Wednesday/ the South African drill

South African sports legend John van Reenen (71) passed away on Tuesday at his home in Calitzdorp, South Africa. (He suffered from diabetes). He studied art right here in Seattle at the University of Washington until 1971, and was a world-class discus thrower at the time.  He wanted to attend the 1972 Olympic Games, but was barred as a South African citizen. South Africans were barred by the IOC from the Games from 1964 to 1992, due to the South African government’s apartheid policies.

At an event in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 1975, Van Reenen set a world record with a throw of 68.48 m. Discus throwers studied and imitated his technique, known for a long time as ‘the South African drill’. Perfecting a good technique is notoriously difficult – which may be why the world record of German Jürgen Schult of 74.08 m, set in 1986, still stands today. It is the oldest record in all of men’s track and field.

Shaun Pickering posted this picture of his dad Ron (on the left), coach to South African discus thrower John van Reenen. This is around 1975.

Monday/ Van Riebeeck’s three ships

My 1975 South African ten rand note that I had bought on Ebay, arrived in the mail today. I wanted one – correction: had to have one – for my bank note collection. I have fond memories of the note.  When I was very young, I saw it as a lot of money, almost a fortune.  I still remember my mom pulling out two of these green notes from her wallet, to pay for a semi-automatic knitting machine that she had bought at a store. Whoah! How cool, I thought.

This R10 note (R for Rand) was part of the Second Series of notes of the Republic of South Africa and was in use from 1966 through 1978.  Front: Dutch navigator and colonial administrator Jan van Riebeeck; Union Buildings in Pretoria that form the official seat of the South African Government; Springbok, national animal of South Africa and mascot for many national sport teams.  Back: Table Bay and Table Mountain with Van Riebeeck’s three ships at his arrival on April 6, 1652: the Dromedaris; the Reijger and the Goede Hoop. [Picture: Ebay]

Tuesday/ buffalo makes five

Hey, a buffalo!  I thought, as I spotted one at the Target store’s toy section yesterday.  I got one for my African animals collection.

This is a cheapie one ($3.50, made by a company called Terra), and I will still look for one from my favorite purveyor of animal figurines, the German company called Schleich.  The Terra-made buffalo does have a lilac-breasted roller (‘troupand’) sitting on its back, a nice touch.

My collection of Big Five animals*, a reference to the big game animals that trophy hunters go for in Africa.  I really hope that more and more, it will instead be a reference to five popular animals that game reserves strive to have on hand, for safari tourists to see roaming in the wild.  *African buffalo, black rhinoceros, African elephant, African lion and African leopard.

Monday/ on ‘Zuma Exit’ watch

Ever since South African President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address last Thursday was postponed, there was a buzz that his ouster is near, finally.

Zuma assumed office in 2009, and soon disgraced himself and the presidency with corruption and incompetence (see newspaper clipping below). Last December, South Africa’s Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa became the ruling African National Congress party’s chairman, resulting in a leadership crisis. 

Word on Monday night in South Africa was that the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting had ended with a decision to recall Zuma.  Sources say Zuma had earlier agreed to resign – but on the condition that he stay put 3 more months in office. It was rejected by the NEC.

Tue 2/13 update: President Jacob Zuma is expected to brief the media at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Wed 2/13 update: Zuma gave a rambling, meandering response to the moves by the ANC to get him to quit. (He basically asked ‘What did I do wrong?’ and plans to stay on at least until June). There’s a little ‘as you sow, so you shall reap’ going on here. The ANC had protected Zuma for far too long.

Wed night 2/13: Zuma announces that he is resigning with immediate effect. (Good riddance).

From a recent issue of the newspaper ‘The Witness’. ANC is African National Congress, the ruling political party in South Africa; NPA is National Prosecuting Authority and SOE is State-owned Entity.

Saturday/ rain in Cape Town

July is normally the wettest month in Cape Town, with a total of about 5 inches of rain. It’s been 4 years since the city has had a normal season of rain, though. [Source:]
Rain fell in drought-stricken Cape Town on Saturday, about 6 mm (0.25 in). Elsewhere, along False Bay in Strand and Hermanus, some 20 mm (0.8 in) was recorded.

The start of the rainy season is still a few months away, though.


Monday/ Martin Luther King Day

Monday was a federal holiday in the United States, marking civil rights giant Martin Luther King’s birthday – 89 years ago to the day.  King and Nelson Mandela were contemporaries, but never met.

The South African government refused to issue King a visa in 1966. Mandela was in jail by then – arrested in 1962 for ‘conspiring to overthrow the state’, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Mandela first visited the United States (he made three trips) in June 1990, four months after his release from prison.  A ticker tape parade was organized for him in New York by New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

King’s widow Coretta Scott King, attended Mandela’s inauguration as South African president in 1994.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Marian Robinson tour the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial before the dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy).

Wednesday/ stamps for World War I

I shipped a package of books and red tea that I bought here, from myself to myself, in Seattle today. Books are so heavy, and I don’t put food in my baggage when I travel.  The post office branch I visited did not have new 2017 stamps , and I settled for a panel of 2014 stamps that commemorated World War I.

