The perfect Valentine’s Day at Nirox: a picnic and open-air opera

NIROX SCULPTURE PARK 40 Minutes from Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

No better place to celebrate Valentine’s Day than at Nirox out in the Cradle of Humankind … and enjoy opera in the Park

 

12th February Valentine's Blues at Nirox Sculpture Garden

12th February Valentine’s Blues at Nirox Sculpture Garden

Even if you have no significant other, sexy partner or romantic Valentine date …. take a friend, a mother, a sister, a brother to Nirox this Sunday (12th February) for Valentine’s Blues.  According to the blurb the finest local Blues talents will celebrate ‘slow-blues’, drawing on John Mayall’s 1969 recording ‘The Turning Point’ performed live at the Fillimore East in New York.  Instruments will include cello, flute, keys, sax, and harmonica with percussive voice and backing harmony.   The line-up includes Albert Frost; Gerald Clark; Ann Jangle; Gunshot Blue; Tidal Waves and Manny Walters.

PICNIC TO MOZART

How Arcadian is this scene?

How Arcadian is this scene? Waiting for Don Giovanni  to start. Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Listening to live opera plein-air, sipping chilled white wine, against a backdrop of with ponds & streams. Can't get much better than this.

Listening to live opera plein-air, sipping chilled white wine, against a lush park backdrop with ponds & streams. Can’t get much better than this. Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Take a blanket and some camp chairs, although if it’s anything like the opera (Mozart’s Don Giovanni) which was performed at Nirox on 28th Jan, there will be lots of huge soft cushions and some bales of straw.  There will be wonderful food stalls (be warned – you aren’t even allowed to take water in) and although the food is yummy … it’s not inexpensive.

STUNNING DAY IN THE CRADLE OF HUMANKIND

Spectacular end to an unforgetable day

Spectacular end to an unforgetable day Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Surrounded by fast-changing hues in a pink and blue sky with golden- white clouds

Surrounded by fast-changing hues in a pink and blue sky with golden- white clouds. Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

We had the most glorious day a couple of weeks ago at Don Giovanni. The weather held, the setting for the singers and small instrument ensemble was sublime, everybody was so chilled, and to finish off a perfect day, there was the MOST beautiful sunset. Guests staying at Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse are taking their hats, sunscreen and most importantly their wallets to make the most of a day in the Cradle of Humankind. No better way to spend Valentine’s Day. Tickets are R330 on-line and R360 at the door.

For more on Nirox see

Taking symbols out of cultural context 26/06/2010

Art, jazz and nature meet 31/05/2013

Winter Sculpture Fair 02/05/2016

Sun friends and laughter 03/08/2016

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Kliptown: the forgotten stepchild of Soweto

Kliptown: Soweto’s Cinderella

Candice Madondo outside Mighty Evolution Kids Nursery Preschool

Candice Madondo outside Mighty Evolution Kids Nursery Preschool Liz at Lancaster 2016

I wrote last year about the SKY (Soweto Kliptown Youth) Foundation and Mighty  Evolution  Kids Nursery Preschool. (Both are located to the west of the railway line. SKY shown as Kliptown Youth Program on the map below). I spoke about the amazing tenacity of community members and their will to do the best for people against all odds and with very  limited resources.  Although Soweto as a mini-city has many  different levels of wealth – from informal shack developments to the old Apartheid style 4 roomed houses to very upmarket homes – its infrastructure has generally improved significantly post 1994 with more parks and other recreational facilities, upgrades of public spaces, electrification and sanitation, road maintenance, access to shops,  etc. This is in deep contrast to large parts of Kliptown.

SKY shown as Kliptown Youth Program can be seen in the upper left corner of the map

SKY shown as Kliptown Youth Program can be seen in the upper left corner of the map

From tourist showcase to shantytown

Rubbish alongside railway line Oct 2015

Rubbish alongside railway line Photo: Liz at Lancaster Oct 2015

Informal Settlements Oct 2015

Informal Settlements Photo: Liz at Lancaster Oct 2015

TK (Ntokoza Dube) who runs fascinating walking tours of Kliptown, was my guide to go and see Candice at the nursery school. On leaving the Soweto hotel and walking west across the railway line to the residential part of old Kliptown, the poverty, lack of infrastructure and clear lack of investment in Kliptown human settlements really hits you in the gut.  Why is there such a contrast between the cold empty space of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, the scale of the huge conical monument, the columns of the flanking colonnades, the relative opulence of the Soweto hotel and the run-down houses, piles of garbage, ubiquitous portaloos and clear lack of general infrastructure in residential Kliptown?

