Thursday, January 31, 2008

It just keeps getting better.........

I am referring to the comedy surrounding the latest Government crisis, as the deficiencies in our power Grid threaten to send the economy into a tailspin.

The Minister of Minerals and Energy Affairs was heckled in Parliament yesterday, as she produced her 10 point plan for alleviating the crisis, which included such high powered concepts as " the people must go to bed earlier so they can grow and be cleverer". I trust the honourable Minister will be taking her own advice and having some seroiusly early nights, if her thesis that it increases brainpower is to be accepted!

No no, REALLY, I am not making this up! I know it is hard to imagine that this is actually happening at parliamentary level, but here is the headline to prove it!
(Of course if this enlightened advice holds true, it also raises a dilemma for those who are already too large, but want to get 'cleverer', do you avoid sleep in order to prevent further growth, or do you sleep more to aid the intellect? ho hum, decisions decisions....)
Our State President, Thabo Mbeki, has also come in for some serious (and may I suggest well-deserved) flack over his legendary lack of leadership. It has been so glaringly apparent during many recent crises, when the silence from his office has become deafening while the country waited in vain for some statement of direction from the top. He has developed a bad reputation for absence of leadership here, and is mostly known for rushing around the world in his private jet, telling other leaders how to run their countries while things fall apart back home in his.
So naturally, my favourite cartoonist has been having great fun at his expense......
(That bottom one had Max and I howling with laughter this morning!)

In fact it is becoming more and more apparent that some of our comedians (like Pieter Dirk Uys for example) would make brilliant politicians, if they could just get around the problem of their inate honesty, while many of our politicians have turned out to be marvellous comedians!

Anyway, onto something completely different. Yesterday in the Port Elizabeth Daily Photo blog, I featured Zimbabwean wire workers, and thought I would show some of the items they have custom made for me to use in decor projects.

The Wall Light in one of the spare rooms was a beaded gecko, with wiring inside. Off....

and on.......

The kitchen cabinets also got the beaded treatment, with custom made chilli handles.

Also in the kitchen, we combined old and new, with wonderful antique balloon back chairs in the breakfast nook, and custom made woven grass bar stools, from the Zimbabweans, at the counter.

While I am on the subject, I might as well show more details. This was one of the best jobs I had over the years, from the point of view of freedom to create, and working with a delightful client who was as whacky as me, and encouraged lateral thinking. Much of what we did was custom made, so the result was really unique and interesting.

Still in the kitchen, I bought some old silver plated cutlery, and bent them, then tiled them into panels in front of and above the cooker, to form mosaic panels with a difference.

And in the sitting room, the end wall was remodelled to unify the fireplace, TV cabinet and bookshelves. Woven baskets were made for the shelves, to hold all the little loose bits and pieces that tend to accumulate in such places.
(As a matter of interest, here is a before pic showing the dated and unbalanced oak shelves, with huge ugly step below fireplace, and tv so far across to the right that it was impossible to view from a couch against the only long wall in the room.)

But when the furnishings were in it looked great.

I bought the carved crocodile from a street vendor, and then designed a table around it. I had a blank pine table made, and hand painted it with ethnic designs. Under the glass panel, I fitted a removable box, with the wooden crocodile in it. But if the owner gets bored and wants to change carvings, she can do so. This table ended up in the red lounge, where it looks great.

The dining room was much too pink and formal for the owner's fun personality, so we got a bit playful in there, with custom designed "jester" chairs and whacky light fitting. Apparently she has had some great dinner parties in there since the change!

The guest bath room was a boring white room , and even though it had a bay window, it has frosted glass and no view. So we built a courtyard around it, and put in clear glass, now you can lie in the bath and enjoy the view.

The theme of geckos continued into this room, with custom made ceramic hand basins painted with geckos, as well as gecko metalwork on the cabinet doors, towel rails, loo roll holder etc.

We made a delightful four poster bed for the main bedroom, with crystal ball detail on top of each post...

But by far my favourite room was the Main en suite bathroom. We again built a courtyard all around it, and put this wonderful metallic fininsh oval bath on the raised plith,

....with double shower heads next to it. The tile layout highlights the whole feature.

