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Salma Ismail and Josette Cole Launch The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project at The Book Lounge

Salma Ismail

The Book Lounge was abuzz with people from every walk of life who came to celebrate the launch of Salma Ismail’s first book, The Victoria Mxenge Housing Project: Women building communities through social activism and informal learning, recently.

Ismail, who is based at UCT’s Higher and Adult Education Studies and Development Unit, was joined in a conversation with Josette Cole, a land and housing activist with many years experience working in the area. Cole, the executive director of the Development Action Group, gave a brief context for the history from which the narrative emerges, and asked Ismail how she came to write this book.

Josette Cole and Salma IsmailThe Victoria Mxenge Housing ProjectRecalling her work since 1977 with women living in various informal settlements, including Modderdam and Crossroads, Ismail emphasised the potential that was realised by those who had come through difficult circumstances.

Reflecting on the lengthy struggle of women contesting their right of access to the city, Ismail said: “The women who ended up on Site C, some of whom had voluntarily relocated to Khayelitsha, others who had been forcibly removed in 1986 when the Witdoeke and the State conspired, came out of a history of pain and struggle. The women at Victoria Mxenge and in Site C reinvent themselves.”

Considering Ismail’s work in bringing this book together, Cole emphasised the attention to the stories that the author had brought to bear. She said, “There are people who make history, people who teach it and people who write it. There’s a circle that goes round, a process of active engagement that comprises action, reflection and the completion of the writing.”

Cole suggested that the initial struggle was for the right to the city, for tenure rights and the right to belong. Victoria Mxenge women were already close to winning that right in 1992. “Their struggle became one of belonging,” she said, “a struggle of place, and of housing.”

Ismail expressed her delight at the presence of her colleagues, friends, and those present with shared histories in Crossroads and the Victoria Mxenge housing project, at The Book Lounge. She mentioned the first launch (which had occurred the previous weekend at the housing project) where the women arrived in their traditional dress, singing and dancing in response to the joyous occasion. She said the book was a celebration of their achievement and the visibility the book had afforded them.

“The [South African Homeless People's] Federation has, to a certain extent, made them invisible, so the book changes some of that. It aims to show the agency of the women in the different phases of the project; trying to show them as mothers, as citizens, as actors and, very lately, as entrepreneurs. It shows the State’s role and the different organisations’ influence in shaping their identities, as well as the way they shaped their own identity as they realised their dreams of building their own houses and communities,” said Ismail.

“The central node of this project was education,” said Ismail, speaking about how the women’s process as active citizens invested in their own learning informed the outcome. Their own education was key to their development as they integrated new knowledge and skills through their experience.

“They settled on this desolate land and built over 5 000 houses, building better quality houses than the RDP houses, while upgrading their own skills. They got access to the land donated by the Catholic church to the community. The women of the Victoria Mxenge community put forward a motivation that consolidated their presence and gained them secure tenure of the land,” said Ismail.

Many who arrived to celebrate the launch shared their recollections of Ismail’s gentle interventions and deep listening. Mention was made of how her presence had profoundly influenced and subtly educated those who had shared their vision with her.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:



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Louis Picard and Thomas Mogale Present The Limits of Democratic Governance in South Africa

The Limits of Democratic Governance in South AfricaUCT Press is proud to present The Limits of Democratic Governance in South Africa by Louis Picard and Thomas Mogale:

A compelling narrative that takes the reader through the evolution of local governance in South Africa, from its historical beginnings through the current time, to shed considerable light on the current sharing of power and resources across government levels … an important contribution.” — Jamie Boex, The Urban Institute

In the transition from apartheid rule to democratic governance in South Africa, what has been the impact on South African society at its base — on the people in the country’s cities, towns, villages, and farms? Louis Picard and Thomas Mogale offer answers to this fundamental question, tracing historical trends and measuring change (or the lack of it) in the dynamic between the promise of local participatory governance and the realities of a hierarchical state.

