5 Stages of Cape Town’s water crisis

January 30, 2018

With Day Zero looming, Capetonians are getting increasingly anxious about the day when the taps run dry. I have mixed feelings about this. I’m very concerned but there also times when I feel reassured by the spirit of “we’re all in this together” and the resilience and innovation that Capetonians are showing.

Of course one thing that helps (apart from 1-minute showers and not using the washing machine very often) is humour. So here’s my take (with borrowings naturally) on the 5 stages of Cape Town’s water crisis.

5 stages of water shortage

On the innovation side, I’ve noticed that at our local spring, there are a few “water guards / water carriers” who are earning a brisk trade fetching people’s water for them.

I think we also need a playlist of Water Songs for inspiration. Any ideas?





Goodbye, Ayoba World Cup

July 12, 2010

Part of the Cape Town fanwalk with Table Mountain in the background

It’s been fun and it’s been (mostly) exciting. And it’s united the country like never before. So for these and other reasons I’m happy we had the Soccer World Cup in South Africa. No analysis of the tournament from me today. I’m sad that the Netherlands didn’t win it. But I’m happy that they came very close and that Robben didn’t dive in the penalty area the way that many many others players would have. Maybe the better team won. At the end of the day, does it really matter?

Of course my attention is massively diverted by my upcoming Sudan trip and so I probably won’t allow myself to post more than a few words before getting back to work. But the reality of this job is that a lot of the time it’s about “hurry up and wait”. There’s nothing pressing that I need to do in the next 30 minutes for example but I know that I will feel guilty about blogging for more than a few minutes. Something to work on I guess, those guilty feelings.

But while I’m here I want to show you a few images* I took from our trip down the fanwalk in Cape Town the other day. I loved the atmosphere and the colour and the flags. I could have done with less annoying vuvuzela blasts close to my ear-drums though. I would find myself whipping around in anxiety at an ear-splitting cry from a distressed hippopotamus to find that the sound was coming from a small 12-year old boy. No doubt he was mighty pleased that he could produce such a powerful sound. My rather uncharitable wish in those circumstances was that whoever bought him the annoying plastic trumpet gets to enjoy the sound of it as much as the rest of us.

More of the fanwalk

In the jungle, the mighty jungle ...

The t-shirt in the bottom picture shows the inside of a lion’s mouth. That’s another thing about this tournament – it really brought out people’s creativity. From a marketing perspective alone, this was phenomenal since the whole country now associates the word “Ayoba!” with the cellphone provider MTN. We don’t actually know whether this is a real word or not but we all know that it has to do with parties, massive excitement and the soccer world cup. Here’s hoping that the next one (in Brazil in 2014) is equally Ayoba.

* Click to enlarge

World Cup Fever

June 14, 2010

On Friday night I was lucky enough (thanks to my brother) to attend the France vs Uruguay World Cup match at the new Cape Town stadium. What a beautiful stadium it is too. The vuvuzelas were LOUD and quite annoying but the atmosphere was good and it was an amazing experience.

Unfortunately there were no goals in the match but I saw enough of Diego Forlan (the main Uruguayan striker) to fear for South Africa’s chances on Weds night. And the French were classy as always and very assured on the ball. Bafana Bafana will have to play out of their skins I fear to progress to the next round.

People were dressed in their national shirts and flags and my brother had a miner’s helmet cut out into football-fan-like shapes. It was a bit like being at a rock concert without the music. In place of the music we had the angry buzzing of a swarm of vuvuzelas but were armed with earplugs and so our hearing probably survived unscathed. Journalists have been having fun with South Africa’s latest cultural weapon, one wag changing the slogan of the national broadcaster from “Feel it! It’s here” to “Hear it! It’s deafening.” I see the Dutch also have their own version called the “HoorNichtsMeer“. As someone who is easily startled by loud noises, I find the vuvuzela a bit of a trial but it also adds to the general sense of excitement surrounding these games.

The French fan in the middle to the left here came prepared with industry-strength ear protection and he also added a blue beret and a straggly beard. His compatriot two seats down has a blue, white and red Mohawk. I had to smile at the couple dressed in the Irish flag who came to register their disapproval at France’s progress to the finals based on Thierry Henry’s outrageous double hand-ball.