First forced removals 1903: from Burghersdorp to Klipspruit

As with all contemporary situations one needs to understand them in their historical context. In 1903 the Johannesburg City Council bought the farm Klipspruit to establish the first gravitational sewerage farm to serve the southwestern parts of the city (this area is seen today in the wetlands and river area of Klipspruit).

Map showing the farm Klipspruit South West of Johannesburg. Source: By Vaaljapie - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50496835

Map showing the farm Klipspruit South West of Johannesburg. Source: By Vaaljapie – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50496835

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However when there was an outbreak of bubonic plage in 1904 in Burghersdrop (later Newtown in Johannesburg), the Johannesburg City Council re-settled the Indian, Coloured and Black residents in segregated tent towns in Klipspruit.

Kliptown was part of Klipspruit

Image from Johannesburg In Your Pocket no 7 p 50

Image from Johannesburg In Your Pocket no 7 p 50

It was the area designated for Indians that was destined to become Kliptown – south of Pimville on the adjacent map (ie Kliptown was a part of Klipspruit).  The segregration of races did not work however and Kliptown remained a site of multiracial living and working, with a diverse mix of communities and races including those who had been resettled as well as small scale white farmers and traders.  Klipspruit (where the Blacks had been settled) was, like Alexandra and Sophiatown, an area where blacks were allowed to lease property and even own properties (until the 1980s when the West Rand Administration Board expropriated houses and residents became tenants in their own homes).  This  ownership of property as well as the multi-racial living gave it a very different character from the one which Soweto proper was later to develop.

Development of Soweto proper

Although the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923 enforced urban segregation, and the first official building programme in what was to become Soweto began in the 1930s with Orlando, it was only during the 1950s that extensive government housing was provided in Soweto (only named as such in 1963).  By 1956 the Apartheid government had increased the size of Soweto to include zones like Mofolo,  Jabavu, Meadowlands, Dube, Diepkloof, Dhlamini, Chiawelo, Zondi and Jabulani amongst others. Many of these residents shopped in the retail node (both formal and informal trading) located along Union St in Kliptown.

And Kliptown gets forgotten

Cobbler's stall October 2015

Cobbler’s stall. Photo: Liz at Lancaster October 2015

However Kliptown gradually began to decline. By 1994 the majority of Kliptown residents did not have access to basic infrastructure and suffered from high levels of unemployment.  Large areas still have no water-borne sewerage, lack pavements and have un-maintained dirt roads. There’s insufficient access to running water, there is no clinic, no school, etc. Why is it no better 20 years into democracy?

According to the Johannesburg Development Agency much of Kliptown’s development has been informed by its geographic location. Lying to the south of Soweto meant that it fell outside the boundaries of the municipality and hence developed more or less independently of the city of Johannesburg. Therefore, unlike the rest of Soweto, where transport networks were designed for greater mobility between Soweto and the rest of Johannesburg (particularly the mines), transport networks in Kliptown were not integrated into the greater region.  And economic opportunities were further hampered when Kliptown’s status as a retail node in Soweto was eroded during the 1990s as formal and informal retail activity started to spread throughout the township.

Congress of the People

If one Googles ‘Kliptown’, the first thing that comes up is the Congress of the People and the 1955 signing of the Freedom Charter.  It is this iconic event that is linked to Kliptown rather than what I have written about above or will mention below.  In addition it is this history and the Square which is the focus of Soweto tour groups. Some time ago I went with guests from Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse on a Soweto tour and the only part of Kliptown where we were taken was to the Square.  As is well known, in June 1955,  3,000 people met in Freedom Square for what became known as the ‘Congress of the People’ organised by the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People’s Congress.  This Congress saw the adoption of the Freedom Charter which set out 10 principles that were to loosely form the basis of the 1996 Constitution.