Both are overlooking the outdoor shower with copper pipes twisted around old railway sleepers.

The matching basins had cabinets made with sticks, for an ethnic look.

And in the loo section, a Philippe Starck basin finds itself combined in an unlikely way with a handmade wood and metal stand.

It was a lot of fun!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Summer's here, let's find a Cool place to eat out....

One of the things I really enjoy is trying out new restaurants. I love eating out, experiencing the atmosphere, enjoying the view if there is one, and people-watching if there isn't. If there is music thrown in, that's a bonus. Primarily, I love not having to cook!

This has to be balanced against the fact that Mr Farty is a creature of habit, who likes the familiar and resists change. His first choice would be to stay at home, but if he does go out, he has a few favourite places where he knows what is on the menu and what he likes to order.

So we are very good at compromising.... and I must admit he is very good about indulging me and allowing me to drag him off reluctantly to some new place I have spotted. In return, I also allow myself to be dragged off to the old favourites.... or to stay at home and dredge the uninspired brain cells for new ways to make bunny food (bearing in mind that we are reformed characters since his heart attack!) hehe, no no, of course I'm exaggerating, we are both pretty flexible and easy going about this stuff!

Anyway, last week he had his heart set on a favourite salmon and avocado salad at a favourite restaurant on the beachfront (the Mediterranean, owned by a Portuguese guy who really knows how to cook fish, and believes in personal service!) As luck would have it (for me) there was a power failure (like THAT'S a surprise!!) and the Med was closed.

But nearby, beckoning us in was Coco de Mer, a new place I have been wanting to try out. (I mean who could resist this stylish black and white decor, washed with soft coloured lights?) It was open because they do everything with gas. So in we went, and had a delightful meal (he still got a Smoked salmon salad, I had grilled Cape Salmon with caramelised lemons...yum) As it turned out, the power returned 5 minutes after we ordered anyway, so we got to enjoy the coloured lighting after all.

It was so good, I took my friend Julie there for lunch the following day, and again had a great meal and superb service. I embarrassed the poor girl terribly by getting all excited about how stunning the lemon and ice looked in my glass, with the bubbles on the black straw, and insisting on taking photos!
What we also liked was the clearly separated cocktail lounge, and smoking and non-smoking dining areas. We have come across many other cocktail bar/restaurants in town which we would have loved, except that the smokers hanging around the bar alway polluted the whole place, and we hate going home stinking of stale cigarettes!

We were a bit early for the live music, but found out that they have a Blues Rock evening every Thursday which starts playing at about 9pm..... so we will definitely be back this week, if us old fogies can stay awake long enough to hear the first note!


If you have spent any time on this blog, you will know that one of the hobby horses that I get a lot of exercise on is the issue of people who own heritage sites and then destroy them. In Port Elizabeth, our bete-noir is Irish Slum lord Ken Denton, who, in the eyes of many, is like a one man plague when it comes to heritage destruction.

Sadly, we are not alone. Last week a real treasure in Johannesburg was demolished, in blatant defiance of an order to protect the site. It was done by the company Imperial Holdings, and I want to appeal to all of you who read this and care about this issue to express solidarity with the people of Johannesburg by boycotting this company. I will do some research during the week and let you know what companies and products are involved.

I have already lodged a protest with Imperial Holdings, and sent letters to friends, MyPE chat forum and the local newspaper asking people to stand together and not allow this company to get away with such cynical and selfish actions. We need to send a strong message to all property developers that, no matter how big or rich they are, they cannot get away with robbing us of our heritage!

I received a fascinating newsletter today, written by Neil Fraser, and as he has put it all so eloquently, I am copying the letter here, rather than trying to rehash the facts.

"CITICHAT 3/2008

25 January 2008

Laundry Lamentations
At the end of the day what is it that makes some people care and others not give a damn? Why do some people thrill to experience examples of cultures and structures from a previous way of life whilst others see history and heritage as a stumbling block to their concept of progress? Why do we allow our lives to become so busy that in always focusing on the urgent, we forget about what is truly important?

