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The Homeless Women of Victoria Mxenge: From Saving 50 Cents a Day to Building 5000 Houses

The Victoria Mxenge Housing ProjectIn an article for the Daily Maverick, Rebecca Davis shares the story of The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project by Salma Ismail, which is hot off the UCT Press.

The book tells the story of the Victoria Mxenge Savings Scheme, which was started by Patricia Matolengwe and a group of women in Cape Town in 1992. Women are statistically less likely to default on small loans, and the scheme was run like a stokvel, with each member expected to contribute an amount, no matter how small, every day. In an extraordinary tale of determination and success, the Victoria Mxenge Housing Project has gone on to build 5000 houses.

“We were talking of saving one rand or 50 cents per day,” group member Nokhangelani Roji told Ismail in a subsequent interview.

“People would ask us, ‘Where have you seen a house for fifty cents or one rand?’ People never took us seriously; they thought that we were telling them a fairy tale. Once we started building in Victoria Mxenge, everybody started to believe us.”

The Victoria Mxenge savings group began with savings of R56 in 1992. A year later, this had increased to R11,532. By 1996, as their numbers swelled, it had grown to R25,498.

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Edgar Pieterse on the State of Cape Town 2014 Report: The Opportunities are Great, so are the Challenges

Africa's Urban RevolutionEdgar Pieterse, one of the editors of Africa’s Urban Revolution, contributed to the State of Cape Town 2014 report. The report shows that while Cape Town’s economy is showing prodigious growth, its crime rate is too.

An article for Infrastructure News quoted Pieterse’s comments about trends in cities globally, and how Cape Town needs to respond to the massive problems presented by crime, unemployment and inequality. “The global trend towards urbanisation offers opportunities for innovation,” Pieterse says.

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According to the report, Cape Town has the highest overall crime rate for 2012/13 – 8 514 per 100 000 people were affected. Alarmingly this figure is more than double the national crime rate. Also figures pertaining to drug-related crime increased by more than 400% in the nine-year review period from 2003/4 to 2012/13.

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Salma Ismail Highlights the Power of Social Activism and Informal Learning in The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project

The Victoria Mxenge Housing ProjectNew from UCT Press – The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project: Women building communities through social activism and informal learning by Salma Ismail:

At the beginning of South Africa’s democratic change, in 1994, the Victoria Mxenge Housing Project was founded by a group of 12 women who lived in shacks on the barren outskirts of Cape Town. These women had come from rural areas and were poor, vulnerable and semi-literate. Yet they learned how to build, negotiate with the government and NGOs, architects and building experts, and form alliances with homeless social movements locally and internationally, in India and Brazil. The desolate piece of land they occupied is now a thriving, sustainable community of more than 5 000 houses.

Over a period of 10 years the author tracked the history of the Victoria Mxenge Housing Association, from its start as a development organisation to its evolution into a social movement and then as a service provider. The text weaves together perspectives on the usefulness as well as limitations of ‘popular education’, or informal learning. It highlights the value of local and traditional knowledge, experiential learning, and learning in an informal context, and illustrates how women relate to and interact with knowledge. It taps into the growing international interest in social, or ‘citizen’ learning in the context of the growth of social movements. This book is a welcome addition to the literature for adult education students and social activists throughout the developing world.

Contents Include:

Chapter 1: Setting the contexts Land and informal settlements
Chapter 2: Popular education and development
Chapter 3: Phase one (1992-1998): Building houses and communities
Chapter 4: Phase two (1998-2001): Leading a social movement
Chapter 5: Phase three (2001-2003): Becoming service providers
Chapter 6: Reflections on learning in a social movement
Chapter 7: The challenge of independence (2003-2012)

Of Interest and Benefit to:

Academics and students in the disciplines of adult education, gender studies, development and social movements; NGOs involved in housing; social activists and development practitioners.

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Cape Town Experienced Three Times the Number of Fires this Festive Season

Burning Table MountainCape Town was hit with more than 100 vegetation fires every day this festive season, almost three times the number of fires than what was experienced in the region last year.

According to the City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services, there were 4 338 vegetation fires between December 1, 2014, and January 4, 2015, compared with fewer than 1 600 during the same period last year.

In the newly released Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula, Simon Pooley examines the history and statistics surrounding the issue, and tackles the environmental and social challenges of fire management on the wildland-urban Cape Peninsula.

