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Municipal data needs a good hack

Paul Berkowitz at JoziHub talking about crunching municipal data.

Paul Berkowitz at JoziHub talking about crunching municipal data.

In this piece written for which you can read here – private companies and individuals are getting their hands on municipal data in an effort to improve basic service delivery and free up consumer data.

I think it’s a good effort. With the tools available to us today the opportunities for creating some awesome apps and tucking into some presentation and visualisation of this mountain of data is exciting. Make journalism beautiful. Making real beautiful. Something we should all be striving for.

The group on 15 June sought to tackle one of the most pressing issues of our times – service delivery in a rapidly expanding metropolis with a multitude of social problems and an inadequate record keeping process. Enter Johannesburg and its numbers.

Service delivery – water, electricity, sanitation, rubbish removal – is the point here. Paul Berkowitz from Citydex and one of the organisers of the event says, “We want to drive delivery, we want greater public engagement. We do this through data sharing”. Of course, one of the sticking points to taking this step in service delivery is whether this data is actually available and accessible to the public. Berkowitz is a bit of an activist for holding municipalities accountable for their data. All this information should be available and ideally having as Berkowitz lovingly says, “One database to bind them.”

By the close of the day there was no finished product on the table but organisers said they are setting down some clear goals and timelines moving forward.

Anyway – watch this space for some cool journo developments. SA is a little behind, let’s all admit that, but the economies of having these kind of people on staff is starting to make sense.

Preying on the sun

Loving sun... by S:P:S
Loving sun…, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

The Minister of Energy tells me that solar will occupy an increasingly important role in the production of South African energy.

Cool. I hope so.

I understand that solar power is more expensive than our current coal powered electricity and most likely will remain that way for some time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop dreaming.

I am no environmentalist but there can’t be too much wrong with the sort of technologies that can tap into what is abundantly all around us in a natural, somewhat perpetual form and then turn that into power for our lovely electronic gadgets.

It is often repeated that you can’t charge the sun, raising valid questions of how an industry will be developed. The world economy after all is built on oil. But I have been on this planet long enough to know that where there isn’t, there shall be found.

New economies will arise with the adoption of new technologies.

Energy…love it.

I attended the opening of RustMo1, the first renewable energy project for the North West province at the end of May. It is supposed to commence commercial operation at the end of this year.

Read the piece on the eNCA site here.

Harnessing sun... by S:P:S
Harnessing sun…, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

Loving Nirox

Vortex I by S:P:S
Vortex I, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

Went through to Nirox a couple days back and wandered in those lovely gardens with odd sculptures and other pieces of art littering its greens. Was quite lovely.

Wrote a little something on it with some extra images on the site – you can check it out here.

I would probably be violating some agreement in my employment contract or other such such if I didn’t link through and placed all the content here. But I am all about the link love. So there you go.

Poetry Sweeper

Street Sweeper Eunice by S:P:S
Street Sweeper Eunice, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

Street sweepers are hardly the most recognisable people in the workforce of the municipality. In the Joburg inner city they start arriving later in the afternoon and finish work when many of us have gone to sleep or at least finished dinner. The city is certainly empty; offices are closed, streets dark and not even residents mill about too much. But some are thinking about their next piece of writing while working hard to put food on the table.

Meet Eunice Ramasunga. She stopped me one day after I had parked on Joubert street. She thought I was from the SABC. She wants to get on television. She wants to be a poet, recognised throughout the land. I had to stop her from going into full performance right there on the bustling streets just before 9 that evening.

I took a liking to her.

And she is a published writer already. Two books of her short stories written in Venda are used in the high school curriculum after her cousin typed them out for her on his office computer and she has a spattering of other works in the public space. She came to Joburg in 2006 and has been working for Pikitup ever since while keeping her dream of being a nationally recognised poet alive.

She says there is much she wants to write about and has a number of poems already that she wants to have published. She writes mainly about social stuff, about people – how they live and even infidelity.

I told her I would put her out there. So here is a start.

Blog: Pimps and Pushers

Milton seller by S:P:S
Milton seller, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

It has been a couple months now since I have been hanging out at Milton Court, my little hideaway among the dregs of society in one of Joburg’s nastiest buildings, with admittedly some of the nastiest people. I am still not so comfortable sitting out the back with the pushers and pimps, but they are warming up to me. A little trust goes a long way.

Things have been heating up there the last few weeks. The owner has surfaced with a letter of demand to vacate the building, effectively announcing his intention to remove the current occupiers and renovate. His vision as described to me, is for shops on the bottom and flats on top. There are many rooms in this three-storey building and residents say around 300 people are already squashed in.

