Posts in "Mother City of Innovation"

A jazz festival but not just for jazz fans

Let me widen the deep green circle of envy that surrounds holders of tickets to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) beyond lovers of jazz. The annual sellout event is a diverse musical feast that mixes styles and expands genres in delightful and surprising ways that would please anyone who likes music – or even just good times.

Tom Misch’s description-defying set at Bassline on Friday night is a perfect case in point. To talk about the beat-infused, soulful, hip-hop-inspired sounds in a meaningful way one would want to include the words jazz and funk – and there were definitely nods to house and even vague hints of techno – and many more sounds that I don’t have words for.

The Edge magazine makes a better effort: “Chipmunked vocals, slap bass, jazz guitar, G-funk synths, a breathy sax, trip-hop beats, hand claps, a string quartet, steel drums, maracas…”

Bassline is one of two outdoor stages, and a slight breeze on a cool Cape Town evening added to the sensory delight. Spectacular visuals mirrored playfully on the bridge above the stage and enhanced the feeling that we were at an intimate club gig.

Misch’s set was over way too soon for anyone’s liking, we were just getting started. Expect to hear a lot more from this 21-year-old British instrumentalist and composer who really is just getting started.

Making movies and memories

I remember when Mango Groove was just getting started, something that a majority of their audience at the Manenberg stage wouldn’t be able to say. It was surprising to see many youngsters singing along to the old favourites from this iconic band who seemed to define the spirit of the times in the early nineties.

Two and a half decades later Claire Johnston is still bouncing around the stage belting out those soaring vocals. The distinctive sound of the pennywhistle helps take us back to that time when this 11-piece band burst onto the scene with its distinctive combination of pop and township jazz seeming to connect township and suburbs in a way that filled us all with hope.

Another performer who represents a specific melting pot moment in time is Tresor, pictured, who was up on Bassline later on Friday evening. The South Africa-based instrumentalist, singer, and composer from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a living, singing, dancing reminder of the rich culture that our porous borders and lax immigration control has bequeathed us.

Like so many of his countrymen Tresor, an orphan, made his way to South Africa and worked as a gardener, car guard, and security watchman while fighting for a break, in his case into the music scene. Seven years later he seems to be well on his way to the galaxy where he belongs, having won a Sama award and opened for British superstar Seal.

He oozes confidence and sex appeal in his black leather trousers and pilot-style sunglasses. Move over Tom Cruise – and you too, Michael Jackson.

En Vogue on the Manenberg stage at just after midnight were a fitting closing act on a night that had taken the audience through time and around the world a little. The original “funky divas” from America danced, strutted, and belted out hits, old and new, in a stonking set that would make Madonna look a little tired (and totally wore me out).

One could swear the three ladies haven’t lost an ounce of sex appeal and relevance since their debut album Born to Sing in 1990. They have gone on to sell more than 20 million records and can still set fire to a dance floor.

I will resist looking back sadly, however. It’s true that they don’t make them like they used to and etc but the embarrassment of riches of young talent at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival helps with the nostalgia. On that score, let me get ready for tonight’s opening act, the Chris Hani High School band.

– African News Agency (ANA)

Yoco, poster child of SA as global fintech hub

Local startup Yoco’s successfully concluded foreign funding round, announced on Wednesday, has been described as a vote of confidence in South Africa’s growing fintech ecosystem.

The South African startup told a media briefing in Cape Town that it had secured funding commitments for an undisclosed sum from U.S.-based Quona Capital and Velocity Capital of the Netherlands.

In addition to being a milestone and validation for Yoco, the company’s chief executive officer and co-founder, Katlego Maphai, pictured, said that being able to attract top-tier foreign VC investors was a “vote of confidence in South Africa’s growing fintech and startup ecosystem”.

Adding that Cape Town was “fast becoming a global fintech capital”, Maphai said it was not a coincidence that the fintech ecosystem was developing in the Cape.

He said the Western Cape government’s public endorsement of Yoco had been supplemented by constant, quiet support from the sidelines. Maphai noted that special thanks were due to Alan Winde, the province’s MEC for economic opportunities.