Thousands of people a week must have driven past the Rand Steam Laundries buildings on the corner of Barry Hertzog Avenue and Napier Road without so much as a glance. With the actual laundry long since closed, some might have visited to do business with one of the small traders - blacksmiths, carpenters and furniture repairers - that operated from the site for the past 27 years. Few may have known the story behind the site and the buildings on it. Even fewer may have appreciated the sophistication of some aspects of the design and construction of the buildings to house what, in the early 1900s, was a new technology. Yet the complex encapsulated an amazing story that was part of the history of this crazy mining city. Now the buildings are gone, another example of man’s greed and of deliberate flouting the law of the land.

Charles van Onselen (“Studies in the Social and Economic History of the Witwatersrand 1886-1914 – ‘New Nineveh’) provides a fascinating history of the development of capitalism in Southern Africa. “The South African transition to capitalism – like that elsewhere - was fraught with contradictions and conflicts and its cities were thus capable of opening as well as closing economic avenues, and there certainly was always more than one route into or out of the working class”. One chapter that exemplifies this statement and provides amazing detail of this transition is that on the ‘AmaWasha’ – the Zulu washermen’s guild of the Witwatersrand.
The AmaWasha appeared to have emerged in the early 1870s in Natal through the lowly washermen’s caste of ‘Dhobis’ who had emigrated to Natal and started practicing their traditional profession – “the commercial washing of clothes”. Local Zulus were quick to recognise the opportunity to also earn an income from such work and even quicker to seize on the opportunity that the later discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand presented, accompanied as it was by rapid growth and services needs. By 1890, van Onselen records, there were already a couple of hundred AmaWasha, who had even adopted the ‘Dhobi’ turban, at work in the Braamfontein Spruit to the north of the mining camp. By 1896 there were over 1 200 washermen located at eight or more sites, the bulk of which appeared to have been concentrated in the Richmond area which was “by far the best developed of the sites….the owners provided eight wood and iron structures to accommodate some of the washermen and a small building in which the laundry could be safely stored overnight.” In October 1895, the washing sites were closed by health inspectors following a drought in that year that basically resulted in contamination of the work places. In 1896 a sub-committee of the Johannesburg Sanitary Board was, inevitably, appointed to examine longer-term solutions for public washing. As one would expect, the process provided an opportunity for capitalist connivance and corruption with vested interests trying to steer the process to their own interests even as far away as Witbank as well as to start mechanised processes in opposition to the labour intensive ‘AmaWasha’.
The first steam laundry was in fact founded before 1895/6 whilst the Auckland Park Steam Laundry Company was floated in June 1896 “with a registered capital of 12 500” (pounds Sterling). This was situated on the Richmond Estate, the centre of AmaWasha activities until they were forced to Witbank. There are still some rocks near the canalised stream on the site – the last exposed natural section of the Amawasha site.
The saga continued over a number of years; a return of some AmaWasha to the city, then their removal to Klipspruit, the growth of Chinese laundries and, of course, increasing technology. Of their removal to Klipspruit, van Onselen records that “the municipality was laying long-term plans to develop a permanently segregated community at Klipspruit” which would be both largely self-supporting bur possibly income generating. “The idea of segregation being paid for by the segregated held enormous appeal for white administrators. By 1906, an ironing room, a fenced in drying site and the first of one hundred specially designed concrete washtubs had been erected at Klipspruit. With blind ruthlessness and staggering cynicism the Council prepared to move the washermen for the last time – this time to an uneconomic washing site that shared its setting with the municipal sewerage works.”
History repeats itself! This time it is an aptly named corporation, Imperial, that‘with blind ruthlessness and staggering cynicism’ has destroyed not just one of the last local examples of steam driven industry, but crushed a place where South African history converged: the struggle of poor people to earn an honest living; colonial segregation; indifference; displacement; discrimination; lack of compassion and the eventual disintegration of the AmaWasha.
So how could this happen? After all we do have good legislation in the form of the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, the Preamble to which contains, inter alia, these fine words: “This legislation aims to promote good management of the national estate, and to enable and encourage communities to nurture and conserve their legacy so that it may be bequeathed to future generations……our heritage is unique and precious and it cannot be renewed…..It helps us to define our cultural identity and therefore lies at the heart of our spiritual well-being and has the power to build our nation……it deepens our understanding of society…….”
Well, the story appears to be that the Imperial Group, through their property company, bought the site in March 2006 specifically for the construction of a showroom. The previous owners evidently warned them that this was a heritage site; the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust (PWHT), knowing the importance of the site and what it represented, applied for the site to be ‘provisionally’ protected in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 and the Provincial Heritage Resources Agency of Gauteng (PHRAG) gave notice to that effect in the Provincial Gazette of 20 September 2006. PWHT also lodged an objection to any rezoning of the site for motor showroom purposes. A reporter who covered the purchase at the time was told by someone from Imperial that they weren’t interested in keeping the old buildings – they would demolish first and risk the fine, “It’s only R10 000.” The company’s attorneys denied that this comment had been made, stating that their clients were fully aware of the National Heritage Resources Act and that they had no intention of doing anything that would contravene the Act!

