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Cape Fires: Weighing Up the Positives and Negatives

Burning Table MountainThe fires that have raged on Cape Town’s southern peninsula look to be under control today, four days since they broke out.

Not a single life was lost during the wildfires, as Western Cape Premier Helen Zille tweeted, and the situation looks to be stable:

The cost of the disaster has been great, with about 5 000 hectares of fynbos and indigenous vegetation “reduced to ash”, and injuries sustained by at least one fire-fighter, as BizNews reports:

[T]he worst such disaster since at least 2000 in South Africa’s second- largest city and biggest tourist attraction. While no one has died, one fire fighter sustained burns and 52 people from an old-age home had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

KFM and CapeTalk held a fund-raising radiothon yesterday to support the volunteer fire-fighters. Lines opened at 11 AM and closed at 7 PM, at which time the stations had raised over R3.1-million.

KFM and CapeTalk station manager Colleen Louw said in a statement: “We are so proud of the remarkable efforts of the firefighting organisations, as well as our remarkable listeners who have been so willing to assist in any way possible.

“As stations close to our communities, we are touched by the way that Capetonians have come together at this very challenging time.”

Books LIVE member Helen Moffett has written a moving piece highlighting both the devastation and the heroism that the fires impelled:

As the smoke clears, I look onto a wall of devastation I can’t compute — the mountain is charred in all directions. Houses have burned.

Tales of everyday heroism pour in. Local vet Karyn Levy opened her clinic at 3am, offering free board to animals. She promises to keep space for my cats. I‘m overwhelmed by the courage and efficiency of the fire-fighting teams and support they are getting. The co-operation between the city, national assistance units, NGOs and civilians is a microcosmic testament to how well this country could function.

And despite the damage to property and nature reserves, fires in the Cape region are critical to the rebirth of fynbos-dominated ecosystem, as Fynbos ecologist Dr Adam West explains:

“In the fynbos, fire is essential for maintaining the ecosystem and 15 years is an optimum time for fynbos to burn. In a sense, these fires are right on time; early enough to regenerate the plants that bind the soil before the winter rains erode the land.”

Fynbos habitats have been burning every 15 years for between 3- and 5-million years, as long as fynbos has been around, says West. “The native plants and animals from these systems are well adapted to these regular fires. If they couldn’t handle it, there wouldn’t be any left.”

Without fire, these ecosystems slowly decay, negatively affecting the plants, birds and animals whose life cycles and food chains are inextricably bound to the fynbos. Ironically, it is the lack of fire that is the ultimate death sentence for fynbos ecosystems.

Meanwhile, News24 have reported on a heavily pregnant woman who was airlifted above the fires to hospital in just 23 minutes:

Cape Town – A Noordhoek man has told how he took to social media to ask for help after realising he and his heavily pregnant wife were cut off by the fires raging in the area on Monday, and wouldn’t be able to get to hospital for their baby’s scheduled birth.

For a expert’s perspective on fires in Cape Town, have a look at Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula by Simon Pooley.

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Update on the Wildfires in Muizenberg, Noordhoek, Hout Bay and Surrounds

Burning Table MountainThe fires that started two days ago in Peck Valley, Muizenberg, are still raging on, and are reportedly the worst the region has experienced in years.

Bobby Jordan and Jerome Cornelius wrote an article for the Rand Daily Mail about the destruction being wreaked by the fires, and the attempts to keep the blaze under control.

Firefighters and volunteers have their work cut out for them.

Read the article:

The fire, which started early on Sunday in Muizenberg, above Boyes Drive, had by yesterday spread across a large area of Table Mountain National Park in the middle of the city.

Five houses were destroyed or severely damaged and at least 30 households were evacuated, including residents of an old-age home and a retirement village.

By nightfall the blaze had moved into the pine plantations on the slopes of Constantiaberg, above the suburb of Tokai. It was still burning fiercely on the upper slopes of Chapman’s Peak.

Smoke from the fires, are visible from all over the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, and can be clearly seen the satellite pictures.

Look at the pictures on Twitter:

For a expert’s perspective on fires in Cape Town, have a look at Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula by Simon Pooley.

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Mountains in Cape Town’s Deep South on Fire: Photos and Videos

Burning Table MountainFirefighters from Table Mountain National Park, Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) and Working on Fire have been working tirelessly since Sunday morning, when a fire broke out in the Peck Valley, Muizenberg.

Fuelled by strong south-easterly winds, these blazing fires have since crept over the Silvermine mountain range towards Hout Bay and Noordhoek.