Both Quona Capital co-founder and partner, Monica Brand Engel, and Velocity Capital director, Allard Luchsinger, mentioned the enabling ecosystem of the Western Cape and its position as a potential launchpad into the rest of Africa as additional reasons to invest in Yoco’s “world-class platform and team”.

“There is a massive opportunity to expand access to, and the quality of, financial services through the digitisation of SME payments and payments data in Africa, where cash still predominates in many economies,” said Engel, pictured, of Quona Capital, which manages the $141 million Accion Frontier Inclusion Fund, the first global fintech fund for the under-served.

“Yoco is a market-maker … growing the size of the card payment acceptance market,” added Luchsinger.

Maphai noted the importance of “raising smart capital from seasoned fintech investors”, saying it would enable Yoco “to continue our self-directed journey to grow the SME payments markets through world-class execution, delivered with radical simplicity”.

Yoco has previously raised capital from angel investors and seed funds, including the likes of CRE Venture Capital, specialist fintech angel investor Robby Hilkowitz and Greg Kidd (a first-round investor and advisor at Square and Twitter), but this was the first funding round solely including institutional investors. The company said it is also bigger than previous raises.

Yoco co-founder, Carl Wazen, pictured, said the funding had been earmarked to expand the footprint and services offered by the fast-growing fintech company that currently processes more than R1 billion in transactions per year.

He added that Yoco planned to use the funds raised to expand their current base of 6,500 customers, 70 percent of whom had not accepted cards at all before. The company also planned to add additional services to their offering and to prepare for expansion into other markets, with possibilities in both East and West Africa under discussion.

Yoco’s integrated card payment and point-of-sale system enables small businesses and entrepreneurs to securely accept card payments wherever they are. Pay-per-use pricing with no monthly fees make it an obvious choice for small business owners.

In line with its focus on empowering SME growth, the company also offers merchants a business intelligence portal that gives real-time insights into transactions and products sold. The size of the market is estimated to be around a million businesses in South Africa, where even social grants are disbursed via preloaded debit cards but many merchants cannot accept any form of plastic.

As for the rest of the continent, the press briefing was reminded that small and medium sized businesses, both formal and informal, are estimated to be responsible for up to 50 percent of Africa’s GDP and 90 percent of employment on the continent.

Although, Velocity’s Luchsinger, pictured, said “we know that Sub-Saharan Africa is different from the rest of the continent”.

But, he added, they had been very impressed with the depth of thinking that went into every single part of Yoco’s business.

“We believe this team will approach other regions with the same depth of thinking and analysis. We think this is a team that could become the main SME provider for Africa.”

There seems to be little doubt about its potential. Winde, who said he had squeezed the meeting in after being told he wouldn’t be able to make it, described Yoco as as “the next generation of great ideas in finance”.

Thanking the investors for choosing an African company and one based in Cape Town, he added that he thought they had made the right choice.

“The leapfrog into delivering services into Africa is going to happen out of this region,” he said.

Winde added that the big names, “whether they be from Europe, Israel or Silicon Valley”, were migrating towards the Cape. “This is just another little building block in that ecosystem.”

Hilkowitz, the angel investor who has amassed a sizeable portfolio in fintech across developed and developing markets, agreed: “Africa doesn’t have a fintech hub … This is an opportunity for Cape Town to be the fintech hub of Africa.”

And, he added, “Yoco can be the poster child for that”.

– African News Agency (ANA)

Art hits the streets of Cape Town

Wayne BKS goes by the aliases Conform and Skiet

Work by Mohamed “Mo” Hassan

In a taste of what is to come in February at Cape Town’s newest art festival, two artists will this Sunday put on a live “performance”, making a 7m wide work of art in downtown Cape Town.

Bringing art out of the hushed and hallowed spaces of galleries, Wayne BKS, who goes by the aliases Conform and Skiet, and Mohamed “Mo” Hassan, will work side by side making a piece of art on a large sheet of plastic stretched between two lamp-posts. They will be hoping that neither the wind and sun, nor the public glare, is too harsh. But the illustrators and artists are also what is commonly known as graffiti artists, so are probably used to being criticised and misunderstood.

