven’t had a chance to write an update about the completion of the Field of Dreams library and the two additional classrooms at Albert Street School which made 2011 very special for me.

The project was completed towards the end of November 2011 but the funds I could raise were depleted before the classrooms could be painted! I was actually quite surprised that we achieved what we did on a shoe-string budget. In the end Medal Paints sponsored some paint and I black-mailed and begged some READ staff and family members to do the work. We painted the classrooms ourselves one Saturday and the old fireplace was painted a bright yellow – a colour I saw in my minds-eye ever since I saw the sad and sorry ruin.  It is MAGIC what difference a coat of fresh paint makes

The library was officially opened on 3 December 2011 coinciding with the annual school prize giving. Some people who generously contributed took time out to share the celebrations to be at the opening. André Erasmus of Amecon Construction and Shuan Yazbek of Tswane Hardware who between them funded the lion’s share of the construction and shelving were there. So was Lynn Raphaely, representing the Union of Jewish Women. The UJW contributes foodstuffs for the orphan children.

Bishop Paul Verryn was instrumental in the establishment of the school in 2008 and he officially opened the library. The kids, parents and teachers were very appreciative of having one of the best libraries in the inner city at their disposal.

Funny thing is that I never wanted to be acknowledged for the magic – The little School that Can deserves all the help they can get. The results they achieve with so little is pure amazingness and is more than enough of a “thank you”

I’ve had little contact with the school since the opening of the library but the principal, William Kandowe, send me the “O” level final results in mid-January. 16 of the 17 entrants passed the internationally recognized Cambridge exams! That’s 94% - outstanding taking into account the lack of resources and even more so when comparing these results with the rigged and watered down 67% national Grade 12  pass rate.

Professor Jonathan Jansen, Vice Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State recently commented on the state of South African Education:

“I would seriously consider not sending my child to school in South Africa, for one simple reason: I do not trust a system that makes it possible for a child to pass Grade 12 with 30% in some subjects and 40% in other subjects. I would be filled with fear when I discover that you can get 32% in mathematics and 27% in physical science and still get an official document that says you can continue to study towards a Bachelor’s degree at university. I would worry myself senseless when I enroll my child in Grade 1 knowing that she could be among the more than half-a-million children who would not make it through to Grade 12. I would be horrified at the possibility that the principal might force her to do mathematical literacy because someone decided she could not do pure mathematics, because it would make the schools pass averages look bad. And I would be angry when I find that she is guaranteed to be among the 96% pass rate for Life Orientation when all the other subjects in the national Senior Certificate have pass rates way below this number.

It is extremely difficult to fail Grade 12 in South Africa today. You have to put in a special effort, miss your classes, deliberately provide wrong answers to questions, and hand in your paper early during an exam session and maybe, just maybe, you will fail.”

Scary Stuff, but as usual Professor Jansen tells it exactly as it is.

Last week I went to Albert Street for the first time this year. I wanted to show a foreign guest who specializes in delivering sustainable curriculum, control and infrastructure enhancements in the education sector in many countries what can be achieved on a wing and a prayer if a school has committed and passionate teachers.

It was early afternoon and most grade classes were still hard at work. In the library the kids were lining up to check out books. The facility has been used since November as an adult learning centre to teach refugees computer skills.  It is hard to believe that this was a ruin twelve months ago.

Talking to the principal I again realized the day to day struggles the school is facing there’s still a huge amount of work and support required as they receive no government grants or support.

-It costs R350 per month to provide tuition to each learner

- It costs R100 per month to buy a train ticket for the learners who stay in Soweto

- It cost R150 a month to provide each of the 140 orphaned learners with one meal a day.

 The two completed classrooms cannot be fully utilized as there are no desks or chairs. Shaun Yazbek of Tshwane Hardware has since delivered 20 refurbished school desks and promised another batch by next week. Sixty chairs are required so I’ll be doing the rounds again to find some funding – about R3 000 is needed for this.

The school is now a registered beneficiary with the Woolworths “My School Programme.” If you shop at Woolworths please add Albert Street as a beneficiary on your School Card:

-You can update your profile on

- You can send an email to and ask them to Albert Street School as a beneficiary

- Or you can phone the call centre on 0860 100 455

I have long ago realized that my involvement with Albert Street won’t end with the completion  of the library. The old school building still needs to be painted.  There’s the ongoing basic need of the 130 orphaned children including food to be provided for  – The long term commitment of Gastaldi Distributors, the Johannesburg branch of the Union of Jewish Women and the Ornico Group helps to fill their tummies most days.

There’s also the small matter of 16 kids with an excellent schooling that’s struggling to find employment or a way to further their studies.

This includes Hillary Mudziviri who so touching and passionately spoke about his African Dream in July.

