Archive for Culture & Arts from South Africa

Simon Barber Sings Rikiti Tikiti Tin

by on December 11, 2008 at 12:47 am

South African International Marketing Council’s (Brand South Africa) Simon Barber sings Rikiti Tikiti Tin on a blogger bus through South Africa.

Nama Land Sovereignty in the Northern Cape Province

by on December 9, 2008 at 9:10 am

_41074295_sa_richtersveld_map203.gifFor thousands and thousands of years the Nama people of Southern Africa maintained a nomadic pastoral way of life, tending their flocks of goats and sheep, gathering firewood, and collecting wild honey. Driving along the dirt roads surrounding Richtersveld National park you can still see the same lifestyle, supplemented by some modern conveniences like butane lanterns and plastic tarps.

800px-Nama_huts 1.JPG

Nama Iharu oms (huts) in the Richtersveld.

Land sovereignty has been a historic struggle for the Nama people. When Namibiawhere the majority of Nama people then lived – was colonized by Germany, the Nama joined forces with the Herero and took up arms against their invaders from 1904 to 1907. This resulted in what today is called the Herero and Namaqua Genocide.


Herero people chained in 1904 by German troops.

According to the 1985 Whitaker Report on Genocide, an estimated 50 – 70% of all Herero people and 50% of all Nama people were killed. On the South African side of the border the Nama people were mostly left to their own as British and Afrikaner explorers searched for diamonds in the Northern Cape province. They continued their nomadic pastoral life with a policy of communal land ownership. Says Wikipedia: “Nama women still dress in Victorian traditional fashion. This style of dress was introduced by missionaries in the 1800s and their influence is still a part of the Nama culture today.”

You can see the influence in a video shot by Ray of a group of Nama youth performing an initiation dance, which marks young girls’ transition to adulthood.

Simon recorded a brilliant piece of audio of Cecilia, the mother of two of the young female dancers, singing a hymn in Nama.



Those British and Afrikaner explorers did in fact find their diamonds. Lots of them. In the 1920’s the South African state-owned mining company Alexkor evicted Nama residents from their diamond-rich land and began operations that would yield hundreds of millions of dollars to help support the country’s Apartheid regime. Since the end of Apartheid in 1994, however, new legislation allows communities to seek compensation for lost land and mineral wealth. The 3,700-strong Nama community launched their claim in 1998. Alexkor spent over a million dollars on legal costs, but in October 2003 the constitutional court ruled that the community was entitled to restitution, as well as to mineral rights. The court rejected their demand for a 90 percent equity stake in Alexkor, however, instead offering a 49% stake and a trust to benefit the Namaqualand community.

The Namaqua community now has more than $40 million coming its way. That is a big chunk of change for a group of 3,700 individuals. We had an opportunity to talk to local community leaders. I asked Leon Ambrosini, mayor of the Richtersveld municipality, how the money would be used, but he only answered in general terms.

My fear is that even with $40 million coming its way and a 49% stake in Alexkor, the quality of life and opportunities for those 3,700 Nama people will not improve much over the next ten years.

“We don’t want to get rich quick. We are solely thinking about the long term future for us and the children who will come after us,” said Floors Strauss, secretary of the Richtersveld Community Property Association, which will manage the $40 million. But I saw little evidence that the right investments are being made for sustainable development.

She wants freckels too

Nama girl from Port Nolloth.

I asked if there were any plans to build a college or university in the area, but there are none. (The entire province is without tertiary education.) The only specific expense we heard about was a $300 handout to each of the 3,700 represented in the court case. Which brings up some interesting questions: what if the money gets squandered? What if Alexkor becomes less profitable, jobs are lost, and the Nama people are actually worse off ten years from now than they are today? Land restitution in Zimbabwe, for example, is largely responsible for today’s shortage of food there as fleeing White farmers took off without transferring their agricultural skills.

My hope, obviously, is that in Richtersveld the right skills will be transferred to the Nama community so that they can manage their own development as they see fit. But to do so, I believe, will require an investment in education that community leaders don’t seem too concerned about. I’ll be keeping my eye on how things develop.

Extra bonus: Check out Lova’s summary of a fascinating conversation about land sovereignty and economic development in the Malagasy blogosphere. (The deal was later rejected.)