That will soon change, however, if the team at Baz Art, the NPO that is launching South Africa’s first International Public Art Festival (IPAF) next month, have their way. The NPO seeks to bring street art into the mainstream and to use it to improve people’s lives.

Work by Mohamed “Mo” Hassan

In addition to IPAF, a festival dedicated to teaching, creating and showcasing street art, Baz Art is launching a variety of programmes, from art classes for children to beautifying neighbourhoods with large, well-maintained murals and helping entrepreneurs set up spin-off businesses such as food stalls, galleries or local tours.

Work by Wayne BKS, who goes by the aliases Conform and Skiet

The live graffiti painting will take place as part of Open Streets City Centre, which will see Bree and Longmarket streets closed to motorised traffic for the day on Sunday. The Open Streets event is the latest in a series of street closures across Cape Town, from Langa to Bellville and Observatory to Mitchells Plain, designed to encourage residents to reclaim the streets as places to connect and commune.

The International Public Art Festival will be held from February 10 to 20. More info http://ipafest.co.za/

– African News Agency (ANA)

Spier shares cash from carbon credits with workers

The Spier team celebrates the good news

Workers at the Spier estate in Stellenbosch in South Africa’s winelands will have a little extra to spend this Christmas after the farm decided to divide a portion of cash earned via carbon credits.

Spier announced on Tuesday that it would give 27 workers a share of half of the R204,000 earned for practising regenerative farming on part of the organically certified wine farm through a climate change mitigation initiative.

“The farm has acquired the credits for sequestering 6,493 tons of carbon dioxide in its soil, which is cultivated in as natural way as possible by using regenerative farming practices like high density grazing,” says Spier Wine Farm’s livestock farm manager, Angus McIntosh.

“This is a technique that involves frequent stock rotations aimed at using livestock to mimic nature by restoring carbon and nitrogen contained in livestock and poultry urine into the soil profile.”

The conversion of grasslands and forests to crop and grazing lands across the globe has resulted in losses of soil carbon, which accumulates through photosynthesis as plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When land loses its cover of natural vegetation and becomes degraded through practices such as intensive agriculture and the use of chemicals, carbon escapes into the atmosphere.

Spier’s credits were bought by a South African bank, brokered by Credible Carbon, a business that facilitates carbon trading through credits earned for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Spier said the office of the premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, was among institutions that had bought credits.

Livestock farming on Spier is done using high-density rotational grazing practices alongside the vineyards. A total of 74 hectares of pastureland supports about 300 cattle, 4,500 laying hens, 1,200 broiler chickens, pigs and sheep.

“The presence of a great many animals in a confined space for a short period of time deposits enormous amounts of manure and urine on the land, leading to healthy, vigorous pasture growth without the need of fertilizer,” said McIntosh.

“No inorganic fertilisers nor grains are used as animal feed, thereby disassociating the farming practice with industrial agriculture.”

Soil samples from the livestock farm were tested over an 18-month period by a leading U.S. laboratory. “They confirm a significant and rapid enhancement of soil organic carbon over this period,” according to Credible Carbon.

Spier Sustainability Director, Heidi Newton-King, said this initiative added to the farm’s sustainability and underlined the fact that regenerative farming was not only good for the environment but made good business sense.

“We now have a sixth revenue stream from carbon credits in addition to our other five, from sales of beef, chicken, eggs, pork and lamb,” Newton-King said.

– African News Agency (ANA)

When the journey is the destination

railstop-copySometimes one goes there and back just to see how far it is, this was a day like that.

A steam train trip from Cape Town to Ceres and back on a hot, still Saturday in November made us feel that we had all the time in the world to do nothing but chill, chat, and gaze out the window at the passing glories of the Cape Winelands. Layers of stress peeled off almost imperceptibly.

trainfine-copyIt was one of those days where one feels nostalgic, yet deeply satisfied. We think our day out was reminiscent of a slower, more elegant age but we don’t really know if such a time really existed, nor do we care much.

 

Total serenity was interrupted by oohs and aahs and the clicking of camera shutters as various people hung out the windows to better experience sensational views.