In a recent report by the Cape Times, adverse weather conditions are cited as the reason for the early onset of the fire season:

A statement issued by Working on Fire and the SA National Parks (SANParks) said adverse weather conditions, including strong winds and high temperatures, had seen the early arrival of the fire season and millions of rand had already been spent on veld fires since October.

Shane Christians, general manager for Working on Fire in the Western Cape, said the fire season had started much earlier than usual and that crews had been “actively fighting fires for much longer than originally planned”.

For the Table Mountain area covered by SANParks, 32 fires had been reported between November and December – 19 more than the number of fires in the same period in 2013.

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Marie Huchzermeyer: The Imprint of Apartheid is Still Evident in SA Cities

Cities with 'Slums'Marie Huchzermeyer, author of Cities with ‘Slums’: From informal settlement eradication to a right to the city in Africa, has written an article for the Mail & Guardian about segregation in modern South African cities.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme tried to create well-located low-income housing that would allow for economic growth in the community. This has met with only negligible success and urban spaces remain exclusive and hostile to the poor.

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The imprint of apartheid is still evident in South African cities. As acknowledged widely by planning academics and recognised in the National Development Plan and draft Integrated Urban Development Framework, urban expansion has engendered new forms of segregation and exclusion.

Apartheid-divided suburbs have their equivalent today in fortified estates catering to an exclusive moneyed minority – a mere 3% of South Africa’s households. More densely packed, walled townhouse complexes cater to the aspiring middle class, which makes up barely 10% of South African households.

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Simon Pooley Examines the History and Science of Wildfires on the Cape Peninsula in Burning Table Mountain

Burning Table MountainUCT Press presents Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula by Simon Pooley:

In January 2000, two wildfires torched more than 8 000 ha of the Cape Peninsula, swept through the Table Mountain National Park, and burned houses and property. There were more than 120 fires in the region on that one ‘fire-storm Sunday’.

The challenges faced in the Cape are shared by major cities and nature reserves in similar Mediterranean-type ecosystems in the USA, Australia and Mediterranean Europe. Wildfire has destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares and killed people in Greece, Australia and the United States. It has become a global, and a local, research and management challenge.

In Burning Table Mountain the author tackles the environmental and social challenges of fire management on the wildland-urban interface of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula, where a UNESCO World Heritage Site for Nature protects the unique fynbos vegetation and incorporates the iconic Table Mountain, and abuts the suburbs, townships and informal settlements of South Africa’s parliamentary capital. He combines narrative history, innovative use of a wide range of sources, descriptive statistics, a detailed understanding of the history of ecological science in the region and the role of fire in fynbos ecology, to provide the first integrated history of wildfire and its management on the Cape Peninsula. He reflects on the need to use a holistic approach to understanding the range and conjunctions of causes that conspire to cause large fires and increase fire incidence over time.

This book will demonstrate the contribution environmental history can make, through combining scientific and social approaches, to understanding past environments and managing the environment today. It is a seminal contribution to a neglected area of South African history, but also offers an important contribution to global histories of fire.



Chapter 1: Prehistory of burning

An overview of fire at the Cape prior to 1900.

Chapter 2: Fynbos and fire – science and the history of the science

How we got to the current understanding of fynbos (ending with a brief note on what that is, and a botanical profile of the Cape Peninsula).

Chapter 3: Cape Town in the 20th century

The development of the city and its infrastructure, with analysis of how this altered the fire environment

Chapter 4: The people and the mountain

Table Mountain as a symbol for Cape Town and South Africa, and different forms of its ‘ownership’.

Chapter 5: Afforestation, invasion and fire

The history of the afforestation of the Peninsula with exotic species and the ensuing biological invasions.

Chapter 6: Population and socio-economic causes

The contested influence of population growth and socio-economic impacts on increased fire incidence.

Chapter 7: Outdoor recreation

Its role as a major cause of the increase in wildfires.

Chapter 8: Cape Peninsual fire management history

An integrated history of direct wildfire management including fire fighting across the century.


A review of the major arguments of the book, drawing out the lessons and consequences for fire management today.

About the author

Dr Simon Pooley is a Junior Research Fellow in Conservation Science at Imperial College London.

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Pierre Englebert Offers “Feasible Reforms” to Unleash Potential in the Congo

Inside African PoliticsPierre Englebert has written a paper entitled “Democratic Republic of Congo: Growth for All? Challenges and Opportunities for a New Economic Future” for the Congo Dialogue, an event hosted by the Brenthurst Foundation and Afrique Avenir Congo in Johannesburg in September.