If you would like to sponsor a learner consider making a donation to:

Bank Account:

Name of Account: CMM Deaconess Society - Albert Street School

Bank:                          First National Bank

Branch Name:          RMB Private Bank Johannesburg

Branch Code:           261 251

Account No:             62209247487

The sub-text of Field of Dreams is, and will always be. “If You Can Dream It – You can Do It” – Together we are dreaming and doing.



The concept of heaven and hell is something that humankind had been speculating and writing about since the beginning of time.  L'enfer, c'est les autresSartre said. I wholeheartedly agree with Sartre that hell is mostly other people as I’m at best not a social butterfly. It also means that I can use Google because otherwise I wouldn’t have known what the hell he meant  

Some say that this country is going to hell in a hand-cart - Rubbish. It’s the greatest place on earth – but I also know that Hell is in South Africa. It is not some mythical mysterious Hades where the devil hangs out slow-toasting souls like marshmallows speared to his pitchfork over pits of fire ‘n sulfur but an isolated valley in the Swartberg. 

Southern Africa has some magical places and spaces that are a bit off the map. Hidden treasures like The Owl House in Nieu-Bethesda and a little town called Pofadder (Puff Adder) in the far Northern Cape. That town is named after a Koranna Chief, Klaas Pofadder, and not after a snake as I once thought. I’ve already ticked these from my bucket list but the road to Hell I’ve not traveled, until recently.

Towards the end of 2010 The Prince, my Girls son, and I road tripped through the arid Karoo, driving the back roads and gravel passes sleeping over in isolated small towns. I wanted to get away as far as possible from Jozi before Christmas as I hate the time of year. Call me The Grinch - I don’t mind. I left the planning of this trip to The Prince with one condition – I wanted to go to Hell.

The Hell, or rather “Die Hel” - its proper Afrikaans name - is an isolated valley in the Gamkaskloof deep in the heart of the Swartberg Mountains. The road to Hell branches off from the spectacular 27 kilometer Swartberg Pass.  This pass is an elegant piece of road engineering constructed by Thomas Bain between 1881 and 1888. Bain built 23 South African passes in all but the Swartberg; linking the great Karoo to the coast, was his final masterpiece

Why people originally settled in Die Hel in the 1830’s only the devil knows. Some say that the valley appealed to trekboere chafing under British rule. They sought an autonomous life far away from law, regulations and taxes. The more probable story however is that the valley was discovered when farmers followed their cattle that strayed along the Gamka River into this isolated and fertile backwater.

Die Hel was cut-off from the outside world until 1962, only accessible on foot or on horseback through the narrow river gorge and over steep mountains. Strangely enough the first motor vehicle, a Morris, was carried over the rugged terrain into the valley in the late 1950’s. I wonder what fuel it used, peach-brandy most probably because it must have been almost impossible to transport petrol into the place. And for what purpose? It’s not like you can pop into the nearby town for a visit or a movie with the love of your live sitting next to you with the wind blowing through her hair. But I suppose residents of Hel are slightly err….. strange?  Telephones were only installed in 1965, nearly 80 years after a telecommunication system was introduced into the rest of South Africa.

A proper gravel road was finally built in 1962 almost single-handedly by a Koos Van Zyl with a bulldozer. Old Koos definitely didn’t have the finesse of Bain. He must have been a very brave individual or high on witblits and those good herbs that I’m sure grow deep in the mountains

His road ain’t a symphony but a Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols punk-rock anthem. It jars, clatters and screams – zigzagging up and down the mountains, ridiculously convoluted. Even the hairpin bends have hairpins in!

When the Prince and I stopped at the road-sign at the turnoff I read; “Die Hel – 50 kilometers = 2 hours”  No way Josè, I though, I’ve driven the busiest highway in South Africa, the one between Jozi & Pretoria for years through sun, sleet, rain, hail, fire, frost, rape, pillage  and major pile-ups. That’s about 50 kilos. Two hours? Never.

But the devil knows better. The journey took more than two hours –  tipsy-toeing along a narrow strip of road hugging the mountainside with no barriers to stop a vehicle plunging down some dark and dusty abyss. At stages we had to back up to allow oncoming traffic to pass perilously close to the edge. There is no way in hell that I will drive The Road to Hell at night or when it rains. I also gained a lot of respect for The Prince’s Subaru Forrester. I thought it was a real pussy of a 4x4 but it was much nimbler and lighter than the big bakkies and Landrovers which struggled around the really tight hairpins.

Two hours later we ended up in the middle of…..nowhere. Die Hel was almost deserted.

Ironically the opening of the road in 1962 almost emptied Gamkaskloof. Severe drought over the years, the lure of the neighbouring towns like Prince Albert and Calitzdorp, with churches, schools and entertainment took its toll on the isolated valley’s population. By the 1980s, many farms that  remained in the hands of the same family for decades were sold. Farm after farm were abandoned.