The beat of the engine and the echo of the whistle sounded almost primal as we travelled over passes and through valleys pulled by the big, beautiful beast of a steam engine.

This old girl, Jessica, was manufactured in the UK in 1948; the Ceres railway track was completed in May 1912. The Ceres Rail Company story is very much one of revival, of breathing new life into the old.

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In the late 1990s, local businessman Derick du Toit bought the property on which Ceres Golf Course is located and built the Ceres Golf Estate development. He soon came up with an idea to bring the old railway track that runs through Ceres Golf Estate back into use.

It is not for nothing that employees describe Du Toit as fearless, hardworking, relentless and visionary. Together with his business partner and fellow off-road racing enthusiast, Simon Beckett, and Transnet he has now made that happen.

So far, the Ceres Rail Company’s fleet comprises of Jessica, a class 19D locomotive #3321; Bailey, a class 19B locomotive #1412; and the very famous, one-of-a-kind South African-built Class 26, fondly known as the Red Devil.

witzenberg-copyThere is nothing devilish about Jessica, who took us on our idyllic journey to Ceres and back. The town is situated in the Witzenberg district, one of the biggest deciduous fruit producing areas in the Western Cape. The scenery on the way is breathtaking, dramatic rock formations and valleys and hills carpeted in fynbos.

After our glorious morning rolling through the countryside, Jessica stopped near the Waverley Hills Wine Estate so we could disembark via stairs brought and deposited in the sand by staff at our own little pop-up station, all a little mad and magical, SA-style.

vineyard-copyWe opted to drift on foot through the vineyard rather than wait for the bus organised for us. On our lazy and languid walk there and back again after lunch it felt like time was stretching out into the distance like train tracks to a new, distant calmness.

The lunch itself and the accompanying wines were a reminder of the bounty of fresh products and raw ingredients on Cape Town’s doorstep as well as the geniuses who put them together.

waverleyhillssalad-copyA highlight for me was the starter of creatively assembled and explosively crunchy lettuce and cucumber salad with a poached egg, croutons, and an anchovy and spring onion mayonnaise that was so subtle it was impossible to separate and identify the flavours except for “delicious” and “knock-out”. Perfectly paired (by yours truly) with a delicious organic Waverley Hills pinot grigio.

Our day was all about luxury and delight but the Ceres Rail Company is dedicated to more than just indulgence.

The trains started rolling after a concession agreement was concluded with Transnet as part of the South African railways company’s branch line strategy. The branch line between Wolseley and Prince Alfred Hamlet has been revitalised with two main aims – to develop the tourism industry in Witzenberg to help with rural development and job creation and to move freight into Cape Town.

The company started running freight, largely juice, pulp, and concentrate, to Cape Town harbour in April, most of it in general purpose containers. There are plans to increase the reefer (refrigerated containers) business, the largest component of freight out of the Witzenberg area.

Since April, Ceres Rail has sent just under 1000 containers out of Ceres to the harbour. The company’s target for next year is 3000-plus containers and, ultimately, it hopes to shift the majority of the 20,000 containers coming out of this area from road to rail.

jessicartpJessica and mates get to rest during the week as Transnet Freight Rail moves the freight train using a diesel locomotive. Ceres Rail Company runs the steam locos to Ceres and back on weekends with a stop for lunch.

More information and booking here: http://www.ceresrail.co.za/
– African News Agency (ANA)

Vergelegen wins global wine tourism award

vergelegen2Western Cape vineyard Vergelegen was among wineries celebrated on Thursday night at the 2017 international “Best Of Wine Tourism” awards ceremony at the Sao Bento da Vitoria Monastery in Porto, Portugal.

The awards are sponsored by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network, a network of global cities in the northern and southern hemispheres that include internationally renowned wine regions.
vergelegen3Encompassing the so-called “old” and “new” worlds of wine, the competition is designed to reward wineries that have distinguished themselves in terms of the excellence of their facilities in various categories, from art and culture to sustainable wine tourism, and delivering quality experiences to the public.