Montana Meets Tuscany: South African Sky

by on December 8, 2008 at 1:05 am




Soweto: Hector Pieterson, Holiday Inn, Nambisa and Kliptown

by on December 7, 2008 at 11:45 pm

Over the past ten days I cannot express to you effectively the magnitude of incredible things that I have done. But the trend that I seem to have been following on my excursions is to be dumbstruck and in awe of the smaller things, the details that make me African and not the grand gestures […]

Diamond Mining Ship aka Peace in Africa

by on December 7, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Elizly Steyn on the deck photo by Simon Barber, Brand South Africa Blog

[South Africa Blogging Tour 2008] On Wednesday, we flew to this amazing diamond mining ship 10 miles off the Northern Cape coast of South Africa. Elizly Steyn, the metallurgist, one of the 3 women on board, gave us a tour of this huge “gadget” that costed 1.1 billion rands ($110 million) to De Beers.

Gravel filtering process, photo By Simon Barber, Brand South Africa Blog

After a complex six steps process that separates them from shells and clay, the diamonds end up in cans without having been touched by a single human.

Data imaging, monitors in the crawler control room, photo by Simon Barber, Brand South Africa Blog

Prior to start mining an area, an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) explores the sea bed 15 meters by 15 meters, collects the data and generates a 3D image of the underground, so diamond trails are detected.

Click on the photo to watch the Crawler Launch gallery

Photo: the crawler launch in front of the ship, photo by Elizly Steyn, De Beers

The mining is operated by a giant crawler in front of the ship, the process is controlled by the metallurgist and the crawler team, using the data and the imaging generated from the exploration. The crawler is composed of a winch, a boom and a nozzle that mines 120 meters below the surface and scrape the floor 1 to 12 meters deep (avg 5 m).

Four anchors maintain the ship’s stability, on average 400 tons of gravels and 10 000 cubic meters of water are processed per hour to produce an average of 57 carats of diamonds. No chemicals are involved, everything except the precious gems is spitted back to the ocean, and the AUV monitors the ocean floor after the operation to analyze the impact on the environment. According to the crew, fishes are rarely caught in the machinery because they are afraid of the noise. The ship name is Peace in Africa, 65 people stay on board simultaneously, and each crew member works for 28 days and takes a 28 days break afterwards.

SA bloggers are thriving in cyberspace. They just aren’t nearly diverse enough.

by on December 7, 2008 at 2:17 am

An article in this morning’s Times, cleverly positioned next to a marketing blurb about an increase in traffic to their website, says that South African bloggers are thriving in cyberspace. A new study released this week by World Wide Worx claims that 4.5 million South Africans are now online and that over 5,000 are consistently blogging. (According to Rick Joubert of Vodafone, another 9.5 million connect to the internet with their mobile phones.)

The Times article claims that 1,000 of these 5,000 bloggers took part in a survey to learn more about the social demographics and motivations behind South Africa’s blogosphere. Some interesting findings:

  • Cape Town is the epicentre of blogging in the country with more than 75% of bloggers living in the city;
  • 58% of local bloggers are aged 25 to 44
  • 95% of them speak English or Afrikaans
  • 42% earn more than $2,000
  • 46% of them have children and 55% are married
  • 88% describe their blogs as online hobbies rather than income-generating tools
  • 65% spend more than 10 hours a week blogging

What I want to know is where is the raw data? In the open spirit of the web, will it be made publicly available? The survey says that 95% of South African bloggers speak English or Afrikaans (I assume they mean “write in English of Afrikaans”.) What are the other languages represented and where are their blogs? (I have a hunch there are probably more Urdu blogs than Sotho despite the fact that there are way more Sotho speakers.) Also, I was amazed that 42% of the bloggers participating in the survey earn more than $2,000 a month. But what were the average and mean salaries?


On the second night of our Bloggers Roadshow of South Africa, we joined our South African blogging colleagues at Asoka Bar and Restaurant in Cape Town for a few rounds of drinks. With lounge techno in the background we clinked glasses and exchanged business cards. I finally got to meet some bloggers that I had been reading for years like Rafiq Phillips, Matthew Buckland, and Chris Rawlinson.