They examine the human dynamics of governance: the legacy of urban apartheid townships and rural homelands (or Bantustans) and its impact on local governance; intergovernmental relationships; and civil society. Their concern is with the state-centric manner in which the apartheid regime controlled black South Africans and the implications of this control for postapartheid South Africa. At the subnational government level they identify two trends: (1) a promise of — or at least the demand for — local participatory governance and (2) local political elites trying to impose political structures and processes on society. This book examines the clash between those two historical trends and addresses the concern that South Africans may one day share the fate of many in the rest of Africa, particularly those who reside in its urban slums and in its rural areas.


  • Political Development in South Africa
  • Patterns of Local Governance: Africa’s Colonial Legacy
  • The Colonial Origins of Local Control in South Africa
  • Authoritarian Institutions and Governance: The British Come to the Cape
  • From Colonialism to Apartheid: State Structures at the Base
  • The Urban Local State in the Apartheid Era
  • The Local State vs Local Governance after Apartheid
  • Where’s the Money? The Fiscal Debate
  • The Special Challenges of Rural Local Governance
  • The Continuing Role of Traditional Authorities
  • The Dilemmas of Decentralized Governance

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Cost of Cape Fires Already Estimated at a Whopping R6 Million, Still Counting

Burning Table MountainDespite still being counted, the actual cost of the devastating Cape fires has already amounted to an estimated R6 million in infrastructure, Helen Bamford reports for the Cape Argus.

“In addition to the infrastructure loss, the closure of the recreation areas will mean a huge loss in revenue. Two tented camps on a section of the popular Hoerikwaggo Trail in Silvermine and several footpaths were also destroyed, as well as long stretches of uninsured boardwalks,” Bamford writes.

She spoke to fire manager Philip Prins, Table Mountain National Park manager Paddy Gordon, and Rob Erasmus from Enviro Wildfire Services to find out more about the far-reaching consequences of the fire and the impact it had on the economy of the Southern Peninsula.

Read the article:

The park estimated that it had cost between R5.5m and R6m to fight the fires, with R4.8m in aerial costs alone, according to fire manager Philip Prins.

Park manager Paddy Gordon said there would also be a huge increase in alien vegetation clearing costs over the next few years as plants such as Australian wattles reseeded after fires.

The park already spends about R25m a year on alien clearing.

Gordon said the fires would have been much worse if they hadn’t cleared the aliens they had.


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Image courtesy of News24

Join Zanele Muholi for a Discussion of Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases 2006 – 2014 at UCT

Jacketed WomenZanele Muholi: Faces and Phases 2006 - 2014Zanele Muholi will be discussing her new book Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases 2006 – 2014 at the University of Cape Town on Tuesday, 24 March.

Muholi is a photographer and visual activist. This book features portraits from her archive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in South Africa. She is also a contributor to the UCT Press publication, Jacketed Women: Qualitative research methodologies on sexualities and gender in Africa.

The photographer’s respect for the people she photographs inspires trust from her subjects, which makes this collection a dignified visual statement.

The event starts at 5:30 PM at the Centre for African Studies Gallery.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Tuesday, 24 March 2015
  • Time: 5:30 PM
  • Venue: Centre for African Studies Gallery
    Harry Oppenheimer Building
    Engineering Mall Road
    University of Cape Town
    Upper Campus
    Rondebosch | Map
  • Refreshments: Wine and juices will be served

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Cape Fires Through History: Conservation Expert Simon Pooley Explains (Podcast)

Burning Table MountainSimon Pooley, author of Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula, chatted to John Maytham on Cape Talk recently.

Pooley is a Research Fellow in Conservation Science at the Imperial College London. Burning Table Mountain is his postdoctoral study of fire on Table Mountain from the days of the original herders to the catastrophic fires of today.