The international winners are chosen from those selected as the “best of” from each Great Wine Capital. There were 359 entrants and 59 local award winners this year.

vergelegen4The awards aim to encourage travel, education and business exchanges between the prestigious wine regions, which include Bilbao-Rioja in Spain, Bordeaux in France, Germany’s Rheinhessen region, Mendoza in Argentina, Porto in Portugal, the Napa Valley in San Francisco, and Casablanca Valley in Valparaìso, Chile, and the Cape Wineleands.

Other 2017 International Best Of Wine Tourism award winners were Seppeltsfield in Australia; Bodegas y Viñedos de Páganos in Bilbao; Château Marquis de Terme in Bordeaux; Rheinhessenvinothek in Rheinhessen; Zuccardi in Mendoza; Quinta do Bomfim in Porto; Trefethen Family Vineyards in the Napa Valley and Portofino Restaurant in Valparaiso.
– African News Agency (ANA)

PowerTurtle hatches a plan to power school

 SolarTurtleAn innovative, mini-power station, the PowerTurtle, will be launched at a primary school in an informal settlement in Gauteng on March 2, possibly heralding the start of a revolution in bringing power to schools that are off the grid.

The power station in a container will officially be launched at Pheasant Folly Primary School in Palm Ridge.

The PowerTurtle, which evolved from the SolarTurtle launched in the Eastern Cape last year, offers enhanced security and ease of operation on the earlier model.

Morning sunshine triggers the solar panels to roll out, with an an especially engineered rail system allowing the unit to unfold in minutes. In the evening the solar panels slide back into the reinforced 6 metre shipping container.

Representatives from the president’s office, the Gauteng province, the department of energy, the department of education and the Independent Power Producer (IPP) Office will be on hand to officially inaugurate the PowerTurtle at the school.

The school could previously access power only through generators, which cost R2,000 a week to fuel.

SolarTurtleJames and Tina

South African Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Peterson presents James van der Walt with the initial cheque EnergyNet gave in support of the project

James van der Walt of Ugesi Gold and the developer of SolarTurtle, said: “PowerTurtle is the first step towards secure, reliable and sustainable electricity for schools like Pheasant Folly Primary School.

“The unique PowaPod design allows a series of solar panels to unfold from the confines of a secure 6m shipping container, and back again at night.

“By launching the PowerTurtle in Palm Ridge we hope to show the potential of not only secure electricity for the school, but an energy solution for the whole community,” said Van der Walt, adding that he wanted to thank AMSolar and RexiVista for helping to “bring the PowerTurtle to life”.

Just in the Gauteng region of South Africa, an estimated 2,500 off-grid schools, typically located in informal settlements, are desperately in need of power.

Vandalism and theft have severely hampered the roll out of solar power in the past. The PowerTurtle’s unique security features mean the panels cannot be easily stolen or damaged.

The PowerTurtle at Pheasant Folly Primary School is the first investment of the ‘Not Just Talking Fund for Energy Access’, launched by EnergyNet Ltd and its advisors, Impact Brands Africa, Fieldstone and ERM, in October last year. The project is being launched in partnership with the IPP Office of South Africa and Minister for Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

The ‘Not Just Talking Fund for Energy Access’ is designed to provide an alternative financing solution for small-scale and beyond-the-grid projects across Africa, especially in areas of healthcare, education and female empowerment.

In October 2015 we wrote …

A local off-grid power station that looks a little like a UFO selling electricity by the bottle, and a computer game designed to teach the community how to run it as a business. Does that sound like life in a sci-fi movie or in the rural Eastern Cape to you?

The first SolarTurtle, a container with fold-away solar panels that will open a world of micro business opportunities for rural communities, hatched (or landed, perhaps) at a school deep in the rural Eastern Cape in June. A computer game teaching people who are not on the power grid how to run the solar unit as a business is still in James van der Walt’s head … but groundbreaking ideas germinated there tend to make it to reality.