His demands are fair and he has also indicated that for those families that have been in the building for a long time – one resident says he has been there for over 30 years – he will make a direct plan for alternative accommodation. Anybody that has this mind set before any legal obligation to do so can’t be that bad of a guy. Human rights organisations that are working to protect the occupiers of the building need to chill out and work on a solution whereby both interested parties come to some solution.

The fact is, these people have occupied this building, and in some cases are making money off other residents…they have no moral right to be staying there, even less of one when most of them (and this is not my opinion, but correct according to long-time residents) are pimps and pushers. When a rightful owner of a property surfaces and is prepared to take the time to come to an arrangement, people need to understand that the free ride has ended and ethically prepare themselves to move on. My opinion.

Issues of immigrants, and having ‘nowhere else to go’ are somewhat irrelevant and not in the realm of what a private property owner should be dealing with. In light of such legitimate claims, disputes over human rights become somewhat more problematic.

Of course, there was this event – after which even the owner agrees and understands that he went about his efforts the wrong way. No one wants a situation to turn violent.

The individual in the picture above I feel for, as he has established his small business in the only place he could. But having that place in an occupied building whereby he doesn’t pay legitimate rent (if any) – that is hardly a position to be protected.

Joburg has hundreds of empty and abandoned buildings, Milton Court has an owner, but has devolved into a den of disparity and deserves an opportunity to be cleaned up. Don’t agree with me? Come hang with me there on a Friday night.

Yonathan Pollack: One protest at a time

Yonathan Pollack by S:P:S
Yonathan Pollack, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

I had the opportunity a little while back to interview infamous Israeli anti-apartheid activist Yonathan Pollack who is also the legal aid co-ordinator of the Palestinian organisation Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. He is a self-confessed anarchist and suffice to say he isn’t well received within Israeli society. Some consider him somewhat of a traitor although he has only being imprisoned for nothing more than attending an illegal gathering or some destruction to property. We are about the same age and I do remember seeing him at various events in the West Bank during my own time up there as a writer and photojournalist in 2008, so I was happy to sit down and have a chat with him.

He was visiting SA for what he said was for fundraising for legal costs of those who are arrested during protests and to increase awareness around the current boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel – an elaborate economic attack, that seems to be gaining traction and support in SA and hit Israel in its economy, theoretically forcing them to reconsider their policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I won’t go through the whole interview, there is quite a lot I could write about the conversation – some of it simply newspaper interview style; more about the dissection of his ideology; being a non-activist myself there is a fair amount I disagree with – but one point that was brought home and made me think was his repeated point of the ‘ability to assemble’ – a concept that rings loudly in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre in North West Province on 16 August this year, as a number of groups who wanted to march in protest were systematically denied that right that is so enshrined in our constitution.

Pollack’s resistance comes in the form of marches, protests and direct action at various sites around Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He has a point when he says, “protecting the ability to mobilise. If we lose that we have nothing left”.

“Direct confrontation between ordinary people and military might – that is the most effective way to undermine a regime.”

And that is true for South Africa just the same, apartheid struggle aside. As written by the Daily Maverick here in response to the crackdown on gatherings following the events at Lonmin mine.

“Official attempts to put red tape in the way of organisations right to assemble, gather and picket is commonplace,” said Jane Duncan, Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society at Rhodes’ journalism school. “What makes the recent squashing or rights to assemble noteworthy is that it is happening in a context where these prohibitions are intensifying.

“There seems to be an intensification of attempts to prohibit gatherings on spurious grounds. Fears expressed by number of people close to the Marikana struggle that there is an undeclared state of emergency there. What is happening is bearing those fears out. The security cluster has made it clear they will clamp down on illegal protests, but are making it impossible for protest to happen. So protest will happen anyway and could lead to spiral of violence. This is a very dangerous moment for protestors in South Africa,” Duncan added.

Comparisons between South Africa’s past and the current political structure in Israel are always clumsy, but listening to Pollack describe the importance of the ability to mobilise as harbouring the core of his protest action, it does strike similarities in this case. And I think we will all continue to watch how our economic protests in SA will be handled by what many consider to be an increasingly oppressive government.

Interesting times.

Dark Buildings: violent, attempted eviction at Milton Court

Nigga What by S:P:S
Nigga What, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

Residents of Milton Court last night were literally up in arms as a small group of hired security, sent by the apparent owner of the building blocked the entrance and told residents that they could no longer stay there.

Residents say that about 10 security guards in reflective vests and security caps came to the building on Pritchard Street just before 10pm and asked residents to vacate the premises. It was said the security had no court order of eviction and had no support from the sheriff.