Among the dozens of bloggers packed into the bar, however, only two or three were black. And, as I learned from Rafiq, they were Rwandan, not South African. When I asked Rafiq about the lack of non-White bloggers at the meet-up he said there were two explanations. First, more Indian and Pakistani bloggers would have showed up if the event were not held at a bar serving alcohol, as the majority of Indian- and Pakistani-South Africans are Muslim. (Rafiq makes a point of noting that he was drinking orange juice at the bar, which I dutifully confirm.)

Second, South African bloggers of different ethnicities tend to stick to their own spheres, as I’ve written about in the past. This was quantified in a study by Annie Kryzanek of the Berkman Center’s Internet and Democracy project. She selected 30 blogs from AMATOMU’s life section, categorized them as English-speaking white bloggers, black bloggers, and Afrikaner bloggers, and then examined their linking patterns. 30 blogs is a very small sample size, but the results are provocative: South African online society is nearly as segregated as it is offline.


There is an obvious history behind all of this. Like in most other countries, South Africa’s bloggers started out as a community of tech-centric geeks. They had the computers, internet access, and time on their hands to figure out the new tools and develop their voice. They were nearly all White males in their 20’s and 30’s. Once the community was defined, it unknowingly became an exclusive clique. Mario Olckers, looking at South African social media through the framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, argues that the South African blogosphere’s exclusive start already spells out its impending failure.

Any kind of Social Media Strategy is therefore little more than inside baseball amongst an incestuous clique of privileged practitioners who retain and guard the old money and benefits of the old apartheid regime. Whatever Social Media campaign is launched online will necessarily only be seen by a handful of regular old faces who continually regurgitate each other’s utterings and bounce around any newsworthy items or movements within the local South African Web 2.0 zoo.

I think that he’s right-on in his diagnosis, but I tend to be more optimistic about the future. South Africa has centuries of ugly race relations history. The only way that things are going to improve is with dialogue. And social media – be it forums, twitter, blogs, or social networks – are ideal for that. But it’s going to get ugly, emotional, and difficult as it did a couple years ago at the Digital Citizen Indaba. Those are exactly the kinds of conversations that need to take place and we need leaders like Ndesanjo and Ory who can summarize them so well, step back, and offer some clarity and perspective.

The first step for any White South African bloggers reading this post (or anyone else for that matter) is to subscribe to the feeds of all the bloggers featured by Ramon Thomas in “Who’s who in the non-white Web 2.0 South African Zoo“.

Over the past five years the vast majority of South Africans have been excluded from the new public spehere that is the social web. Ridiculously expensive internet connections ($20 an hour at the hotel where I am writing at this very moment) and a lack of new media training programs means that only the wealthy are able to participate. Furthermore, English and Afrikaans have centuries-long histories as written languages. You’ll find that many bloggers – and writers in general – are more comfortable expressing themselves in writing than in person. South Africa’s other 9 official languages, however, have, comparably, only recently existed in written form. Unlike in Tanzania, where written Swahili was a significant and symbolic part of their independence movement, formal education in written indigenous South African languages has never really taken off.

I don’t want to discount the up-and-coming movements of Zulu and Xhosa literature, but it has to be said that most South African languages are still 99% oral and are rarely put down on paper. Which I believe is why the bloggers in Kwa Mashu tend to be unenthusiastic about updating their blogs with text, but become instantly excited when there is an opportunity to communicate with video, audio, performing arts, and music. For them, those are simply the best ways to communicate. Unfortunately, South Africa’s bandwidth constraints means that participating online is still restricted to text-based communication. But in the next few years a number of international and domestic projects are going to vastly improve connectivity in South Africa. Once video becomes the major medium of South African cyberspace, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s the old guard of White tech bloggers who are clamoring to keep up.


On a final note, it is increasingly difficult to define what is and isn’t South African. This country has always been cosmopolitan. The majority of its people, languages, and culture actually came central-Western Africa when Bantu-speaking farmers migrated south. Yesterday, walking around Soweto’s Freedom Square, the majority of merchants were not South African, but rather from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Today two of the most highly regarded bloggers living in South Africa are probably completely unknown to the majority of South African bloggers. Manal and Alaa are hugely popular Egyptian bloggers currently living in South Africa, as is Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan who is one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most authoritative voices internationally. Meanwhile, there are plenty of influential South African bloggers living abroad, like Mohamed Nanabhay. It is becoming increasingly difficult to categorize bloggers by nationality or location. Soon enough we’ll just have to treat each other as people.