JamesVanDerWalt

James van der Walt

Van der Walt is a 30-something mechanical engineer and software programmer who returned to South Africa a few years ago after living and working abroad for seven years with ideas to start a business that would make a difference. He had found himself working in the financial sector in Ireland after following an Irish lady home one day (all the way to Galway). Like so many in his generation, he found himself searching for meaning in his career beyond work, spend, save, retire.

plugging in the powerHis search for meaning led via a long and winding road to the Eastern Cape where today members of a rural community take large recycled plastic containers to a solar station to buy their energy by the bottle. The plastic bottles have been turned into rechargeable batteries that are charged during the daylight hours to be taken home in the evening to add light, heat, sound and etc to people’s lives. The bottles, holding traditional rechargeable batteries and with their lid transformed into a socket, are easy to carry.

Van der Walt remembers sitting on a ferry to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland one day looking at a steel plaque noting that the vessel that felt like it was being tossed about lightly on the sea weighed 40,000 tons. That must take a lot of energy, he thought. Add to that two other current hot topics that were on his mind: the financial crisis, which had put a lot of people out of work, and the energy crisis facing most countries. It was at that confluence, he says, that the idea for the SolarTurtle was born.

Then it wasn’t much more than a ray of hope that was to grow into the SolarTurtle. For reasons that are both simple and complicated, Van der Walt moved from Ireland to New Zealand. It was here that he had his next eureka moment after thinking, “There seem to be no problems here; this might not be the right place for me to settle if I want to make a difference in the world.”
All the while the ideas from that day on the ferry were rolling about in his head and an idea started forming around harnessing the power of nature to meet some of the obvious needs of man. Van der Walt started making enquiries about moving back to South Africa and the next thing you know he was here working on a business plan. It was then that a friend suggested he contact universities for help with research. He contacted the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University and the response was so positive that he ended up doing a masters in mechanical engineering at the school.

“This not only gave me the opportunity to study the problems faced by rural electrification first hand, but also to have access to some of the country’s leading experts on renewable energy and mechanical design,” says Van der Walt, who says he couldn’t have done it without the support of the school and particularly Professor Wikus van Niekerk.

Once he had the support of the university Van der Walt started to transform his ideas into action. Visiting communities who had no access to power, he quickly discovered that one of the main problems with rolling out a solar solution was theft and vandalism. More often than not, solar panels were stolen, with travelling syndicates of thieves disappearing in the night with equipment installed in remote areas.

SolarTurtleCharging

Power point: a local charges her phone in the Solar Turtle

It was then that Van der Walt realised that this was why shipping containers were being used as spaza shops. Another eureka moment, another stage in the plan. With some financial help from the South African National Energy Development Institute, the Technology Innovation Agency and the Department of Science and Technology, Van der Walt got his idea off the ground and on to the ground, with the first SolarTurtle starting to sell clean electricity at Ngangonwandle High School on June 15.

Ngangonwandle, 50km from Coffee Bay, is the largest school in the district with more than 2,000 learners, none of whom had electricity at home. Potential customers, you might say, making for a viable business proposition, in Van der Walt’s words. The local community was delighted to be introduced to the concept of buying electricity by the bottle.

The need for electricity in the region is dire, says Van der Walt. As if to prove the point, he says, a while after the unit launched, Eskom cut off the whole region’s power for two days due to problems at the local substation. During this time the SolarTurtle was the only place people in the wider area could get electricity and more than R2,500 worth of trade was done at the unit. “We could not have asked for a better opening day gift,” says Van der Walt.

recharging

Batteries recharging

Another gift has been the entrepreneur who runs the first SolarTurtle, a local woman, Lungelwa Tyali, who recently moved back to her ancestral home after working as an executive in Johannesburg for many years.

SolarTurtleHairCut

Buzz: a barber at work at the Solar Turtle

In addition to selling clean power, she is trying many things to make her business work, for example an internet cafe, offering refrigeration services, as well as allowing a barber to set up shop. One can only imagine the opportunities for sales of goods, services and entertainment.

But what about the computer game to teach people how to run the business, I hear you wonder. When I suggested that it seems obvious that demand for the SolarTurtle units would soon outstrip supply, Van der Walt tells me that one of the big problems with rolling these units out is training people how to make a success of them. He stresses that this is not a hand-out, it is a business opportunity.

There are possibilities of tie-ups with international organisations and companies that are producing energy under the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, but Van der Walt’s real focus now seems to be making the units work as micro-franchises, viable individual businesses that are supplying clean energy to their communities.

