Tuesday, 09 August 2011

Newcastle: Historic mountain

Mountains outside Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal

In the 1800s this mountain, just outside Newcastle towards the west of the town, was the main route to the Free State -- Bloemfontein -- to be specific. This area in northern KwaZulu Natal was also the scene of clashes between Boers and the British when the latter was in the process to colonise the whole of South Africa.
Newcastle was a connector town -- some 200 km towards the North in the Amajuba mountains that during the so-called First Anglo War was the scene of heavy battles between the Boers and British -- the British lost this round but a few years later they were back -- learned more about the South African environment and adapated their tactics to face their biggest foe: the Boers.

By 1899 the Anglo Boer War broke out between the Boers and the British. It lasted until 1902 when the Boers were defeated. A well-equipped British army and other tacticts such as a scorched earth policy left the Boers with few alternatives. Above all, their spirit was broken when the British took captured Boer women and children and placed in concentration camps. This left a bitter rift between the Boers and the British -- something the Union government that was formed in 1910 under the leadership of Genl Louis Botha tried to mend. In years to come, well into the 20th century, Afrikaners and English citizens lived parallel lives. In recent years, the role of Black people in the Anglo Boer War has been researched in more detail. Tribute has been given to Black people after some of their efforts to help captured Boer women and children have come to light.

Somehow staring at the mountains in and around Newcastle is like looking back into time -- thinking of all the people, their families and loved ones that all played their parts as characters in the play called "History"... alas, these people are but footnotes in the story of time to which mountains like these bare silent testimony and act as an archive to the agony of those who played their part without hesitation. One such man was of course Ghandi who embarked on a campaign of passive resistance against the racial policies of the Transvaal Boer Republic. He surely did not hesitate to set out to change that was wrong. In years to come the country once again became a focus point -- like it was during the Anglo-Boer War -- when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and along similar lines as Ghandi preached nationbuilding and unity.

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The Old Johannesburg Stock Exchange and surroundings

What an awe-inspiring building this is, enriching the Johannesburg skyline... Alas, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange that use to operate from this location in 17 Diagonal Street, Newtown moved to Gwen ln, Sandton.

The Newtown area in and around where the old JSE use to be has been earmarked for further development. One of the the developments that has been completed is the Nelson Mandela bridge. The rest of the developments seems to be on ice. But will it become a reality or remain drawings? Im not sure at this point.

The Nelson Mandela bridge connects downtown Johannesburg with Braamfontein where another landmark is situated, the University of the Witwatersrand. This bridge eases congestion between the Johannesburg CBD and the suburbs to its north that get connected via Braamfontein. However, its the symbolism of naming the bridge after the country's most iconic bridge builder, Nelson Mandela, that captures one's imagination.

The old Tramshed building borders the Nelson Mandela bridge. Currently it serves as a spot where would-be drivers come to take driving lessons.

Read more about the Newtown precinct.
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Saturday, 06 August 2011

Civilisation: the Coke way

So, around every corner we find a Coke sign... a welcoming sign that tells us something that resembles civilisation is around.

This picture was taken while sitting in traffic in Hillbrow -- a notorious, densely populated urban spot in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In South Africa's so-called struggle history Coca-Cola played its part in breaking down barriers -- as far as I could gather it promoted supressed black people into management positions long before it became fasionable... and before it was actually legal under Apartheid legislation to have black people in certain jobs.

So, playing on the idea that Coke can be associated with the most memorable moments in anybody's life, I guess it also goes for us during our country's darkest moment.
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Ode to the dead dove

When on a visit to Newcastle, a town in Northern Kwazulu Natal, a province in South Arica, I shot this scene with my Blackberry...

Wild pigeon - dove - dead as a bird... litterally. It looked so peaceful... in the very cold morning air.

Death reminds us of the reason to live -- and live full out everyday, I guess. But then again... the majority of people around the world get trapped in daily existences that resembles just that: existence and not living; mere survival and not prosperity.

Life... in death we come to appreciate its every moment... and when we see the end is near, we perhaps long to all those missed opportunities when we opted to play it safe...
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Entrepeneurship: Johannesburg City Dump

Not too far from our home in Kensington, Johannesburg (South Africa) I came across this scence -- recycling the African way. This man collects old files being thrown away. They spread it out -- it gets wet due to rain etc -- and when they dry out it becomes easier to strip the metal from the files. The metal goes to recycling plants...

However, due to poverty, there are high incidences of cable theft -- even drain covers are often stolen to be sold for scrap metail -- leaving gaping holes. In Soweto this has for example led to tragic consequences with children falling down man-holes and dying as a consequence.

Its all about survival in an urban environment -- yet, it also reflects something about the way in which western-based systems governing modern-day urban landscapes are morphed to suit how things are done in Africa...
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Urban spaces: Johannesburg

Downtown Johannesburg is starting to look like a war-zone -- this building has become unusable -- every single window is covered with cardboard and plastic bags to cover it up. Like other buildings near this one, decay has been allowed to set in.

Like car jackings in other countries, in South Africa, specifically Johannesburg in Gauteng Province corruption has set into the property sector. It works like this: All the paperwork that accompanies property owenership gets falsified and enters the system... the lawful owners finally have to defend or try and proof that they are the lawful owners... I have in my whole life never thought that it is possible to steal a building...

The local govenment, led by the ANC party that also governs the national government is helpless in the face of these and other forms of corruption. But enough about politics and corrupt officials or dysfunctional systems...

Buildings are living spaces and reflect something about society -- hinting at a past era -- or providing insight of the current state and people's attitudes towards their environment.
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