It’s hard to believe that this will all be over in just under four weeks. I hope for the Socceroos’ sake that the rest of their World Cup is better than last night’s game. Germany were scarily efficient in disposing of them 4-0. Spain are still the favourites to win it but you can’t rule out Brazil. Should be interesting to see how it develops.

On the book front I’ve been reading Philip Pullman and, well, Philip Pullman. I loved Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife but will have to wait a while to get hold of the third in the series, The Amber Spyglass. I’ll think of something profound to say about those two while I enjoy the rest of the soccer.

For now though, it’s great to be a South African and to forget about our national problems for a while. On July 12th we’ll start to worry about corruption and crime and poor service-delivery. For now, it’s about uniting behind the boys in Yellow. If only they can score another goal like Siphiwe Tshabala’s cracker on Friday.

Mirror socks and giant vuvuzelas

May 31, 2010

Cape Town stadium as seen in the mirror

Yesterday was a good day, which makes the shock of Monday morning that much greater. This morning didn’t start well. I knew when my alarm went off at 5.45am that I needed to make a concerted effort to get to work in time for 7am rollcall. But when the electronic gate didn’t open and I had to find the key and then shoo the geckos out of the motor and then write a note for my neighbours and all this at 6 o’clock in the morning I was pretty sure that I would be late. And I hate being late, especially since I got some ‘feedback’ on Friday that I am often late.

Friday was a horror. Compulsory staff workshop in the afternoon at which I battled to stay awake and almost had to prop up my eyelids with matchsticks to avoid embarrassing snoring. I eventually settled on writing down random words which the presenter said (but which I couldn’t bring myself to attend to) and trying to stay awake that way. It wasn’t pleasant and I was partly to blame for having two slices of cake over lunch. But what got me rattled (and I seem to rattle easily these days) is that we were forced to give anonymous feedback to each other about our strengths and weaknesses.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Presenter C, ‘the feedback will be anonymous and I’ll find a way to use it creatively.’

That’s OK then, I thought, the Major won’t see that this feedback is from me. I can happily write away and perhaps the presenter will pool all the comments on a flipchart. What a relief.

‘But I don’t want to see ten strengths and only one weakness’, continued Presenter C sternly. And like a fool I complied, dutifully writing an almost equal-length list on both sides.

The idea of anonymity in a small sickbay like ours is a bit laughable though. With only one psychologist in the group, who else is going to use words like defensive, self-esteem and conflict management? And of course handwriting is pretty easy to decipher as well.

The ‘creative’ way that the presenter thought of to share this feedback was to simply walk over to each person and, with a small delay, hand them their ‘feedback’. Shock and horror. My piece of paper (in a handwriting I know well) said that I was temperamental and often late. Fair enough. There were positive comments too but it was the negative ones that stood out.

And then I was too mortified to see how the Major took my constructive comments that she was perhaps stubborn, defensive, avoids conflict and that she sometimes appears to lack self-confidence. The sugar and my resentment worked together (along with the boring content) and for the rest of the session I was away in my own world, trying to stay awake.

Fast forward to this morning and I’m trying to be on time in order to show that I’m addressing this weakness in my character. Although of course I didn’t have to. I could have happily agreed that I am often late and that I quite like it, since I get to miss standing to attention during the national anthem on a Monday for example. It’s no big deal. Oh, if only I was as laidback as that.

But on to other things. The picture above shows Cape Town stadium as reflected in my car mirror, decorated with mirror socks in the spirit of the World Cup. Quite a few cars have these mirror socks and also flags and the spirit is if not quite at fever pitch then well on the way.

To give you another idea of the football fever that is set to become seriously over-cooked in the next month or so, I give you … the giant vuvuzela.

This is like a giant kid’s toy which has been dropped on the uncompleted freeway near the Waterfront. Hyundai clearly spotted a gap in the market for such a toy and combined it with a giant electronic scoreboard so that we can all see how many days there are to the World Cup. Apparently the giant kids who will be operating this device promise to blow a big, loud blast of hot air whenever there is a goal scored at the Cape Town stadium.