The horrors, and the heroes of War: Top South African Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts at the top (Botha would die of flu in 1919, and Smuts became Prime Minister after the war). Middle There was even a campaign in Palestine, and the sinking of the SS Mendi in the British Channel made for a loss of 616 lives, most of them black South African soldiers. Bottom The battle of Battle of Delville Wood in France (against the Germans), and the German advance at Marrieres Wood also resulted in a lost of casualties, and heroic actions of the South Africans against overwhelming forces.

Tuesday/ the Molteno reservoir

Picture of the Molteno reservoir taken in April 2014 with a drone by ‘AerialcamSA’. That’s Lion’s Head in the background. [Source: Wikipedia]
‘Whoah! What’s that body of water?’ I thought as I drove by a reservoir in Oranjezicht on the slopes of Table Mountain today.  ( I visited family that live close by).

Turned out it was the Molteno reservoir (or Molteno dam), one with a colorful history.

Construction was completed in 1880, but then the dam stood empty through two unusually dry winters. When the drought finally broke, the dam overflowed. The eastern wall broke and sent a tsunami of water down through the city, destroying houses and uprooting trees.  Yikes!

Another catastrophe occurred in June 1900, when a famous hot air balloonist called Isidore Michaels got in trouble with the wind, jumped from his balloon basket with a parachute, but ended up in the middle of the dam and drowned, enmeshed in his parachute strings.  The dam had to be drained to retrieve his body.

After that, the dam served the young city of Cape Town for many decades to come.  It is still in service, supplying the city center with water, alongside several other dams in the Western Cape Water Supply System that were brought on-line.

I took this picture today, with the Molteno reservoir in the background. The building (constructed 1894, says the date), housed the Graaff Electric Lighting Works, Cape Town’s first power plant. The city’s first electric lights were switched on in 1895.

Sunday/ Bloubergstrand

Bloubergstrand (‘Blue Mountain Beach’) is at A. It’s only a 13 mi drive from Durbanville where I stay.
Kite surfer at Bloubergstrand today. He wears a harness to keep him connected to the kite, and steers it with a handle bar.


I took a short drive out this afternoon to Bloubergstrand (‘Blue Mountain Beach’). From there, one sees the iconic view of Table Mountain (looking blue in the distance).

It was windy again today, and a dozen or so kite surfers made good use of the wind.



Thursday/ inside the First National Bank building

The circular desk in the main banking hall, under the dome, still used to indicate the date for those that fill out checks (fewer and fewer these days!) and other documentation.

I checked into the First National Bank building in Cape Town on Thursday, in a quest (unsuccessful so far) for a few new 2017 South African 5-rand coins.

The building was designed by famed architect Sir Herbert Baker, and inside the banking hall’s dome there are four beautiful plaques.

There is a lot of history in the plaques, and I did some on-line research to find the full explanation for them.

Top Left: Symbols of Great Britain : Gold lion with a crown for England, Harp for Ireland, Red Lion for Scotland. Bottom Left: Symbols of the Union Of South Africa: Lady with Anchor for Cape Colony, Wildebeest for Natal Colony, Ox Wagon for Transvaal Colony, Orange Tree for Orange River Colony. Top Right: The arms of Van Riebeeck, a shield with three besants superimposed upon the anchor of Good Hope. Bottom Right: The signs of Lombard Street. Bell for 44 Lombard Street, Rose & Crown for 50 Lombard Street, Bible for 54 Lombard Street, Eagle for 56 Lombard Street. Dragon: Wales

Tuesday/ let’s braai

Braai means barbeque in South Africa, and can be used as a noun or a verb.  I like to check out the offerings in the grocery store for braaiing.

Pork ‘Texan steak’ style is a thick cut of pork with seasoning rubbed onto it, then grilled or fried in a pan; boerewors (US$2.85/ lb) is very popular for South African braais | Kalahari (brand name) salt features a gemsbok | the largest marshmallows I have ever seen, also for braaiing

Monday/ it’s Cyril

Top: The South African Rand’s exchange rate experienced a ‘Ramaphosa bump’ in the last week or two. The Rand strengthened to R12.56 to the dollar, but slipped to R12.78 early on Tuesday morning. Bottom: Top Six refers to the leadership of the ANC. Some analysts say Ramaphosa has his work cut out for him with some surprising and questionable candidates that got elected to the Top Six.

Early Monday evening, the results were in: Cyril Ramaphosa won the vote for ANC President, with 2440 votes to 2261.  Hopefully this is a sign that the disastrous Zuma presidency and legacy will be coming to an end.

There was TV coverage all day, but none of the exhaustive and detailed analysis that come with elections on TV in the United States.