JDA’s upgrade of Kliptown

Enter the Greater Kliptown Development project which was first conceived in 1996 but only implemented from 2001.  R375 million was allocated by the Johannesburg Development Agency for major redevelopment plans in the areas of infrastructure: housing, services, transport – upgrade of the Kliptown Railway Station and a 250 bay taxi rank;  environment: upgrading of open land along the Klipspruit River; and economic growth and empowerment.

Aerial View Kliptown June 2004 showing street traders, houses. Union Street runs horizontally across the image. Source: JDA

Aerial View Kliptown June 2004 showing street traders & houses. Union Street runs horizontally across the image.  Old Kliptown Road and Beacon Rd were both subsumed into the newly conceived Square seen on the right.  Source: JDA

Working design for Square showing 2 colonnaded structures, the voting crosses symbolic of the 9 provinces. Union St is on the left/south of the colonnaded market building

Working design for Square showing 2 colonnaded structures, the voting crosses symbolic of the 9 provinces. Union St is on the left/south of the colonnaded market building.  10 pillars at the east end support statues representing the 10 principles of the Freedon Charter. Computer generated image StudioMAS Architecture and Urban Design

However it seems that the redevelopment project for Kliptown centred on the heritage site of Freedom Square (at a cost of 160 million?) which was even renamed in 2002 to the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. [WSSD].  Out of 35 designs that were submitted for consideration, the design by StudioMAS Architecture and Urban Design was selected. It comprised a monument, a museum, two long narrow colonnaded buildings to house informal and formal retail activities and an open-air area for community gatherings.

Plan of core area from StudioMAS presentation to SA Heritage Resource Agency 2003

Plan of core area from StudioMAS presentation to SA Heritage Resource Agency 2003 Shows Union Rd on south and footprint of  Old Kliptown Road and Beacon Road crossing the square from south to north. The site where the Congress was held is located at the western part of the square

 

When they announced the winner in June 2002, the judges described it as an “exemplary design on a bold scale, with the potential to change Soweto into a city”. Construction began in June 2003 and the monument was opened on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Charter in June 2005.

 

 

Loses its character and becomes a sanitized space

Conical monument contains the 10 principals of the Freedom Charter engraved in Bronze Source Gauteng.net

Conical monument contains the 10 principals of the Freedom Charter engraved in bronze. Source Gauteng.net

While the Greater Kliptown Project developers aimed to establish Kliptown as a prosperous, desirable and well-managed residential and commercial area and a major national and international heritage site, it simply did not work. It seems that a lot of planning, money and resources went into regeneration of the Square at the expense of the infrastructure in the surrounding area. And furthermore, very sadly, the social fabric, character, human scale and vibrant atmosphere of the trading hub  – the formal and informal trading along Union St. – was destroyed.

 

 

The new location for traders' stalls

The new location for traders’ stalls now under reconstruction 10 years on

Street side hawkers October 2015

Street side hawkers Photo: Liz at Lancaster October 2015

In 2004 in ‘Re-envisioning Greater Johannesburg’ (African Arts vol xxxvii no 4), I wrote  that the plans for Freedom Square showed a real danger of transforming it into a purified space, one that imposes a sense of social order rather than one which allows real people to intermingle in lived spaces in a vibrant colourful workable option. And indeed what transpired was a large characterless authoritarian space which as a result is often unused, empty and soulless.  The ‘formalization of the informal sector’ simply produced a bland sameness with somewhat brut concrete architecture as opposed to human scaled higgledy-piggledness. Furthermore, despite the Soweto Hotel on the Square, the tourist spend in the area has simply not materialized.

Yet another round of upgrades

Further upgrading of Union St Aug 2016

Further upgrading of Union St. Photo: Liz at Lancaster Aug 2016

When the authorities and politicians acknowledged this, a further round of upgrades began. In June 2015 Joburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau announced that, although the City of Johannesburg and Gauteng provincial government had spent R802-million over the past decade on redeveloping  Kliptown, they would be investing a further R677 million over the next 3 years.  Local residents are cynical – they see the Square being repaved and Union St in chaos (it is being revamped again with much of it currently closed to traffic) with little evidence of benefits for them in terms of upliftment and infrastructural development.