Looking for Lance (and finding Avatar)

March 14, 2010

• I loved this gem of writing advice from Roddy Doyle: “Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.” Now I don’t think he is making fun of depressed writers here (or the famous ones who committed suicide). But I like the mental image of the struggling writer looking to their mentor for inspiration and getting, well something other than inspiration I guess.

• The big story in Cape Town this week was the week-long presence of the world’s greatest cyclist and seven-times Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong. Apparently the number of watching spectators was almost double this year, and all to get a glimpse of the great man himself. I was watching on TV and, as luck would have it, just when Lance and the nine other riders made their winning breakaway with about 30kms to go, the live action feed stopped working because of the high winds. Instead we got to see helicopter shots of the breakaway group with no chance of identifying individual riders. It was so frustrating, especially if you drag yourself out of bed at 6.30am and sit patiently through the inane Lebo doing pretty mindless interviews every 10 minutes or so. Eventually we got to see Lance make his tactical charge straight into the howling south-easter with 1km to go but it wasn’t enough to set up his team-mate for the win. Very exciting though and my adrenalin was pumping from my leisurely position on the couch.

• The post-race interviewer wanted to know if legendary Lance had anything to say on the course. The guy who came second (Christoff somebody) said Lance was a bit alarmed when a cannon went off on one of the descents. “Why would somebody do something like that?” asked Lance. To which Christoff simply replied: “This is Africa.” I wonder if that is one of the abiding memories that Lance will take away with him from Cape Town. Crazy spectators letting off cannons. That, and the aerial shot of a Great White shark in False Bay.

• Today I finally got to see Avatar. The fantasy world that James Cameron and his team have created is breathtaking. Really excellent. I know a lot of people found it too long but I found it much easier to watch than the long battle scenes in the Lord of the Ring series. Even the inevitable fight-to-the-death sequence near the end, although predictable, was exciting. One thing that did grate a little was those scenes of the Navi people all moving in unison, swaying back and forth in a metaphor of a close community completely in sync with one another.

• Now that I think about the movie a little more, I also realise that these war epics very rarely show the suffering that war creates. We get the suffering after the initial attack on Hometree but the protracted fighting that inevitably ensues in this kind of situation? The countless wounded and traumatised people? No, we get none of those. The victors smile and the vanquished slink off to their space ship without much of a struggle. Interestingly, as viewers we have a lot of sympathy for Jake (who is a victim of war) but we’re spared all the other wounded veterans of this type of fighting. All in all though, a great way to spend close on three hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday in the garden

February 20, 2010

It’s a gorgeously hot Saturday today (36 degrees C) and I spent some of my day in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which was full of the scents of summer and packed with people. I had my picnic blanket, some fruit salad, water and some reading. What more did I need?

The garden was busy but by walking up hill for a few minutes I managed to find a tree with some shade and plonked myself down to take in the scenery. Let me see if I can show you a pic.

Now that photo is misleading since it makes it look quite dry. Mid-day light I guess. And then I thought I should put myself in the picture.

See how I can barely keep my eyes open? Not long after that I was flat on my back with my reading in front of my eyes and I managed about three pages before I started dozing.

It’s a pity because I’ve started a post on “reading and depression” which mentions Virginia Woolf and has some excellent quotes. But that can wait for another day. Winter perhaps!

In the meantime I was enjoying the garden and even with my rubbishy phone camera you can see why the yellowwood is the favourite of all SA trees. Yellowwood furniture has this wonderful glow to it, and sadly the best examples of the trees are to be found in nature reserves such as this one.

I must also apologise for not getting round to my usual blog-reads. The heat is addling my brain and rugby season has also just started here, so I will be a Stormers fan for a good few weeks before I start to get a little disenchanted again. Every year we say the same thing: This year’s the year. They’ll make the semis for sure. We’ll see about that.

Update: Just wanted to add that I’m loving The New Yorker Fiction podcasts. Listened to Julian Barnes reading Frank O’Connor, Orhan Pamuk reading Vladimir Nabokov and somebody ferris reading George Saunders. The Saunders was amazing. Saunders himself reads Isaac Babel. Also great. I love hearing these authors’ voices. Julian Barnes sounded a little like Tony Blair for a few moments there. I wonder if he knows!