One of the volunteers from Working on Fires, Phillip Prins, spoke to Eyewitness News: “The fire is still continuing, it’s not contained at this stage, so it’s not a nice situation here, the wind is very strong, visibility is very poor so we are actually struggling.”

Many people, including residents from Stonehurst Estate on the slopes of the Silvermine mountains and various old age homes in the area, have had evacuate their homes with many buildings already damaged by the fire.

“Ou Kaapse Weg has been closed to traffic, with firefighters lining the road battling to contain the flames,” Newys24 reports. Chapman’s Peak Drive has also been closed to traffic and flames dangerously close to Boyes Drive are threatening to cut off that route as well.

Many organisations, including big chain stores like Checkers, Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay, have been collecting and distributing food and drinks to the displaced residents and brave heroes fighting the fire.

Both News24 and Eyewitness News have live news feeds to keep you updated on developments in Cape Town’s deep south:

Four homes have been destroyed and three old age homes evacuated in Muizenberg after a fire broke out at the weekend, Cape Town Disaster Risk Management said on Monday.

“Unfortunately, four homes have been destroyed, but we have 28 fire-fighting vehicles and 16 supporting vehicles on the scene this morning,” spokesperson Onele Ndesi said.

“The fire started on Sunday afternoon and went through the night due to the windy conditions. It started stirring up at 2am this morning… the wind caused it to stir up again.”

He said some roads, including Chapman’s Peak Drive, had been affected and closed.

Eyewitnesses say homes close to any of the blazes are being evacuated.

Dozens of firefighters are lined alongside Ou Kaapse Weg and have been working through the night trying to battle the various fires.

The fires spread from Muizenberg to Elephant’s Eye above the Steenberg Golf Estate.

Eyewitnesses in the area have been sharing photos and videos of the raging fire on Twitter, using the hashtag #MuizenbergFire. Have a look at some of the alarming images:




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Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula by Simon Pooley is an in-depth study of the social, environmental and economic impact of fires in the Cape Town region.

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Join Salma Ismail for the Launch of The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project in Cape Town

The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project: Women building communities through social activism and informal learningUCT Press invites you to the launch of The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project: Women building communities through social activism and informal learning by Salma Ismail.

Join the author for a discussion about the book on Saturday, 28 February, at the Derek Hanekom Conference and Resource Centre in Philippi, Cape Town.

The event will take place from 9:30 AM to 12 PM and the women of the Victoria Mxenge Housing Project will share their stories and show the houses they built by saving 50 cents a day.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Saturday, 28 February 2015
  • Time: 9:30 AM to 12:00 PM
  • Venue: Derek Hanekom Centre
    White Road
    Cape Town
  • RSVP:

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Edgar Pieterse to Participate in a Dialogue on Inequality, Safety and Development in Cape Town

Africa's Urban RevolutionEdgar Pieterse, co-editor of Africa’s Urban Revolution, will be taking part in a public dialogue around “Inequality, Safety and Development”.

The conversation will be facilitated by Vuyiseka Dubula, and will feature Pieterse, Albie Sachs, Rob Muggah and Mukelani Dimba. The event is part of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa Dialogue on Safety and Security being held in Cape Town.

The dialogue will be at the Homecoming Centre from 3:30 to 6 PM on Friday, 27 February.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Friday, 27 February 2015
  • Time: 3:30 PM to 6 PM
  • Venue: Homecoming Centre
    15 Buitenkant Street
    Cape Town | Map
  • Speakers: Vuyiseka Dubula (chair), Albie Sachs, Rob Muggah and Mukelani Dimba
  • Refreshments: Snacks and drinks will be served
  • RSVP:

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Fire is Not Only Bad News: Simon Pooley’s Burning Table Mountain Launched at Kalk Bay Books

Simon Pooley

Many local residents in the audience who gathered at Kalk Bay Books last week had clear recollections of the most recent wild fires above Glencairn Heights last November. Those present, including friends and family of the author, had come to celebrate the launch of Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula by environmental historian and researcher from the Imperial College London, Simon Pooley.

“This book first appeared in hard cover by the illustrious Palgrave Macmillan,” said Sandy Shepherd, Publisher at UCT Press, “and we are delighted to publish it for South African audiences at a significantly more affordable price.”

Burning Table MountainThe author spoke with deep affection for his MA supervisor, the late Stephen Watson, whose beautiful poetry featured the mountains of the Cape extensively. “He captured the wild-land and urban intermix of this city with its mountain. The stone pines were a motive in his work,” he said. “I started puzzling about this then, thinking about how to join up the environmental and cultural dimensions of the landscape.” (Read Watson’s poem ‘Above Camps Bay‘ as an example.)