And for an extra bonus, I recommend Théophile Kouamouo’s “Why I blog about Africa.”

Following South Africa's Path

by on December 7, 2008 at 1:15 am

If you are looking for a guide to how humanity should move forward to a sustainable future, there’s no better place to visit than where we all started.

Our whirlwind bloggers’ tour of South Africa included a dizzying 22 stops during the first five days. We’ve seen so much — including the rich and diverse cultures of the native peoples, the technology that seeks to build a greener future, the urban centers, and the lush landscape — that it is easy to miss the forest for all these lovely trees.

Why — other than making for great travel entertainment — does South Africa matter so much to the world today and to our collective future?

During the tour we’ve seen how South Africans, including non-profits, community groups and the provincial and federal government, are working to protect the language, culture, and natural beauty of the nation. While much of the population still lives in the poverty of shanty towns, the government and private sector are getting better at sharing the new wealth from the  diamond, gold, platinum and coal mining industries with the indigenous people.

Granted, this is a sponsored tour that attempts to show South Africa in the best possible light. But the interactions with people in the cross section of cities, towns and villages has revealed a strong commitment to making sure that future generations will have access to the nation’s rich heritage.

The !Khwa ttu center in Darling is preserving the spoken languages and tribal rituals of the San people to prevent them from being forgotten. The San people have been dispersed across all of Africa over the decades as more powerful groups have pushed them from their native lands. Parents of the current generation are no longer teaching the language, so the center is training children in their tribal culture and bringing together different San groups from all over Africa to share their common stories. The center also hopes to increase the financial resources for the local people by developing educational programs for tourists.

In the Richtersveld community on the west coast, money is flowing in after the resolution of a 10-year court battle over land rights and revenue from diamond mining after the land of the Nama people was taken away nearly a century ago. The local council of government is now determining how to spend the millions in back payments, with much yet to be decided about community and training programs.

The Richtersveld is also home to a 400,000 acre protected park of desert and mountains. The park is also home to many priceless petroglyphs (stone carvings) dating back 10,000 years.

In many parts of South Africa, conservation programs are returning animals to their native habitats and invasive non-native species are being removed. I was overwhelmed by the majesty of many species of birds and mammals that are once again roaming the plain at the Plumari Game Reserve. Being able to connect with some of earth’s grandest species up close is a powerful reminder of how we need to act to prevent climate change from damaging their fragile habitats.

The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site contains the world’s richest deposit of hominid remains. Zuza Fakude, a native of Soweto, talked with me about the importance of researching and preserving our ancestors. Maintaining archaeological sites enhances our incomplete family tree, she says. “It is important to know where you’ve come from, because it gives another way to look at things. It offers another piece of the puzzle.” She said visiting Magaliesburg is “especially important for us black people, because we are very much people of our ancestors.”

Anthony Paton, Public Relations manager for the Gauteng provincial government, agrees that visiting the Cradle of Humankind drives home our common ancestor. “We are far closer together as a race than our superficial differences lead us to believe. That unity of people is symbolized in th[is] place… That we all started from a single source reinforces that we should consider our impact on the planet and each other as we move forward in what is expected to be a resource constrained and environmentally challenged world. If we have an awareness that we are all one, then we can avoid the tragedy of the commons” (in which farmers allow their animals to overgraze because of a desire for personal profit, even if it imperils the entire community).

A sustainable future requires a “communal effort in not putting in an extra cow. The challenge for now is to not add to the burden on the commons, or the planet.” However, Paton concedes that there is not an equality in interest in understanding our common ancestry. He says that his area’s historic and cultural centers are having difficulty attracting wealthy South African whites. “Many are arrogant and don’t want to be educated when they are on holiday. Conversely black Africans who can least afford to come to the area are the most interested in visiting.”

In Soweto, museums highlight the recent history of the struggles against and victory over apartheid, the system of government that suppressed the rights of black South Africans until 1994. The Hector Pieterson Museum is named for a 13-year old boy killed by police during a demonstration on July 16, 1976. The incident sparked outrage inside South Africa and around the globe and paved the way for the collapse of apartheid.