Annetjie Joubert is the last born and bred resident of Die Hel. We read about her in the wonderful "Karoo Keepsakes",, which is a great reference should you plan a road-trip into this wonderful part of the country. When we at last stopped at the little shop and “restaurant” at the end of the road we asked for Annetjie but she wasn’t around.

After exploring the little bit of hell worth exploring we thought we’ll have something to eat before attempting the journey back along the same road. “Have you booked?” the lady in attendance asked. “If not all we have is freshly baked bread and jam.” Served us right not booking our space in hell.

So after that scrumptious meal we traveled on to Williston. I’m sure I passed the wreck on that old Morris on the way out. The only evidence I have that I’ve been to Hell and Back is a cap and a bumper sticker.

It’s still a place worth visiting, but book first if you want a proper meal. It’s really in the middle of nowhere and you do get there slowly!

I’ve ticked another box on the bucket list – the next ones are the ghost towns of Kolmanskop and Elizabeth Bay in the Sperrgebiet close to Luderitz in the Namib Desert. That can be another  road-trip of note. Interestingly someone mentioned “carefully maintained decay” about these deserted desert towns which must have been visited by hundreds of people since the ghosts moved in. Makes one think doesn’t it. Like Gold Reef City in the middle of the desert to some extent maybe.

I’ve tracked down this YouTube that gives one some sense of what Old Koos van Zyl’s road looks like. There’s even a humongous rock next to the road named after him.



Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou

All women are beautiful, some more beautiful than others – I stole this from - I couldn’t resist



I’m Bach. It’s been ages since I last blogged but I don’t think anyone missed me that much. It’s better to do than to write about doing I suppose.  I spend most of my free time the last couple of months on the Field of Dreams Library and Albert Street School. 

Magic happened since July when I last wrote about what started as a Mandela Day commitment for me.

The library is done. The refurbishment completed by Amecon and shelving installed by Tswane Hardware. Without André from Amecon and Shaun from Tswane Hardware this would have remained a dream as they carried the lion’s share of the work and cost to establish the library. The books donated by various publishers and those the school already had collected and kept in a leaky storeroom had been sorted and shelved. Jonathan the librarian is busy with the cataloguing.


Albert Street now has one of the best libraries compared to those of other inner city schools. Great stuff – these kids deserve something special.

When I originally became involved with Albert Street in August 2010 the dream was to establish a library, but as I walked the road with the educators’ and the children I realized that this was only the tip of an iceberg.

Reality is a struggling school of some 350 learners with committed teachers working miracles against impossible odds with almost no teaching resources. Their salaries are usually months in arrears due to lack of funding – yet they keep on teaching. There are 140 orphaned children who lives a hand-to-mouth existence not knowing where they’re next meal will be coming from. “The situation is dire” Bishop Paul Verryn said a while ago when I asked him what gives.  

The food situation has since improved, but is still not completely sorted as it is difficult to source adequate and steady food supply on a long term basis. With the assistance of Gastaldi Distributors, who donates fruit and vegetables once a week and the Union of Jewish women’s that donates rice, tea and peanut butter the situation has improved. Oresti Patricios, CEO of the Ornico Group, and part-time driver and handyman at Odd Café, send me and unsolicited e-mail offering to donate funding for 300 kg’s of maize meal per month which is the staple diet of these orphaned children. Did I mention that magic happens?

Albert Street School does not have sufficient classrooms. Some learners attend classes in the afternoon as there are not enough classrooms to accommodate all the children in the morning. Obviously this places additional strain on the educators.

Millslitho & First Rand Volunteers donated further funding and this is being utilized to build two additional classrooms. I’ve been doing this on a sub-contract basis and as everyone who’s played around with owner-building knows it can become a time consuming and frustrating affair. No wonder I couldn’t blog! The classrooms are nearly completed.

Medal Paints is donating some paint which will be used for the new classrooms and whatever is left over will brighten up the main building that hasn’t been painted in fifty years.

Rasty & Curio of Pressure Control Projects has nearly completed a beautiful mural. This adds colour and vibrancy to what used to be a bland, blank wall. I remember a protracted confrontational issue I had in 2010 with The Village People about the merit of street art within an educational environment. Suffice to say that life has moved on since then with street art gaining more and more credibility with more and more people recognizing its positive role in society.    

It is amazing what had been achieved with the help of a few good people who was prepared to make a simple idea a reality. The job is not done. There is still a lot to do at Albert Street and other inner city schools.

Quality education is the key to the healthy growth and future of the inner city and I’m sure that Albert Street will serve as a model of what can be achieved with commitment and dreaming dreams into reality.

The library will be officially opened on 3 December 2011.

The clips below illustrate the plight of refugee children and their journey to Jozi and also an interview with William Kandowe, Albert Street’s principal filmed in the library.