Blame it on the mountain

January 25, 2010

• Climbing the mountain has to be one of the best things you can do in Cape Town. On Saturday morning I ascended up Skeleton Gorge and swam in the reservoir on top before running down Nursery Ravine. The reason that I was running is that I didn’t have any sunscreen and Nursery Ravine (unlike Skeleton Gorge) is exposed to the sun. And once I’d started running it was difficult to stop since gravity was pulling me down with irresistible force. The result is very sore calf muscles, which are even worse today than they were on Sunday. “Ooh”, “eeh” and “aah” followed by some swearing and also hobbling.

• There’s something magical about the mountain and you can tell when you’re a real Capetonian when you start mentioning it in revered tones. But perhaps that’s one of the key things that sets us apart from Joburgers. We have a transformational wilderness experience right on our doorsteps. And when I’m not typing with seven fingers rather than the usual eight (thanks to the metal dustbin) I will do a better job of detailing the experience.

• But a few highlights: swimming in cool, natural water at the top; the light filtering down through the trees that hug the Kirstenbosch side of the mountain; the hundreds of steps that make it easy to climb; the red disas which you spy at the top (if you’re lucky in summer); the stillness up there; the smile on your face when you come down.

• The wonderful thing about audio books is that when you’ve exercised yourself to a standstill and are too tired to hold up a book let alone turn pages for several hours, you can just lie back and let the voices wash over you. What a delight it was this weekend to listen to Emma Fielding reading Jane Eyre. I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never read any of the Brontes before but this was brilliant. Orphan Jane reminded me of David Copperfield and Harry Potter and then there were shades of Jane Austen and Gothic romances. The madwoman in the attic and earnest, lovable Jane. Mr Rochester was a lot gruffer than I expected but I’m sure you know that it all turned out alright in the end. I even liked the dog Pilot.

• Still on the English classics, I borrowed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein from the library, this time on DVD. I’m not even going to attempt a review here but Kenneth Branagh’s production didn’t quite work for me. Robert de Niro was excellently cast as the monster though, and his patchwork face was one of the scariest parts of the movie. I can also see why Tim Burton gave Helena Bonham-Carter a second chance at being the corpse bride. But I think what I liked about it the most was having the chance to see the source of so much later science fiction. And I’m sure there were metaphors there about the things we create coming back to haunt us.

• In four days time I’ll be heading off my week-long retreat at Betty’s Bay. Reading, writing, walking on the beach, swimming in the sea and not a lot else (except eating and drinking perhaps). Small matter of a whole lot of work (and cases) to tie up before then though. I’ll check in from Betty’s.

Fear and joy of flying

November 27, 2009

I went up to Saldanha on Monday to give a presentation on the Psychology of Survival. Then back for a night-flight in a helicopter that evening. Wow, what a thrill.

Leaving aside the long wait, some anxiety about flying with a trainee pilot, sitting around while he practises landing from different heights (800m, 600m, 400m, 200m) and so on, the flight itself was exhilirating. We had breathtaking views of the city at sunset and then there was the sheer thrill of being up in the air and looking down on everything.

It was scary and exciting at the same time and I’m sure the anxiety adds to the enjoyment since all that fear of crashing in a ball of flame on the ground gets transformed into the joy of apparent weightlessness as you drift over the city in the magic light of sunset.

We got to see the new Cape Town Stadium which is hosting the World Cup Draw next Saturday and it’s beautiful. Unfortunately I had my camera on the wrong setting and so my stadium shots were blurry. But at least the mountain was looking good.


Thinking about my fear of flying led me to realise that I’ve never actually read Erica Jong’s 1973 novel, which is “a comic, picaresque novel of sex and psychiatry that challenged conventional views of women”.

Before rushing off to get the book I thought I’d read a couple of reviews to see how this feminist classic has weathered the intervening 36 years. Joanne Barkan does a very good re-reading in the Fall 2009 issue of Dissent.