The software engineer in Van der Walt takes over here and asks me if I know what gamification is. He tells me he is going to write a software programme, a game, where people will “play the business”. Real life situations of a SolarTurtle owner will be simulated in the game, which people will play as a way of learning what is required. The game will also give Van der Walt a way of measuring people’s potential and suitability.

Van der Walt came up with this idea because, he says, people are less motivated by the idea of money than the immediate gratification of a computer game, especially people who have been off the grid for most of their lives. Now that sounds like a lovely and empowering game! – African News Agency

 

A creative revolution

When a Cape Town-based architecture and interior design firm asked their staff to work after-hours pitching against each other to do a comparatively small renovation on a little house in an informal settlement on a tight budget, one might have expected a lacklustre response.

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The original site

Who would have thought that a few weeks later, a grandmother from Nyanga would have five teams of architects and interior designers who are more used to designing palatial homes and glamorous hotels enthusiastically pitching to extend her RDP house. The super creative presentations stretched the budget of R100,000 in every direction and all seemed to shout, “Choose me!”

After receiving the brief, the staff at K/M2K seemed to form instinctively into five teams and worked evenings and weekends to come up with options to transform Nonzame’s (who asked that her full name not be used as she did not want to draw too much attention to herself) two-room, 28 square metre RDP house, where she and her daughter and five grandchildren live, into a more comfortable home for the large family.

SarahThe budget and scope of this job hardly compare with the large projects that K/M2K, a Cape Town-based architecture and interior design business with a portfolio of wealthy clients around the world, normally undertakes. Still, competition for the job was keen, and mean. It was obvious that winning this pitch carried value and prestige beyond money.

Transforming Nonzame’s house also offered these designers something that palaces in the Middle East or 5-star lodges in East Africa don’t – an opportunity to use their creativity to tackle an all-too-familiar problem on their doorstep.

Challenges outlined in the brief included security, since Nyanga is one of the most dangerous places in Cape Town to live, and lack of internal plumbing in the existing two-roomed house.

The five grandchildren, three boys and two girls, are aged from 6 to 28 years old, a spread that gave rise to a different set of challenges around privacy and problems such as one person’s study hours clashing with another’s sleep time.

The presentation to Nonzame, organised as a surprise by Keith Mehner, owner of K/M2K, who employs Nonzame as a nanny, was a buzzing and competitive contest of five very different proposals that seemed to cover every conceivable creative possibility with the space and budget.
IanTheoSome focused on being practical and getting as much bang as possible for each buck; others let themselves dream a little. Everyone was concerned about security, and determined that the house, while being a lovely place to live, should not look too showy, which might make the family a subject of unwanted interest. The exterior finishes would also be carefully selected so that the house remained in keeping with the neighbourhood as much as possible.

The various plans included so many small, thoughtful details. There was a space to keep a television out of view. On the other hand, the designers were all focused on keeping children’s play areas and so on in sight of the adults.

Bright ideas

Making the most of the sunshine

All presentations sought to make the most of natural light and ventilation, as well as rainfall. The ventilation system has resulted in a delicious light breeze created by these creative minds. Other bright ideas included skylights and some transparent roof sheets to make the most of the sun’s light and warmth.

One creative idea of fitting small glass cubes to walls to hold candles ticked a number of boxes, both practical and stylish. The safely-held candles would provide cheap lighting while avoiding risk of fire and would probably create a nice mood in rooms too.

Garden

Lots of greenery for play, protection and food

As for water supply, there was a veritable storm of great ideas to make the most of the rainfall. All the designs included a garden of some sort, usually focused on growing vegetables and herbs for the family and a play area for the children. Again creativity was evident in absolutely every detail, from a pitched roof alongside the vegetable garden to installing raised vegetable boxes so that all gardening and harvesting did not require too much deep stretching and heavy lifting. A few suggested the use of defensive plants, which are pleasant to look at yet menacing if you get up too close, in certain areas such as in boxes outside of windows.

As for hot water, as one of the designers assured Nonzame, “We are going to fight with council to get you a solar geyser!”