 

It’s people that make spaces live

Houses on St which SKY foundation have recently painted

Houses on Station St which SKY foundation has recently painted. Photo: Liz at Lancaster 2016

Local artists are encouraged to produce public art

In 2014 well-known graffiti artists Falko and Rasty made a number of murals in Kliptown. Photo:Liz at Lancaster 2016

Will local government finally invest in the basic infrastructure of the residential side of old Kliptown ?  Until it does, it is left to civil society and community-minded individuals to provide services and keep the public spaces clean.  Bob Nameng showed me the street spaces outside SKY Foundation where he and Foundation members clear rubbish, repaint buildings, encourage public art in the form of graffiti and have plans to develop a community market.

It is people who bring spaces alive and make them livable, not the grand conceptual plans of urban designers.

 

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Chinese New Year in Jozi 28th, 29th Jan & 4th Feb 2017

Chinese New Year 2017? 

Derrick Ave is closed off and people gather to watch the dances and displays and then enjoy a wonderful meal

Derrick Ave is closed off and people gather to watch the dances and displays and then enjoy a wonderful meal. Source: Liz at Lancaster

 

Park at 1 Fox St from around 5.30 to 9.30 Sat 28th Jan

Park at 1 Fox St from around 5.30 to 9.30 Sat 28th Jan

For many who don’t know the history and context of Chinese New Year it seems to be a never-ending movable feast of celebrations taking place over several week-ends. In 2017 Chinese New Year falls on 29th January and festivities will be held at the Nan Hua Buddhist temple in Bronkorstpruit on Sunday. The day, before 28th January, will see celebrations in Jozi’s ‘old Chinatown’ in Commissioner St  and the last event usually takes place a week later in Derrick Street in Cyrildene (Jozi’s ‘new Chinatown’).

When is Chinese New Year celebrated?

I feel a Nando's ad coming on!

I feel a Nando’s ad coming on!

Unlike Western New Year which is celebrated on the same date very year, Chinese New Year varies according to the lunar calendar.  It falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice (or in South Africa’s case, the summer solstice). And, like Christmas in Western countries, in China it is a much needed winter holiday. Historically it coincided with the slack time on the farms before preparation for the new cycle of  spring planting.  Traditionally most Chinese were farmers and, although at least 56% of mainland Chinese now live in cities, many return to their rural family homes for Chinese New Year as the festivity is a time for family reunion and visiting relatives and friends.  So while in a rural context the Chinese traditionally celebrated the start of a new year of farm work, and wished for a good
lanternsharvest, now it has evolved into celebrating the start of a new business year and wishing for profits and success in various vocations. Normally, the celebration will start from the New Year’s Eve and will last for around 15 days until the middle of the first month when celebrations conclude with the Lantern Festival. In modern China, working professionals will normally have 7 days of holiday including the weekend to celebrate.  As with New Year in most cultures, it is a time to take stock and plan afresh.  So for example, leading up to the celebrations, people will normally give their houses a thorough spring clean.   On New Year’s Eve families have a “reunion dinner” where people eat long noodles to symbolize long life; round dumplings symbolic of the full moon – a sign of the family unity and of perfection; and jiao zhi dumplings – shaped like ingots to signify wealth.

 

spring-festivalspring-festival-taboosInterestingly in 1912, the newly-formed Chinese Republic, governed by the Nationalist party, changed the name of the traditional New Year holiday  to Spring Festival in order to get the Chinese people to switch to celebrating the Western New Year on 1st January.  When the Communists gained power in 1949 however, the celebration of Spring Festival was viewed as  too feudal as well as too religious – not proper for an atheist republican China. So under the Chinese Communist Party, there were some years where Spring Festival was not celebrated at all. But by the late 1980s Spring Festival started to become more popular and is now widely celebrated in China.

Myths associated with Chinese New Year

Nian – the monster who hates noise and the colour red

Firecrackers, symbols and drums keep Nian at bay

Firecrackers, cymbals and drums keep Nian at bay. Chinese New Year 2016 Cyrildene. Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

The explosions are LOUD and DRAMATIC!

