Tuinhuys, in Black and White

Tuinhuys (the Garden House) is the Cape Town office of the Presidency, a lovely piece of architecture with a history that goes back, as everything does in South Africa, to slavery and colonialism. It was from here that FW de Klerk declared the end of apartheid; it was from here that Mandela, Mbeki, Motlanthe and – catastrophically – Jacob Zuma steered the ship of state, in JZ’s case pretty much onto the rocks.

In this image, I have chosen to show, not just the graciousness and grace of the structure, but something of what it means in the South African context – appropriately, I would suggest, in black and white.


Parkmore Field Market

It’s becoming a meme, I guess, at least of this blog – the notion that Joburg, and South Africa, is a study in contradictions. Creativity and enterprise flourish, the place is dynamic and happening – but it is also a dead-end of fraud and corruption, crime and incompetence. There is warmth, love, vibrancy in human interactions, across race, creed and class – and there is sullenness, indifference, even hatred. The glass is half full, and at the same time half empty.

You get the idea.

One of the creativity, love, enterprise happenings happens once a month, on the second Saturday, just down the road from us: the Parkmore Field Market, at Field and Study. It’s an odd, and oddly pleasing little neck of the woods, a stream or creek flowing alongside William Nicol, one of Joburg’s major arteries, with trees, open fields, stables and a paddock or whatever they call it for show-jumping. If you walk there on the weekend, as we did, you are likely to see small children being led on horseback across the field and down to the water.

This being Joburg, of course, what you also see, on the opposite bank of the stream, is a scattering of rough shelters, plastic sheets spread over branches, homes to the unemployed and homeless.

The Field Market, on the other hand, is a homely treasure trove of jams and pickles, olives, handmade soaps, craft beers, clothing, jewellery, art work.

Here are some photos.

The walk to work, Pretoria

Most days, instead of getting off the Gautrain bus opposite the Treasury, at the corner of Thabo Sehume and Madiba, I get off at Madiba and Bosman, and walk the couple of blocks to work, past the Department of Public Works and the High Court, for what passes these days for exercise. I know, I need to take better care of my health, as Rob rightly reminds me, but at least this is something, right?!

I took these images on my way to work one morning, when the sun was still raking across the street, casting long shadows.

By the time you read this, and see them, Rob and I will be walking somewhere very different, out in the valleys and fields of the Midlands Meander, in KwaZulu Natal. Anglo-Boer War territory, for those of you who are history buffs – and close to Howick, where Nelson Mandela was captured, betrayed to the apartheid government by the CIA.

We have a week’s holiday booked (yeah!) first at Beverley Country Cottages, on a working farm in Dargle (Dargle is a name, yes, this is not a mistake) and then in the Drakensberg, at Berg House Cottages, near the Royal Natal National Park.

Google them if you like, but there will be photos aplenty once we get back, on the 6th of August, and I resume blog service.

Of Gautrains and stations

There are three guys in my office whose job it is to review the evidence – cost-benefit analyses, emissions studies, traffic analysis, urban sprawl, you name it – for a mooted east-west addition to the Gautrain network. I ride the train most days, from Jo’burg to Pretoria and back again, and much as I love the speed, safety and convenience I do have to wonder about the economics.

Fortunately, though, it’s not my problem. What does exercise my imagination is the place of the human, in all of this. It’s something to do, perhaps, with the scale of the individual versus the built environment, the symbolism of waiting on a platform for a train to come in or pull out, the messaging – overt or subliminal – that constantly bombards us.

It’s something, too, about journeys and destinations – bustle and pause, hurry and wait, your life rattling along rails to some unknown end-point.

I hope you enjoy these images.

O, Pretoria!

These days I work, not in downtown Toronto, but in Pretoria, Gauteng – administrative capital of South Africa, a small city with Boer Republic roots and an African feel, a place of substantial Anglo-Dutch architecture from the nineteenth century commingled with brutalist Afrikaner buildings from the 1970s, and the litter, taxi mayhem and crumbling sidewalks of Maputo or (who knows, since I haven’t been there) Nairobi.

I go there, most days, by Gautrain, the gleaming Bombardier-built high-speed commuter train that links Johannesburg with Pretoria and the O.R. Tambo International Airport. Most days, since I try to travel outside of rush hour, the train is half empty; sometimes, however, especially late afternoon, it is crammed with office workers, students, travellers and of course the ubiquitous (in South Africa) security guards.

The whole experience is strange and familiar, simultaneously – first world and third world shaken and stirred in some Afro-European cocktail, with all kinds of ingredients – edgy, clamorous, a clash of poverty and wealth, modernity and marginalisation, that makes you want to look away, and look back again.

I’ve decided to do some looking, so here is a photograph, snapped (that is the word) on my iPhone, on the train one morning to bustling Pretoria. More will follow, mostly likely from the Leica.

Gautrain # 1