All the designs paid heed to another challenge: where the family would live while they were renovating. This problem led one team to propose building up as well as out, with a lightweight structure that would be quick to add at a different stage from the downstairs addition.

BillyRobyn

Boxing clever

The teams focused on designing a property that was low maintenance and and had low running costs, and talk about boxing clever when it came to storage solutions! Elevated beds with desks underneath or crates with cushions on them for seating or sleeping were suggested along with a variety of ways to make every space work in a number of ways.

Mehner said the idea of the competition came to him one day when he dropped Nonzame at her home. He realised that the situation in which she lived was extremely difficult and that he and his team could probably do something about it. He guessed (correctly as it turned out) that his team at K/M2K would be eager to get involved.

Presenting the idea to them, Mehner said: “Sometimes we lose touch with the reality of life around us as we design palaces and hotels in faraway places. This is a way to use our creativity to give something back.”

For her part, Nonzame was delighted by the whole idea and amazed at the levels of creativity and the effort put in by the teams. The clearly overwhelmed septuagenarian said: “God promised us a mansion in heaven. But I am getting one on earth.”

The drawings have gone to a quantity surveyor for feedback on costing and the search is already on for reclaimed materials and donations of goods or offers of help from suppliers or anyone who wants to help.

Another architectural practice in Cape Town is already reported to be plotting something similar. Like the metaphor about a hurricane being traced back to a distant butterfly flapping its wings, one small act may well trigger a revolution of using creativity … well … creatively. – Siobhan Cassidy/African News Agency

To help in any way please mail info@km2k.co.za with Nonzame’s house as the subject

Sexy, cheap, useful

WooCameraVisitors to Africa.com at the CTICC in Cape Town this week hoping to do some Christmas shopping might have been disappointed. Unless they were shopping for next Christmas, with many of the gadgets being futuristic in more ways than one.

Lots of the products being showcased at the event from November 16-19 are yet to be launched in South Africa; others, such as the Huawei’s smart home system, are still under development.
South African consumers might not yet be able to get their hands on all the stylish French cellphones and sexy Spanish cameras seen at Africa.com, but shoppers in Soweto will be able to get their hands on a little piece of the future when the Sunstream mobile charger is launched in a Vodacom store there next week.

With a recommended retail price of R199 we can expect this handy little gadget to turn up in many a Christmas stocking … or Santa could just drop it down the chimney.

Its creator John Anderson, whose background is in the solar panel industry, said he set out to make this phone charger as tough as roof-top solar roof panels.

SunStream

Perfect for the beach: Sunstream solar phone charger will still work when submerged in water

Not wanting to dip into any debate about youngsters and mobile phones, I will just mention that this piece of equipment could be handled by even the most destructively determined of toddlers, it can even be immersed in water.

The charger that transforms light instantly into energy is quite a looker too. Anderson, who hails from Colorado in the US, said he knew that to get the attention of the young and hip, who are usually the early adopters of new technology, it had to be good looking, hence the funky primary colours.

Woo, from Spain, is another company that was at Africa.com showcasing useful, good looking and affordable gadgets that will soon be available in South Africa.

These gadgets will appeal not only to young consumers who demand a lot of function and at least some form; nostalgic shoppers will likely also be wooed by the classic style of the company’s AC11 and AC20 cameras. Waterproof to up to 60m, the cameras give 4k resolution despite fitting in the palm of a hand.

Woo sells basic technology at affordable prices, something many South African consumers have little experience of. Mobile phones and small laptops which become tablets when you remove the keyboard completed the Woo offering at Africa.com.

With most items on show retailing for around US $100-120, the Madrid-based company will be well placed to grab a chunk of the middle market when it starts selling products in South Africa hopefully as soon as early next year.

Another European company showing at Africa.com in advance of plans to bring their products to South Africa was Wiko, the French mobile phone company.

Unsurprisingly the company that claims to be France’s second most popular telephone brand is very high on style. The phones are very slim and available in soft, luxurious colours one would normally expect to see in silk scarves. The company’s motto is You don’t like the game? Change it.

And so visitors to Africa.com live in hope for this Christmas … and the one after. – African News Agency