Pooley mentioned the tremendous fire on Table Mountain that occurred in January 2000, and the huge impact of the blaze. “Shots of flames billowing over the slopes of the mountain and the houses nearby were seen around the world. I was struck by the response to it and the strong assumptions that fire was bad news. I thought everyone knew that fire was important in the ecosystem,” said the author. He reflected on the focus on invasive plants and the idea that the broad-brush non-African stuff should be removed as a solution to fire prevention. He noted the hybridisation of plant species that has occurred as many of these plants have been here for a very long time and are now part of the culture and landscape of the place.

This prompted him to ask the question how we might think about the environmental and cultural dimensions of fire management differently? He said the management of fire was always invariably enmeshed in a variety of social, political, intellectual and cultural approaches. The approaches that dominate international thinking are often set in a context very different from our own, with different weather and soil conditions in the equation.

“It’s not simply a scientific thing with clear objective management processes. We dominate fire on the planet and yet natural fire regimes have existed since prehistory. We can’t separate ourselves from it. Most ignitions are human, so how can we think about his separately? That was the tangle I found myself in.”

The author shared the vexed questions he tackles and some of the insights he had written about in his book with an eager crowd who listened attentively and asked many interesting questions during the last part of the event.

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Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks


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Join Salma Ismail at The Book Lounge for the Launch of The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project

The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project: Women building communities through social activism and informal learningUCT Press and The Book Lounge invite you to join them for the launch of The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project: Women building communities through social activism and informal learning by Salma Ismail.

In this book Ismail shares the story of a group of 12 women who triumphed over their dire circumstances to build a now thriving, sustainable community of more than 5 000 houses on a previously desolate piece of land on the outskirts of Cape Town. Ismail tracked these women, working as the Victoria Mxenge Housing Association, for 10 years to record their journey and exceptional social activism.

The launch takes place on Thursday, 5 March, and starts at 5:30 for 6 PM.

See you there!

Event Details

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Video: A Short Documentary on The Women of the Victoria Mxenge Housing Project

The Victoria Mxenge Housing ProjectWatch Journeyman Pictures’ short documentary “My Mother Built This House – South Africa”, which focuses on the women of the Victoria Mxenge Housing Association in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

The women, and their amazing accomplishments, are the subject of the new book The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project: Women building communities through social activism and informal learning by Salma Ismail, published by UCT Press.

Take a look at the video:

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Lwandle Residents Rendered Permanently Homeless Following Last Year’s Evictions

Hostels, Homes, MuseumLast year residents of Lwandle, Strand were separated from their homes in the blistering winter cold.

The eviction from Sanral-owned land caused a big uproar in the media, on the streets and in the halls of parliament, but seven months later residents are still left destitute and help has dried out.

Daneel Knoetze reports for GroundUp about the aftermath of the evictions, speaking to the former members of the Lwandle community who have lost everything – including families and children. He delves into promises that were never kept and relays the frustration of a community waiting for their homes to be rebuilt.

Read the article:

Former Lwandle resident Mandla Thethani, 44, shows GroundUp to where he lives: a mattress on the stage at Nomzamo community hall crudely balanced on parallel rows of plastic chairs. Underneath this bed frame is the odd change of clothing. Nothing else. This mattress, blanket and clothing is all that Thethani owns.

His shack was one of those demolished in the first round of evictions at Lwandle in February 2014. He lost his home, furniture and appliances and was forced to take shelter with his extended family in a nearby township.

“My wife was pregnant at the time, and now she has a baby,” he says. “I have two other young children.”

Thethani’s family had to move back to Barkly East in the Eastern Cape.

Book details

  • Hostels, Homes, Museum: Memorialising migrant labour pasts in Lwandle, South Africa by Noëleen Murray and Leslie Witz
    EAN: 9781775820772
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Video: Susan Parnell Explains How to Tackle Inequality in Cities

Africa's Urban RevolutionSusan Parnell, co-editor of Africa’s Urban Revolution, recently presented a lecture on changing ideas and practices for making cities fair at The Indian Institute for Human Settlements.

In the lecture, Parnell discusses the work of MISTRA Urban Futures in Cape Town in producing knowledge that combines theoretical and practical research. She is involved in projects that look for ways to account for and rectify inequality in cities.

In the video, she discusses the underpinnings and dilemmas, both theoretical and practical, of tackling unfairness in cities.

Watch the video:

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