Here she summarises the plot:

Twenty-nine-year-old Isadora Wing (who’s recently been on the reading circuit with her first book, a volume of erotic poetry) is travelling with her Chinese American psychiatrist husband to a convention of psychoanalysts in Vienna. Emotionally frustrated and sexually bored in her marriage, Isadora is tormented, on the one hand, by her yearning for adventure, sexual rapture, freedom, and creativity, and on the other hand, by her need for the security and protection of a husband. She opts, at least temporarily, for adventure by taking off on a frenzied, buzzed-on-beer road trip through Western Europe in a sporty convertible with a “swinging” Jungian analyst whom she’s met at the convention. Two and a half weeks later, he dumps her in Paris in order to join his children and his current girlfriend for a long-planned vacation in Brittany. Completely unprepared for this, Isadora falls apart for a day but emerges from her panic with some of the confidence and strength she’s craved. She heads to London and the hotel where she and her husband had planned to meet before flying back to New York. He’s out, but she gets the key to his room. The book closes with her soaking in the bathtub, feeling contented, when her husband walks in. Will she stay with him or leave? She doesn’t know, but in either case, she’s convinced that she’ll be fine. (Joanne Barkan, Dissent, Fall 2009)

The novel seems to have been equally shocking and liberating at the time and while not very well written, Fear of Flying helped to break the mould of women’s identities. As Barkan says, it “encouraged so many of us to get our stories straight”.

If you’re interested, also check out this article by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker.

Some pics for a change

November 14, 2009

Alpaca at the Country Comes to Town exhibit

Very cute alpaca at the Country Comes to Town exhibition which was held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Lovely to see that space transformed into a country market, although I did wonder where the animals slept at night. Hopefully not in the parking lot.

Cappucino at Cafeen

On Thursday I was clearing in at the military (don’t ask) and so I had some free time to drink cappuccino at my local coffee shop. Couldn’t help overhearing some life coaching going on at the next table. This woman was a ringer for the life coaching guru Martha Beck and the guy being coached appeared to be considering whether he wanted to study at Oxford or Cambridge. I really tried not to listen so didn’t hear the end of that.

Jean Doyle bronze at Library square

Love the way they’ve decorated Library Square (near my local library) with two bronze women sculpted by Jean Doyle. They’re both so full of life (the other is throwing her head back in apparent delight.

Sweetcorn muffins

Sweetcorn muffins which I made a while back. Naturally, it’s much harder to summon up the energy to bake in the current situation but I think I might just make these again tomorrow. I would also recommend seeing “Julie and Julia” which is a parallel narrative about the American cookery writer Julia Childs who wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the 50s (I think) and a modern-day blogger, Julie Powell, who sets out to cook 524 of Julia’s recipes in a year. Meryl Streep plays Julia and Amy Adams plays Julie. Excellent script by Nora Ephron, great performances by the main actors. As for the cooking, apparently butter is the key ingredient. Julia Childs lived to 92 so perhaps the cholesterol properties of butter aren’t all bad.

The beginning of a herb garden

I’ve started a herb garden with these three baby basil plants. One is now flourishing while the other two are in varying stages of apparent sickness but still hanging in there. Perhaps they just need some compost and some encouraging words.

Cape Town stories

October 19, 2009

It’s another windy day in Cape Town and I’m a bit tired from family celebrations. My mom’s turning 70 on Tuesday and yesterday we celebrated in style at The Greenhouse restaurant at The Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia. It was like being in a very stylish tree-house looking out over the maginificent gardens there. Very fitting for someone whose main passion is gardening.

But that’s not what I’m on about today. I’ve been wanting to post on novels set in Cape Town for a while but I’ve battled to find 10 (or even 5) that I really want to write about. Today I have three – two books and a play.

1. In A City Imagined, which is a collection of 19 different writers’ reactions to and associations of Cape Town, Stephen Watson writes:

In the past it has been common to hear that Cape Town comprises a tale of two cities only. There is the city of the privileged, their rose and vanilla mansions hugging those contours of privilege close to the city’s mountain chain, its forest slopes, and better beaches. On the other hand, there sprawls the immense city of the dispossessed and deprived, the apartheid dormitory towns and squatter camps, steadily filling up the waste ground between the city’s mountain backbone and the barrier range of the Hottentots Holland.