On the corner of Napier Road and Barry Hertzog Avenue in Richmond, Jozi, is an overgrown rubbish-strewn piece of open ground.  Not many people speeding down the busy Barry Hertzog knows that this used to be where the Rand Steam Laundries, Cleaning and Dyeing works operated from 1902 for more than half a century. Three years ago the Imperial Group controversially demolished the buildings ignoring the fact that they were protected by the National Heritage Resources Act.

At that time Flo Bird of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust brought it to Imperial’s attention that the structures were protected but the company went ahead with the demolition anyway.

In Flo’s words, who witnessed the destruction - “There was a mechanical grab smashing the buildings to smithereens. Several large laundry buildings, two of the oldest on the site, already lay in small pieces. The grab hauled the masonry smashed it to the ground and then drove back and forwards crushing it. Any metal piece that survived that treatment was lifted in the air and crashed down until it crumpled. It was horrifying. Clearly the instruction was to destroy the buildings completely.”

The grab pulled over the walls then drove back and forth across the rubble crushing the bricks, splintering the Oregon pine and twisting any metal in its path. Whatever survived was lifted and dashed down repeatedly until it too was crumpled and useless.

Well done Imperial.

The group’s original intention was to erect a car dealership. This never happened, due to the down-turn in motor-sales I suppose. Serve them right. I drive home along Napier Road often and noticed activity on the site recently. It transpired that Imperial is turning it into a parking lot for Lancet Laboratories. Goodness greatness. Imperial seems to have again “forgotten” that they can’t do this without applying for rezoning. 

Great stuff guys, this is really adding insult to injury.

I’ve been in Jozi for the last ten years and have fond memories of the quaint old buildings that used to live here. The original laundry closed in 1962 and since then it has been utilized by various craftsmen as workshops, offices and storerooms. There was even an antique shop, “The Mixer”, and an art gallery on the site.

Salim ran his upholstery business from here - he restored and upholstered chairs for our house. Henri, who restores antique furniture, also had his workshop at the Laundry. He altered a huge old shop counter into a kitchen unit for me. I loved visiting the place rummaging through old furniture trying to find something of value. “Die Ossewa” the well-known antique dealers in Melville, also had a warehouse at there that I went to on a number of occasions, especially when they unpacked a new consignment of furniture and artecrafts from South America or Europe.  

The Laundry was a hive of activity – corrugated iron and brick structures supported by thick beautiful Oregon pine beams with a rich lustrous patina that only comes with time. There were also water towers and a row of cottages and a huge complex of buildings on the Park Road side that used to be either a residential hotel or a residence for employees.  All these buildings were was used as workshops in later years.  

I said to Girl at that time that the old complex had so much character, with existing with artists and artisans already using the space, that it can easily be turned into a vibey precinct, similar to 44 Stanley Avenue. It was long before the Maboneng Precinct, Arts on Main and Main Street Life, on the other side of the city was developed.

But Imperial had other plans; the Laundry was demolished almost overnight and is now earmarked as a “temporary” parking lot according to Thando Sishuba, the head of Imperial Properties. But Houston, we have a problem.

“The first issue is that Imperial will have to have the site rezoned for business before any work is done. At present it is zoned residential, obtained by the previous owners who had permission to erect a 17-storey block of flats. It would be illegal for Imperial to use the site for business without it first being rezoned” according to Flo Bird.

In the long term Imperial will be required to re-instate the buildings it demolished which is a condition of the rezoning.

Sishuba says that “for the future re-development of the site, which will be mixed use, he is ideally looking at finding an anchor office tenant, with retail tenants along Napier Road, he explains.

“We would consider a major retailer as well as a combination of smaller businesses like coffee shops, bookshops or dry cleaners – anyone who would lend credibility and credence to the area. We want a 24-hour city feel, a bit of a vibe.”

He stresses that Imperial is keen to undo any distress its 2008 demolition caused. “We are working hard to reverse whatever damage was done. We want the entire city of Johannesburg to be proud of what we do. We are doing everything acceptable to abide by the normal statutory processes.”

Flo Bird states on the Johannesburg City’s website that “She is not insisting that Imperial replace the original Oregon pine, which would be difficult and expensive to obtain” I have the greatest respect for Flo and the work the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust but as far as I am concerned I don’t give a sorry shit – Imperial allowed the original beams to be willfully destroyed by driving over them with heavy earthmoving equipment. You break ‘em you replace ‘em - whatever the cost.

Neil Fraser wrote about the amazing history of the laundry in his CitiChat Column in January 2008 quoting in turn from Charles van Onselen’s  Studies in the Social and Economic History of the Witwatersrand 1886-1914 – ‘New Nineveh’

  “The South African transition to capitalism – like that elsewhere - was fraught with contradictions and conflicts and its cities were thus capable of opening as well as closing economic avenues, and there certainly was always more than one route into or out of the working class”.