According to Pooley, something called “fire stick farming” has been performed on Table Mountain for at least 100 000 years, in which the area is burned to encourage certain nutritious plants to come up. However, in those days controlling the fires was less of a problem for Khoi Khoi herders, although it did become a problem for the Dutch settlers.

Listen to the podcast:

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Cape Fires in Jonkershoek Spread to Stellenbosch: Students and Residents Prepare to Evacuate

Burning Table MountainAlmost a week after the wildfires on the Cape Peninsula had been subdued, Stellenbosch University have started evacuating staff and students from the campus owing to the Cape Fires that have spread from Jonkershoek Valley to the university’s sport centre.

The Times reported on Thursday, 12 March, that firefighters’ attempts to contain the fire at the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve have caused it to move to the university’s department of sport science on the Coetzenburg side of the mountain.

Read the article:

For two days, the fire was thought to be contained, but strong south-easterly winds caused a flare-up, moving it towards Stellenbosch.

University student Henk Laubscher said it was “raining ash over Stellenbosch” on Tuesday night.

Fire crews used the back-burn, or control burn method – in which a fire is intentionally started in the opposite direction of an advancing fire to put it out when the two fires meet – to create a barrier between the blaze and populated areas around the mountains.

Eyewitness News reported on Wednesday that more Stellenbosch residents are getting ready to move away from the fire. The recent flare-ups have caused a large part of the town to be covered in smoke and ash.

Read the article:

A thick cloud of smoke covers a large part of Stellenbosch, many have complained about the smoke and the ash that can be found on cars and inside people’s homes.

“I live like one kilometre from there and my car is full of ash.”

Even more pressing is the possibility of the fire spreading no nearby homes.

A resident from the Brandwacht area where the fire is clearly visible says its scary to watch.


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Simon Pooley on the Problem with Cape Fires: Fynbos Must Burn Every 10 Years, but the City Must Not

Burning Table MountainSimon Pooley, author of the recent publication Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula, has written an article for the Cape Times about the fires on the Cape Peninsula last week.

In the article, Pooley speaks about the previous fires in Cape Town, saying there have been fires on the mountain for as long as there has been fynbos on the mountain.

If attitudes towards fires, and the fires themselves, are managed well, Pooley says, they should be seen as a positive feature of a healthy environment. Unfortunately, even with the best management, there is the small matter of a large city of houses and humans very near by.

Read the article:

Fires are by nature sensational news, and nowhere else in South Africa is this more so than on the Cape Peninsula, where a national park protecting fynbos which must burn every 10 to 20 years is bordered by the country’s parliamentary capital city, which must not.

The fynbos has been here for millennia, and it has been burning for just as long. The changes to the natural fire regime of the peninsula first changed significantly when Khoikhoi herders began to visit seasonally to graze their livestock around 1 600 years ago, setting the vegetation on fire when they left to ensure fresh grazing for the next season. When Europeans arrived in 1652, they tried to put a stop to this burning as it threatened their houses and other structures, and to protect their crops. Van Riebeeck planted rows of sweet potatoes around his grain fields to protect them from these fires. However, the poor soil and windy conditions made it hard to grow cereal crops and many farmers turned to livestock farming. They inherited the practice of burning the veld from the Khoikhoi.

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Zanele Muholi Featured at the FORMAT International Photography Festival in England

Jacketed Women: Qualitative research methodologies on sexualities and gender in AfricaZanele Muholi, the photographer for Jacketed Women: Qualitative research methodologies on sexualities and gender in Africa edited by Jane Bennett and Charmaine Pereira, is one of the artists who will be featured in the FORMAT International Photography Festival 2015.

The photography festival is taking place in Nottingham, England. Muholi’s work is part of a exhibition called Residual: traces of the black body, curated by Christine Eyene. Residual will run from 13 March to 12 April 2015.

Muholi will be taking part in a discussion about the issues in representations of Africa and the black body at the New Art Exchange at 6:30 PM on Thursday, 19 March.

Event Details

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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.

Book details