Saturday/ the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) opened in September 2017. The art collection is housed in an old grain silo complex at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

Clockwise from left: the front of the MOCAA building | open tops of grain silos on the inside, given new life as six-storey high skylights | looking up from floor 0, by the elevators | utility tunnels from the old grain silo | looking down to the main entrance hall.
From top left, clockwise: Julien Sinzogan, born 1957, Benin: La jetée (The Jetty), 2010, colored ink and acrylic on paper | Cyrus Kabiru, born 1984, Kenya: KwaZulu Natal Elephant mask,2015, Pigmented ink print | Thania Peterson, born 1980, South Africa: Location 4, later District 6, 2015, Pigmented ink print | I recorded no notes for the red dog!
This room was the highlight of the museum for me. Roger Ballen was born in New York in 1950 but for over 30 years he has lived and worked in South Africa. ‘Ballenesque’ is a retrospective of his work.
From His strange and extreme works confront the viewer and challenge them to come with him on a journey into their own minds as he explores the deeper recesses of his own.
Another Roger Ballen composition of strange and distorted figures and photographs.

Friday/ hadada ibis

There is a big lawn at my guesthouse, and early in the morning a few hadada ibises are out foraging for worms.  Amazingly, the lawn is still a little green in spite of the drought, and they have to work at it with their beaks, but they do find an earthworm or a bug now and then.


Thursday/ can the ANC change course?

The 54th National Conference of the African National Congress (South Africa’s ruling political party) is set to start on Friday at an exhibition center near Johannesburg.   The event is more or less the equivalent of the national party conventions we have in the United States before a presidential election. By Sunday, the ANC will have elected a new chairperson, and it is very likely that this person will become South Africa’s new president as an outcome of the 2019 national elections.

Even though Cyril Ramaphosa served as deputy president of South Africa under President Jacob Zuma since 2014, many (most?) South Africans hope that he will prevail over his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ex-wife of Jacob Zuma. It is time to pay serious attention to South Africa’s economic challenges and clean out the worst of the vast corruption and cronyism in the Zuma administration.   Ramaphosa has tweeted that he wants to address infrastructure challenges, and wants to target a 5% growth rate for South Africa’s developing economy (currently at about 1% annual growth).

From the front page of the newspaper the Sowetan.  There are high hopes that Cyril Ramaphosa (on the left) will vanquish ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and reduce corruption and help rebuild the economy.  Zuma’s presidency (he took office in 2009) has badly tarnished his own reputation, and that of his party, the ANC.

Wednesday/ day zero looms

It drizzled a little bit today here in the far northern suburbs of Cape Town (68 °F/ 20°C).  I am sure the precipitation did not add even a fraction of a percent to the water level in the dams here, though.   At the current dam levels (34.2% full) and water usage, city officials estimate ‘day zero’ to be May 18, 2018.  Day zero comes when dam levels have dropped to 13.5%.  At that point there will be no more water coming out of faucets, and residents will have to collect water from some 200 collection sites around the city.

From today’s front page of the Cape Times newspaper. The City of Cape Town is working hard at procuring more water resources, but is behind schedule. Day zero is looming – estimated to be May 18, 2018.

Black Monday in South Africa

The route for the ‘Enough is enough’ memorial motorcade to Cape Town on Monday. The procession started at Klapmuts, site of a recent murder of a farmer there.

Monday was ‘Black Monday’ in South Africa:  a day of organized protest against the continued high murder rate of farmers in the country. Accurate numbers are hard to come by, but it is impossible to see the frequent reports on the front pages of newspapers, and not to acknowledge that there is a problem.

I wish I knew what the solution is. It is an issue fraught with race relations, the recent history of white farmers in neighboring Zimbabwe, and one of broken promises from the South African government to provide better security and justice to citizens that produce the country’s food supply.

The scene out in Klapmuts near Stellenbosch early on Monday morning, as protesters in a motorcade prepared to drive to Cape Town, to protest the ineffectiveness of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to make a dent in the on-going high rate of murders in rural areas and on farms in South Africa. In many other towns and cities in South Africa similar protests were held.

Saturday/ heads up! zebra crossing!

The Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike ride was done in 7 stages (over 7 days), for a total of 553 km (343 mi) and a combined elevation of 11, 370 m (37,300 ft). It started in Mossel Bay and ended in Oudtshoorn.

The Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike competition ended on Saturday in the southern Cape in South Africa.

It is a very beautiful part of the country, and the riders go through trails in nature reserves. I have to believe they are safe from predators, but they still have to watch out for zebra, giraffes and antelopes.

Watch out! when not on a paved surface, says the caption.  This was in the second stage, with four riders experiencing a close encounter with zebras on the trail. Last year, two Dutch riders almost collided with a young giraffe.  Picture by Zoon Cronje, published in Die Burger newspaper.

Thursday/ Grimm’s Fairy Tales at 200

The cover of the South African published book ‘Die Mooiste Sprokies van Grimm’ (‘The Fairest Fairy Tales of Grimm’).

The brothers Grimm’s fairy tales were first published in 1812, so this year marks their 200th anniversary.

I have had my eye on a South African publisher’s ‘Die Mooiste Sprokies van Grimm (2010)’ (The Fairest Fairy Tales of Grimm’) with illustrations by artist Piet Grobler for a while now, and today I finally purchased it.

This is my favorite picture in the whole book. Yes, that is Red Riding Hood. And check out the wolf’s long hairy ears, his sly eyes, his toe in the water, with the predator fish about to gobble up the innocent little one. The perfect undercurrent for what is about to transpire in the fairy tale !