One chapter that exemplifies this statement and provides amazing detail of this transition is that on the ‘AmaWasha’ – the Zulu washermen’s guild of the Witwatersrand.

The AmaWasha emerged in the early 1870s in Natal through the lowly washermen’s caste of ‘Dhobis’ who had emigrated to Natal and started practicing their traditional profession – “the commercial washing of clothes”. Local Zulus were quick to recognise the chance to also earn an income from such work and seized on the opportunity that the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand presented and service’s needs.

By 1890 there were already a couple of hundred AmaWasha, who had even adopted the ‘Dhobi’ turban, at work in the Braamfontein Spruit to the north of the mining camp. By 1896 there were over 1 200 washermen located at eight or more sites, the bulk of which appeared to have been concentrated in the Richmond area which was “by far the best developed of the sites….the owners provided eight wood and iron structures to accommodate some of the washermen and a small building in which the laundry could be safely stored overnight.”

In October 1895, the washing sites were closed by health inspectors following a drought in that year that basically resulted in contamination of the work places

The Auckland Park Steam Laundry Company was floated in June 1896 “with a registered capital of 12 500” (pounds Sterling).  This was situated on the Richmond Estate, the centre of former AmaWasha activities.

Rand Steam Laundries and Cleaning and Dyeing Works came into existence in July 1902 on the site and became the biggest laundry operation in South Africa. The Union Castle shipping line sent its laundry to them every week by rail. The laundry closed in 1962 and since then, the property has been used by a number of light industrial companies.

Frasers commented as follows about Imperial’s demolition of the buildings on this historical site

“It seems to me that a seemingly deliberate and premeditated breaking of the law needs the whole book thrown at it. The previous heritage structures must be rebuilt and the story of AmaWasha and the mining town they serviced must be told and portrayed so that “it may be bequeathed to future generations” – the cottages can once again house the craft shops and the site should be turned into an active place for the community. The story of the perfidy of Imperial and the punishment meted out to them in terms of legislation should also be encapsulated so that everyone becomes aware of the law and the consequences of arrogance in disregarding it. Anything less would be a travesty.”

And pigs can fly, the last time I looked. Whatever happens, the historical feel of time and place is lost forever due to the callous disregard of the Imperial Group for the law and irresponsible corporate governance.

All that now remains, for the foreseeable future, is a temporary parking lot.




Yesterday I received a copy of “Herakut, The Perfect Merge” from Amazon which is about the work of a German Street art duo, Hera and Akut.

This book is a photographic collection of their works, both whimsy and social commentary which is utterly unique and stunningly beautiful.

The book gives one a glimpse on why street artists use public spaces to showcase their creations;

“…to most people a wall is something dividing but to us it is a place of possibilities. A room of “What if’s”, like: “What if I scribble down my tag on this like my name was a flagpole and this wall was some new land I was claiming?”

“What if I now used that wall like it was a white sheet of paper, a massive clean canvass that cost me nothing and therefore: no pressure on me to be painting something worthwhile”

“What if I actually did paint something good? Wouldn’t this wall turn into a gallery space, open to anyone a t any time?”

“What if we declared this our artistic playground where we could run free ….”

I like that. It makes sense

And I love their stuff because the dog depicted in many of their pieces looks a lot like our Boston terrier, Count Frodo Vrotski.



Tomorrow's  Woman's Day in South Africa, a public holiday in celebration of these strange beings that have captivated the hearts of us poor men since the time of Lillith.

"The great question that has never been answered, and which I have yet not been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?" - Sigmund Freud

If Sigi didn't know, how must I? The only thing I know is that all women are beautiful, but some are indisputably more beautiful than others.Thanks for introducing me to the music of Ani DiFranco, Skye. It's pure poetry

I am walking
Out in the rain
And I am listening to the low moan
Of the dial tone again
And I am getting
Nowhere with you
And I can't let it go
And I can't get through

The old woman behind the pink curtains
And the closed door
On the first floor
She's listening through the air shaft
To see how long our swan song can last

I am watching your chest rise and fall
Like the tides of my life
And the rest of it all
And your bones have been my bedframe
And your flesh has been my pillow
I am waiting for sleep
To offer up the deep
With both hands

And in each other's shadows we grew less and less tall
And eventually our theories couldn't explain it all
And I'm recording our history now on the bedroom wall
And when we leave the landlord will come
And paint over it all

So now use both hands
Please use both hands
Oh no, don't close your eyes
I am writing graffiti on your body
I am drawing the story of how hard we tried
Hard we tried
How hard we tried

Ani DiFranco

Photo courtesy of:



 Dreams, Schemes & Themes was meant to be a about the weird and wonderment of life and not about serious issues. It started as writing for fun and relaxation, but I’m been finding it hard to write on frivolous stuff. I’ve become stuck and I cannot move on before I express the way I feel about being a South African right now. For the first time since the birth of a democratic South Africa I’m starting to doubt and question the stable long term future of this beautiful country.