Englebert is the H Russell Smith Professor of International Relations at Pomona College in California, USA, where he teaches African politics and development. His latest books include Inside African Politics (2013, with Kevin Dunn) and Africa: Unity, Sovereignty, and Sorrow.

His paper offers a diagnosis of the “economic governance and recommendations for change” in the Congo, suggesting “feasible reforms that the Congolese can adopt in order to unleash their country’s economic potential and provide opportunities for more than just a narrow elite”.

The Congo Dialogue brought together distinguished Congolese academics, civil society members, and corporate and political leaders to discuss new approaches to ‘building growth and prosperity in the DRC’. Drawing participants from the DRC as well as the Congolese Diaspora in Europe and North America together with a small number of external experts, the Congo Dialogue was established in the belief that despite the country’s myriad problems, traumatic history and extremely poor reputation, real opportunities exist for Congo to break with the past. This Report of the Congo Dialogue reflects the main themes and findings to emerge from the two days of discussions.

Executive Summary

Despite recent economic progress, there is little in today’s governance of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that suggests a transformation away from predatory rule. As in colonial days, Congo is still understood more as a resource to be plundered than as a state to be built, and grass-roots Congolese continue to shoulder the burden of such a system. Year in and year out, state agents and their partners, starting at the very apex of the state, divert an estimated US$4bn from government finances, either through the manipulation of mining contracts and payments, through tortuous budgetary practice, or directly by using their state authority to steal
from citizens. This amount corresponds to about 20 percent of GDP and 100 per cent of domestic government revenue. The consequences of such predation include weak government capacity, the undermining of governance reforms, aid dependence, inequality, and ‘tribalism’
fed by individual strategies of survival. Although there are no easy solutions, it is hard to imagine a better future for Congo without increased public transparency, an end to impunity, accelerated decentralisation, a withdrawal of the state from ownership of productive assets, and a reduction in overall state authority, including via a deflation of the role of local chiefs. None of these reforms are likely to take place, however, unless they are endorsed and promoted by the Congolese themselves.

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Serge Raemaekers Calls for All-encompassing Action to Protect South Africa from Illegal Fishing

Sharing Benefits from the CoastSerge Raemaekers, contributor to Sharing Benefits from the Coast: Rights, Resource and Livelihoods edited by Rachel Wynberg and Maria Hauck, was quoted in an article by Trust Matsilele for CNBC Africa about the cost of illegal fishing in South Africa.

Abalone and lobster are the greatest targets for unregulated fishing in South Africa, because they are in high demand overseas. Raemaekers estimates that 3 000 tonnes of fish is poached every year, so the risk of depletion is very serious and needs urgently to be addressed.

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Serge Raemaekers, a University of Cape Town academic and researcher said the startling figures required an all-encompassing action from civil society, communities and government to address the challenge of poaching in the country’s marine economy.

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  • Sharing Benefits from the Coast: Rights, Resource and Livelihoods edited by Rachel Wynberg and Maria Hauck
    EAN: 9781775820062
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Video: Jonathan Crush Explains the Hungry Cities Partnership Concept and Addresses Food Insecurity

Africa's Urban RevolutionJonathan Crush, one of the contributors to Africa’s Urban Revolution, addressed the 2014 International Metropolis Conference in Milan about food insecurity in the rapidly-growing cities in the Global South.

The African Food Security Network wrote about the Hungry Cities Partnership, which Crush heads up.

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The food is there, the problem is access, influenced by high rates of unemployment that leave people unable to purchase sufficient food of adequate quality…

Crush spoke to Fondazione ISMU while he was at the conference in Milan, discussing his work and the project.

Watch the video:

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Zanele Muholi Shortlisted for the 2015 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

Jacketed WomenZanele Muholi, the photographer for Jacketed Women: Qualitative research methodologies on sexualities and gender in Africa, has been short-listed for the 2015 Deutsche Börse photography prize.

Sean O’Hagan wrote an article for The Guardian about the shortlisted photographers. He says that Muholi’s photobook, Faces and Phrases, is an arresting piece of visual activism.

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Zanele Muholi, a self-styled “visual activist”, is nominated for her photobook Faces and Phrases, in which black-and-white portraits of South Africa’s LGBT community are accompanied by searingly honest first-person accounts of discrimination and violence.

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