The explosions are LOUD and DRAMATIC! Chinese New Year 2016 Cyrildene. Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Central to Chinese New Year celebrations is a mythical monster or Nian – the word means both ‘year’ and ‘monster’. According to legend this monster lived under water and came out at New Year to attack villagers and cause general chaos and mayhem. BUT the wicked monster, like all mythical baddies, had an Achilles heel.  A wise old man told the villagers that he did not like the colour red and he hated noise. So villagers lit firecrackers and beat drums and cymbals and struck gongs to frighten him off. Plus they hung up red decorations like lanterns, calligraphic scrolls and cut-outs. Nian was sent packing and every New Year Chinese people celebrate the passing of Nian (and also make very sure that he doesn’t return).

Ears blocked and eyes often closed as the firecrackers explode

Ears blocked and eyes often closed as the firecrackers explode.  Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Nobody escaped the ear shattering noise

Nobody escaped the ear shattering noise

So with the forewarning of lots of noise, I said to my friend when we went to ChinaTown in Cyrildene for New Year last year … ‘maybe we should take ear plugs’. Stalwart and stoic is my friend and accordingly gave me a withering look which told me in no uncertain terms that I was over-reacting and being pathetic. Well… to say that the lion’s dance, the culmination in a way of the festivities, was noisy, is not to put too fine a point on it.

The Lion Dance

The lion dispenses good luck. The mirror on his head wards of evil spirits

The lion dispenses good luck. The mirror on his head wards of evil spirits. Chinese New Year 2016 Cyrildene Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Each restaurant, shop and business along Derrick Ave is visited by a large ‘dancing’ lion.  Operated by two people (one for its head and one for hind quarters and tail), he chases away evil spirits and brings prosperity and good luck.  And because evil spirits hate noise, he is accompanied by loud noise – and lots of it!  All shop owners hang an entire string of large firecrackers at their entrance and these get set off as the lion enters the shop.

The lion 'eats' the vegetables and then scatters them or'spits' them out

The lion ‘eats’ the vegetables and then scatters them or’spits’ them out. Chinese New Year 2016 Cyrildene. Source: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

He is accompanied by clashing cymbals, a gong and drums.   The dramatic climax of the lion dance is the “Cai Qing” or ‘Picking the Green’ where he looks for some vegetables which are hung in the entrance doorway. Hidden in the leaves is a red packet of money (hong bao) which is payment for the blessing. The lion keeps the red packet as payment for his blessing but ‘eats’ the vegetables and then scatters the leaves as if spitting them out to symbolize a fresh start for the new year and the spreading of good luck, abundance  and prosperity.

On the head of the lion is a mirror so that evil spirits will be frightened away by their own reflections , while the tail of the lion sweeps away bad fortune and unpleasant things from last year. So generally speaking you really do want a lion to come and eat your greens, spit them out again and take your envelope of money!

The Dragon Dance

Chinese New Year 2016 Cyrildene

The dragon follows a wise man who holds up a ‘pearl of wisdom’ on a pole

Next came the dragon dance. The dragon is another symbol of good luck in Chinese mythology (and is also a symbol of China itself).  A team of performers manipulated a long flexible dragon on poles in a sinuous undulating path. Chinese dragons are not like fire-breathing Western dragons who kidnap fair maidens. They are rather associated with life-giving forces, wisdom and benevolence.  We watched entranced as a man holding up a ‘Pearl of Wisdom’ on a pole enticed the Dragon to follow him between the crowd as if ‘searching for wisdom and knowledge’. And of course this was accompanied by the beat of a huge drum and the clash of symbols,

Restaurants offer set menus with delicious Chinese food

Amazing dishes from 'Delicious Casserole Food'

Amazing dishes from ‘Delicious Casserole Food’

Restaurants offer set menus

Restaurants offer set menus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese New Year

And then all settled down to tuck into amazing delicacies at the tables set out in the closed off street.  Sadly we couldn’t stay for supper but this year for sure we will.  There are so many restaurants to choose from but check http://www.eatout.co.za/article/dining-chinatown-10-great-restaurants-cyrildene-johannesburg/  for some of the best.  So whether you go to First ChinaTown in Ferrierastown (1 Fox St) on Saturday 28th Jan or Nan Hua temple in Bronkhorstspruit (29th January) or Derrick St (4th February); try to get to one of the festivities. It’s colourful, noisy and fun.

 

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