I am deeply disturbed by the state of education in South Africa. Being involved in the NGO educational sector I need to say clearly that this is my own thoughts and opinions and not those of my employer.

What tipped the scale for me to publicly express my views was the recent release of the Annual National Assessment results. This revealed that South African education is a fucking mess to put it mildly.

These results revealed that “Grade 3 learners performed at an average of 35 percent in Literacy and 28 percent in Numeracy and in Grade 6, the national average performance in Languages is 28 percent, while Mathematics performance is 30 percent.”

In other words more than 70% of children aged 12 - some 3 million – in grades one to six cannot read, write or count properly.

This is a recipe for disaster. This means that about 8 million young South Africans in 2016, using a conservative estimate, will be functionally illiterate, unable to succeed at a higher education level or finding meaningful employment. Coupling this to the current official unemployment rate of 25% (which some experts recons is closer to 37%) South Africa is heading for a Somali-like scenario. The sheer number of the unemployed trapped in a hopeless situation of hunger and poverty will mean that South Africa will most probably be in a state of anarchy and lawlessness by 2020 if things don’t change for the better.

I am proudly South African which makes this post doubly hard to write. I have never even thought of leaving the country and hate the negativity of a number of white South Africans of my age group grumbling and moaning about the State of the Nation. We made this bed and have to lay in it.  As a middle-aged pale male who spend more than half my life being protected by the laws of an unjust and inhumane regime there is nothing to complain about. On the contrary, I feel an obligation to ensure that our children, and our children’s children, those of all colours and creeds can truly be part Madiba and Tutu’s Rainbow Nation.

I have a great respect for Prof Jonathan Jansen, the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State. He writes a weekly column in the “The Times”. On the 6th of July he commented on the release of the Annual National Assessment results and the recently introduced Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement that is costing the publishing industry millions in the developing of new teaching resources;

“I am not sure with whom my sense of dismay is greater - the politicians who make-believe we need more data on the dysfunctional school system in order to improve it, or the uncritical citizens who swallow yet another load of official deception that would have us believe that somehow measuring learners (again and again and again) will miraculously lead to better results the next time round in literacy and numeracy.

We know what is wrong in the foundation years of schooling. Too much time is wasted. Too many teachers are absent. Too few principals lead. Too few parents take an active interest in what happens to reading and calculating after school. Too many policies confuse educators. Too much disruption is caused by unions. Too little accountability is demanded by the government that teachers teach and that schools perform. Too many instructors lack the advanced skills for competent teaching in maths and in literature.

The tragedy of these results is not primarily a function of curriculum; we have fiddled and fumbled with the curriculum for 17 years, and the net result is the same - the children still cannot read and write.

The last thing we need is yet another curriculum "statement" that promises to be better than the previous one; the "new and improved" toothpaste adverts sound more convincing. Ministers have come and gone, each measuring our dilemmas and promising it will be better next time. We remain stuck in the same mess.

It is not only the fact that there is a spectacular lack of imagination in officialdom on how to resolve the problem of low learning achievements in the early years of schooling; it is also the fact that we have come to believe that government can save us. It is time for all of us to do something for the sake of our children.”

Goodness Gracious, Big Balls of Fire, as the great sage Jerry Lee Lewis once said

To add to my sense of disquiet I stumbled on an article by Max du Preez, “The Sickening Smell of Revolution” that in way compliments Prof Jansen’s column –

During the days of Apartheid I used to read du Preez’s Vrye Weekblad. Max has always been an arch-radical being at odds with the then Nationalist Government and later with the SABC. Love him or hate him, he has a reputation for fearless reporting.

“I’m beginning to smell revolution too. Just a whiff, for now, but still” du Preez writes;

But it isn’t the exciting, promising smell of the 1980s. It’s the sickening smell of hatred, greed and revenge. The smell of rot.

Revolution fomented by greed

Look, I think there are ample reasons for a lot of people in this country to want to revolt. I would too if I lived in a shack and had no hope of finding a job and improving my miserable life and those of my children. But the revolution I fear is not one driven by a genuine desire for a decent life and dignity.

I fear the revolution fomented by greedy, fat cat demagogues lusting for more power, with insecure little men clinging to their coattails.

I don’t fear an uprising aimed at correcting imbalances and bringing justice. I fear an uprising that will dump our constitution in the rubbish bin, rob us of our freedom, destroy our economy and put a nasty, super-wealthy bunch of despots in power.”