At the nearby Mandela Family Museum (which we sadly were not able to visit), the life of the former prisoner of apartheid and later South African president is detailed. Fakude says “the apartheid museum teaches us about what the worst people can do, but also about the best of what they can do. That shows us the possibilities of what we can still accomplish; that we can do so much more.”

While humanity has shown a sickening ability to abuse portions of the population, the victory of apartheid and coming together of the races in building a better South Africa is a lesson for all strife-torn regions. “We have gone through all of this rubbish and put it aside — not behind us, but aside. It shows what you can do for the future from your strength. It is important to have these things to hold on to.”

Going back to where it started — where the earliest land masses formed, where the oldest mountains reside, and where our common ancestor once foraged — drives home the need for a future that can sustain our entire global family. “We have to realize that we all have common problems regarding the environment, regarding carbon (emissions) … and the over-fishing of the seas,” says Paton. “These all stem back to a common thing — there are too many of us in our family (to consume and emit greenhouse gases like westerners). The only way we’ll have a long-term future is to realize that we’re part of the same family.”

iPod South Africa Style

by on December 6, 2008 at 8:25 pm

iPod South African Style. This guy passed me in the Soweto Mall yesterday. How could I pass this up?


High on SA

by on December 6, 2008 at 2:13 am

Nadine Khan of Brand South Africa came with us on the bloggers’ tour. Here’s what it has meant to her:

I woke up today a privileged South African.  I have spent the last six days in the presence of some of the top US and local bloggers.

Together we have been exploring this beautiful country in almost every possible way imaginable.  We have driven there by car, bus and 4 x 4. We have flown there by 707 Boeing, charter and helicopter and we even braved the stormy seas by ship.

All in an attempt to showcase the South African firsts, which are inventions or technology that South Africa is the first to use in the world. Our destinations have been broad and vast and the hours spend on the road has been long and ardours.  We have seen it all.  From launching satellites in space to bushmen rock paintings.  From a helicopter scenic flight over the Cape Peninsula to going down the worlds deepest mine, we have done it.

Of course I came prepared.  We had spend hours debating the programme of our tour to ensure that the best of the best is showcased as is, no gimmicks no false PR just the truth about what South Africa has to offer.

Or so I thought.

You see for the last six days I have had this nagging feeling of white guilt that just refuses to go away. Nothing on earth could have prepared me for this emotional awakening which I am experiencing.

Now for those of you that are familiar with our apartheid history will sigh and lament with me about our atrocious deeds committed by us to the less fortunate. But let me correct you the white guilt that I am currently suffering, is a fate far worse.

You see I have spend the last fifteen years apologising and lamenting the past and up until this trip would have probably had spend the next fifteen years in much the same frame of mind.

I would willingly have been part of a lost generation. Part of the generation of people who did not really cause apartheid nor fought the cause to end it.

So what happened you ask?

I was humbled by the sheer magnitude of passion of ordinary South Africans.  I was touched and inspired by the everyday ordinary heroes of this enigmatic country.

At !Kwa Thu I met a San bushman, who despite the fact that there are only four people left in the world today that can still speak his language chooses to speak Afrikaans because it is the language his mother taught him.

In Alexander Bay I met a man and his wife who gave up the rat race and returned home to travel 400 kms per day in the arid dessert to promote the rock paintings and nomadic lifestyle of the bushman in an attempt to give back and preserve the Koi and San communities.

In Stellenbosch and in the Magaliesberg I met coloured people who are so proud of their French and Dutch colonial heritage that they wear it with pride.

In Melrose Arch I met people who are so immensely proud of our European pop culture, that they are creating a language and a platform all their own which rivals the best in the world.

Today I understand that I really do wake up in a country that is Alive with Possibility.

Today I salute these ordinary South Africans, not because of their ability to preserve their beliefs but for their ability to awaken mine.

I might not be the one to save the whales or the dolphins, to preserve and develop the cape fynbos or the famous one who eradicates crime and discrimination against woman.

But I am certainly the one South African that will tell you that your post apartheid duty is to create positive South African stories, here in your own backyard – and that if you are truly lucky that someday, somewhere you may be saluted as the everyday ordinary hero that inspired a nation’s transformation.

Where Are Her Chips?

by on December 5, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Another great ad from Nando’s. Some may consider it in questionable taste. Hat tip

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!