One of the things I enjoyed about this collection of memories, stories and associations of Cape Town is that it showed me this city that I know so well, and have lived in for the majority of my 39 years, in such a familiar and yet different way. Each of the 19 contributors brought their own perspective and personality to their accounts and the result is a tale of 19 cities. Damon Galgut writes about the beauty of the city which is also tinged with longing and regret and sorrow almost. We have gay Cape Town in Mark Behr’s account of his first love and having to betray his lover for the sake of the military. Then we also have PR Anderson on the Newlands Forest, Jeremy Cronin on Simonstown, Finuala Dowling playing tour guide and Sindiwe Magona remembering her family’s home in Blouvlei (near Retreat) before Group Areas moved them to Gugulethu (which has the ironic name of Our Pride).

I liked this quote which Watson gives from Albert Camus writing about his native Algiers: “What you can love in Algiers is what everybody lives off: the sea visible from every corner, a certain weight of sunlight, the beauty of the race.”

Then we have the actor Antony Sher writing about his memories of Cape Town:

Back in the Sixties all I wanted to do was to leave Cape Town. These days I can’t wait to come back. It isn’t just that I rejoice in South Africa’s flourishing democracy; it’s also because those childhood impressions of my birthplace are imbedded in me, even if I was rather careless about collecting them in the first place. The sense memories are like seeds: they lie dormant for most of the year while I’m in the UK, but I only have to step off the plane at Cape Town International Airport, and the sunlight only has to hit them, and a plunge in the sea only has to water them, and they blossom again, and their fragrance breaks my heart.

Reading Antony Sher’s account of playing Cape Town, I felt a sense of serendipity since I kept making connections. For example he talks about saying goodbye to his mom who has Alzheimer’s and then he mentions the delicious bagels that Katie, his mom’s ‘coloured’ cook, learned to bake from Antony’s mom, who learned it from her mom, who learned it back in the tiny shtetl of Plungyn in Lithuania. Alzheimer’s? The shtetl? What was next I wondered. Well it turns out that he’s friends with Janice Honeyman, who was then directing Sindiwe Magona’s play Mother to Mother at the Baxter which P and I had seen a few days before.

2. Mother to Mother is a moving and poignant one-woman play based on the book of the same name. Magona was a friend of the mother of one of the killers of Amy Biehl, a young American volunteer who was tragically killed in Gugulethu the year before South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994. The book is an attempt by this mother to explain to Linda Biehl, the mother of the victim, how such a terrible thing could have happened. I remember being so shocked at the time that this vibrant young woman who was trying to make a difference in a poor country far from her home had been killed by an angry mob of protesters. I can’t vouch for the book but the play was heart-breakingly sad but also funny and hopeful at the same time. There was a powerful sense that it will be through telling stories such as this one, as difficult as they are, that the traumas of the past can be reworked into a more inclusive and integrated future.

3. The third book that I want to mention here is Whiplash by Tracey Farren. It’s a first-person narrative about a prostitute (or sex worker to use the more PC term) who lives in Muizenberg. I found this an ambitious and interesting first novel and I really admired the thought behind it but I just couldn’t stay with the narrator for the whole 300 pages.

Tess is a (white, blonde) prostitute who lives in Muizenberg and the novel is a first-person narrative addressed to her mother. The story is raw and gritty and shows up the violence and exploitation which is bound up with the sex trade. Tess is addicted to codeine pills and appears to want to numb out her working life. Her narrative is a bit disjointed and jarry but she has some excellent descriptions. For example one of her clients gives her a ticket to a prestigious horse race and she and her friend get all dolled up and go there to the absolute horror of the men and their wives.

It slowly emerges that Tess was abused by her stepfather as a child and that sex work is her way of dealing with this abuse. Her mother seems to have known about the abuse but did nothing, becoming sick instead and eventually developing cancer. It’s unclear for much of the novel whether she’s still alive.

What I found difficult to relate to is the disjunction between Tess’s voice, which is rather defensive and monotonous at times, and that of the author, who has clearly done her research into sex work and is interested to tell this story. I kept wanting to hear more of this voice as opposed to the numbed-out monotony of Tess.

I also found it difficult to feel much empathy for Tess since she herself seems often quite far removed from her own pain. The emotional numbness serves to distance us from the experience. I can understand that she would want to escape the sordidness of the sex acts that she is involved in but the euphemistic word of “jumps” makes it sound almost like a game. I’d be interested to read more about this seedier side of Cape Town but I think it would help to be a lot more transparent about that other voice. Just describing the process of writing makes me as a reader much more involved in the novel.