The article continues to comment on Julius Malema’s, the leader of the ANCYL, stance on the nationalization of mines, banks and land grabs –

“There is nothing wrong with a campaign for “economic freedom in our lifetime”. In fact, I support it. But then fight for real solutions to poverty and unemployment, not for a system that can only lead to more misery, suffering and hunger.

There is no quick way to kill poverty and create millions of jobs, but there has to be a quicker way than the way we’re doing it right now. We have to find that way, “we” meaning government, the business sector, the labour movement and the citizenry.

In need of a wake-up call

I sometimes think white South Africans deserve a revolution. Too many of them live in complete denial, as if nothing had changed since the comfortable days when they were what Malema and Co now wants to become.

Too many whites fooled themselves into thinking putting black faces in government and parliament would be the extent of their “sacrifice” after apartheid.

Their racism, although mostly uttered privately or anonymously, matches that of the new breed of black racists.

They need a rude wake-up call, or there will be a revolution and they will be its first victims.”

Again, Goodness Gracious, Big Balls of Fire

The time to sit back as someone who was part of the problem prior to 1994, directly or indirectly, is past its sell-by date. To hide in the suburbs behind high walls living in some la-la-land moaning about the inefficiency of government won’t change a thing or save us from an uncertain future.

It needs action, it needs work, and it needs personal sacrifice and personal involvement in upliftment projects, job creation, and skills development to in some way bring human dignity and opportunities to the millions with no hope and no prospects.

I know I cannot change the world, but I do know that I can do my little bit to facilitate change. All these little bits can become a huge stone dumped into a stagnant pool of political infighting, inefficiency and lack of service delivery.  Getting involved might just avert the specter of a Somali-scenario.

All it needs is A Few Good Men and Women

I suppose it’s time to get off my soap-box as I’ve never seen myself as a social activist or any such shit. All I know is that there’s work to do.



Today is Nelson Mandela’s 93rd birthday. Today is also Mandela Day, an international day adopted by the United Nations. The central theme is “Take Action; Inspire Change; Make Every Day a Mandela Day”

I spend the morning with the kids of Albert Street School in Jozi catering mainly for refugee children of which more than a 120 are orphans. Standard Bank made a donation today towards the end of year examination fees which the teachers had to fund from their salaries in 2010.

During the function Hillary Mudziviri, a form 4 pupil, presented his African Dream to those gathered in the church building. This included Bishop Paul Verryn, a number of Standard Bank senior personnel, his teachers and his school mates with cameras flashing in front of a television crew.

“It is my pleasure to address you all on a crucial matter” he started with his speech shaking like a leaf in his hands. How else for a young teenager addressing a gathering for the first time and tackling heavy issues to boot;

“The state of education in the whole world is appalling, especially in Africa. In the SADC (Southern African Development Community) it is a disaster. Yes, it is right to blame the former Colony regimes but we need to ask ourselves what the new government have done to improve the lives of the many suffering children in Africa.

Children from marginalized communities are still denied the right to good education, our schools have poor infrastructures, no learning materials and very poor, if any co-curricular and extra-curricular facilities. Highly qualified teachers, especially for science and mathematics are placed in private schools for the rich, leaving the poor schools with nothing at all.

Many children in African countries with stable economies like Namibia, South Africa and Egypt are denied access to education due to the lack of proper documentation, no clear family backgrounds and money. Thousands of these children are roaming the streets as I speak right now, sniffing glue, begging or selling, many of them are used as labourers and most are sexually abused and finally destroyed by HIV and AIDS.

So my dream for Africa is to see a stop to this.

I tell you ladies and gentleman, in my dream for Africa; we must cultivate our own capabilities as Africans, because nothing comes for free. As we all know, rabbits cannot fly; eagles can’t swim and squirrels don’t have feathers. So stop complaining and comparing Africa with other international developed continents. Instead let us build and work on improving Africa.

In my dream for Africa, I have a feeling of hope and empowerment. I know sometimes we as Africans face failures and disappointments, but we must find ourselves visualizing to handle the situation, because as Africans we have a large sense of reality vibrating within our veins.

Imagine an African continent without criticism, racism and hatred. An African continent working together to free us from crime, abuse, civil wars and poverty. Not an Africa where you can see slavery in her shadow, which stains Africa with blood.

Since Africa is the birthplace of our spirits, I dream that Africans one day will become engineers and architects of our own economies and not let others plan our structures for us. We have to be smart as Africans.

My brothers and sisters let’s rise to the trials of life and never give in to hopelessness or despair. Let’s make our minds work for us rather than against us. Africa shall be at peace.”

You go Hillary.

I haven’t edited this. The message is clear and insightful coming from a child who, like all the kids and teachers of Albert Street, is taking responsibility for their destiny against tremendous odds.