Violence only leads to violence and that is exactly what happened. With most of the 300 or so residents of the three story building on the street it wasn’t long before words and pushes were exchanged, escalating into the throwing of glass bottles, plastic chairs and rubbish before police and JMPD arrived on the scene.

The apparent owner, Mark Steele, was not available for comment but he is a known property developer in Johannesburg who has been involved in another eviction case as recently as 2010 concerning a property in Yeoville. In that particular case, the residents were not evicted.

Police woes by S:P:S
Police woes, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

#darkbuildings #innercityjoburg

[Most of these stories around these issues will appear in The Star]

Blog: Amaze…over and out

Thorsten Weidermann by S:P:S
Thorsten Weidermann, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

The day after…Amaze festival organiser Thorsten Weidemann takes a breather in the first rays of summer on the rooftop of the Alexandra Theatre, Johannesburg.

The Amaze. / Interact festival is originally a Berlin based festival that has been going on since 2008 that, to put it succinctly, celebrates the convergence of game and art. Although not exclusively, it has a particular interest in new media and digital arts, while taking on a large dose of gaming development. Yes, just like PlayStation or Xbox, but on this level there is a certain nostalgia for the original 80s arcade games which, 30 years later, takes on an artistic approach.

The festival expects to encourage artists and media researchers to create a media art discourse on social, educational and political issues related to South Africa and the city of Johannesburg – among themselves of course, but also with European counterparts which had such a presence over the almost week-long festival.

If nothing else, it made for one hell of a party. Performances on the Saturday night by Wiij Timski and Meneo were mind blowing, and along with the VJ’ing by a number of local producers I think everyone present had a jump up time.

See the piece I wrote after the event here. Or simply check out the embedded below. I like it. Scan is a bit soft, but I liked the piece. Thanks to Lerato Maduna for sorting the pics.

View this document on Scribd

Blog: James Webb and the visual soundscape

James Webb by S:P:S
James Webb, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

It isn’t often that an audience in South Africa gets treated to a well thought out soundscape experience where we are required to sit still in an auditorium, with blindfolds, and create our own little cinema in our minds listening to a James Webb creation.

I like James. I think he has a certain knack for putting things together; they have depth, and more often than not a well researched historical relevance.

This particular piece was called Telepylos – what he describes as “an immersive, cinematic audio composition designed to activate lucid dreaming and stimulate visionary projection.” The idea came after he was instructed by Orson Welles…yes, the dead guy, to “try film” after he contacted the media producer (famously the radio remake of War of the Worlds) through a psychic, or in this case a medium.

So, in Webb style, he created a film in our minds through sound. Quite lovely actually.

The piece involved all kinds of sounds, some of them explosive, others a mellow drone, sometimes surprising and even sometimes you thought that you needed a jolt to get you back in the groove. For someone that places sounds of jackals on rooftops of buildings in the city to get some sort of perceptual twist into people’s lives, well, I wouldn’t expect anything expected.

Webb says, “It is kind of like a photographic negative of what I normally do.”
“Sound becomes the raw material…this displaced sound…it is sculptural”

It is exploring sound as an image – and before you say bullshit – it worked. With my own interest in synesthesia and what is considered the mixing of the senses, this came about as close as you could get without actually having synesthesia.

[The pic is the best I could do with only his laptop glow and no tripod…but I think it fits]

Blog: Joy of Jazz…


Some may remember her from Bongo Maffin, but many of us have come to love her as solo artist Thandiswa Mazwai. I won’t go through all the awards she won but BAM!, what a performer. What a show. I admit, I do have a little crush.

An activist singer. A struggle artist born into the wrong generation although tellingly born into the year of the Soweto uprising. There just aren’t the sheer political problems today but the roots, the history, the resonance is so strong in her – given that both her parents were political activists and she was constantly surrounded with books and potentially dangerous political discussion.

Biko, Fanon, Achebe, Nkrumah – she is about blackness, or I would prefer Africanness, and she still reveals many of the social ills that plague us. Check her out whenever, however you can.

Thandiswa Mazwai by S:P:S
Thandiswa Mazwai, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

Erik Truffaz. Smooth operator. Careful, calculated but with the freedom of introspection and the allowance of mistakes. Which just makes the performance all the more engaging.

I first saw Truffaz in 2002, at the then called North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town. I had only been in the city for a couple months and his combinations with his trumpet proved to be just the right settling in music. He seems to move around a lot, even appearing in SA often enough.

Erik Truffaz by S:P:S
Erik Truffaz, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

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