That is why I got involved a year ago with Albert Street and started thinking about the Field of Dreams library which is fast becoming a reality. The refurbishment of the old minister’s manse is very close to completion. Amecon Construction is doing the hard yards at present in their spare time. This past weekend they worked on Saturday and Sunday installing the ceiling, all at their own expense. Only the floor tiles needs to be laid a final coat of paint, after that the racking can be installed and the books put in place.

Thank you to all those that helped make my Mandela Day commitment of 2010 becoming a reality.  This is only the start however. The orphans needs to be fed on a daily basis as they CANNOT fend for themselves, it is not right that they go hungry. There are two classrooms to finish. There are proper school desk and chairs required.

Albert Street is a small plant that needs careful nurturing and my African Dream is that this will be the start of many inner city schools that will provide street children, orphans, refugees, whoever are in need education and hope of a chance of success.

Happy birthday Madiba, may you legacy live on       



Today is World Refugee Day and the SA Human Rights Commission has called for tolerance towards refugees. The theme for this year is "One", with a campaign over the next six months spreading the message that "One Refugee without Hope is too many."

The UN High Commission for Refugees Global Trends report for 2010 showed many of the world's poorest countries were hosting huge refugee populations.

The report shows that 43.7 million people are now displaced worldwide -- roughly equaling the entire populations of Colombia or South Korea or of Scandinavia and Sri Lanka combined. Within this total are 15.4 million refugees of which nearly 850,000 are asylum-seekers, nearly one fifth of them in South Africa."

I’ve spoken to a lot of foreigners from other African countries during my solitary photographic journeys though the inner city. I am constantly amazed by their “Can Do” attitude – Bob the pancake baker from the DRC that dishes up honest to goodness crêpes at markets around Jozi with toppings varying from cinnamon and sugar with a dash of lemon to Cointreau and honey. Absolutely yummy. There’s also Colin from Ghana who recently did some carpentry for me and Steve the “African Shoe Doctor who fixes all your Footwear Problems” who sets up shop in front of Paul’s Tavern in Main Road Melville each day. Unfortunately these guys are regularly targeted in xenophobic attacks. Yes, one refugee without hope is one too many…

The concept of social activism or lobbying for human rights mean little to them as endless meetings, marches, gatherings and rhetoric has not added anything to make their lives better or more secure. I’m also not a political animal and hate red tape with a passion. I love working with people who are prepared to help themselves and this was why I got involved in the Albert Street School for refugees and abandoned children last year.  Despite the fact that they get no support or assistance from government they run a fully functioning school on wing and a lot of prayers.

I haven’t written about the progress of the “Field of Dreams” library for some time, mainly because the building operations had slowed down. Amecon, the construction company, who’s doing the build at their own costs over weekends have been so busy that they were virtually working 24/7 on their own contracts leaving no time for charitable work. In the last month, however, they’ve spent three days on site, including Youth Day which was a public holiday. The roof was painted last Saturday and the windows glazed. All that remains is to put in a ceiling and lay the floor carpet tiles. The books and racking are waiting. A computer and computerized access programme had been sourced.  Pressure Control Projects has the preliminary drawings for the mural, the wall are prepped ready for decoration. A small section of paving is still required and then we’re done.

Of the more than 400 children that attend the school nearly a 100 are either refugee orphans or abandoned children. When talking to William Kandowe, the new principal who took over from Alpha Zhou, recently I found out that these orphaned children were down to ONE meal a day, five days a week consisting of a bowl of maize meal only with no provision for meals on weekends. How these kids survive I have no idea.

I put some feelers out and three weeks ago Gastaldi Distributors in Pretoria agreed to donate fruit and vegetables on a weekly basis as long as this is collected from their premises. I brokered a deal with Thuto Ke Lebone, a start-up black empowerment transport company to collect from the Pretoria Market and deliver to the school.

I received a call today from a representative of the Johannesburg branch of the Union of Jewish Women who will donate 1000 teabags and 25 kilograms of rice per month until the end of the year. Slowly but surely with a LOT of help from my friends and their friends these children are being given a chance of a better life, not being trapped and abandoned like flotsam while the politicians and activists plays games and have meeting and marches and summits  and whatever.

A steady supply of other foodstuffs, maize meal, protein and hygienic necessities is still required. If you’re brave enough to lend a hand, drop me a line. You are most welcome to join this band of maniacs and wide-eyed dreamers that is willing to make a difference.

READ has also started reading clubs at this school as well as at SKY (Soweto Kliptown Youth Association) where kids have the opportunity to choose their own books which we’ll purchase and donate to open up the wonderful world of magic and knowledge hidden inside.  

These kids deserve all the help they can get – “If You Dream It You Can Do It” – is what Field of Dreams is all about after all.  

I’m already dreaming and scheming about finishing the two classrooms at the back of the library.