On Wednesday 9th of January this year preparations for demolition were underway, the roof sheeting was being stripped. PW&HT’s Flo Bird spoke to the responsible Imperial executive pointing out that they were acting illegally – he claimed that they had a demolition permit from the Chief Building Inspector of Johannesburg. Flo pointed out that the City does not outrank the Province in such matters and requested that the demolisher be instructed to stop work, which was done. Apparently the Johannesburg building inspector had issued a Dilapidation Notice, but he had warned Imperial that they needed a permit from the Heritage Authority (PHRAG) before they could proceed with demolition.

On Thursday 10th the demolition work started again, but this time with a difference. In Flo’s words “There was a mechanical grab smashing the buildings to pieces. Several large laundry buildings, two of the oldest on the site, already lay in small pieces. The grab hauled the masonry smashed it to the ground and then drove back and forwards crushing it. Any metal piece that survived that treatment was lifted in the air and crashed down until it crumpled. It was horrifying. Clearly the instruction was to destroy the buildings completely.”

At 3.30pm a stop order was delivered by PHRAG. At that stage there were still a number of heritage buildings left standing including the picturesque cottages at the corner of Napier and Barry Hertzog. Ignoring the stop orders from both PHRAG and the City, Imperial demolished the cottages on Sunday.

So what sanction can now be applied? I would think that there must be parts of the Companies Act that have been transgressed as well as all kinds of issues related to King 2 on Corporate Governance (can corporations take decisions that, knowingly, are against the law of the land for their own ends, as seems to be the case here?). But the main legislation would be the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999. Section 27(18) of the Act states ““no person may destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, subdivide or change the planning status of any heritage site without a permit issued by the heritage authorities authority responsible for the protection of such site.”

Section 51 (1) (a) that any person who contravenes the above “is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine or imprisonment or both such fine and imprisonment as set out in Item 1 of the Schedule.” Item 1 of the Schedule states “a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and imprisonment.” In a previous case, the fine was R300 000-00 with a five year suspended sentence!

However, the Act goes further – in terms of 51(8) a court may also order the guilty party to ‘put right’ the result of their actions or order the party “to pay a sum equivalent to the cost of making good” AND in terms of 51 (9) an order can be served on the party that no development should take place on the site for a period of ten years except for making good the damage and maintaining the cultural value of the place.

Seems to me that a seemingly deliberate and premeditated breaking of the law needs the whole book thrown at it. The previous heritage structures must be rebuilt and the story of Amawasha and the mining town they serviced must be told and portrayed so that “it may be bequeathed to future generations” – the cottages can once again house the craftshops and the site should be turned into an active place for the community. The story of the perfidy of Imperial and the punishment meted out to them in terms of legislation should also be encapsulated so that everyone becomes aware of the law and the consequences of arrogance in disregarding it. Anything less would be a travesty.

London has the Imperial War Museum, at least we could have the Imperial Rand Steam Laundry Museum!

Cheers, neil

PS. Want to help? I had this message from Flo Bird:

“Please support us in pressing for the perpretrators to be brought to justice, for the land to be frozen for development for 10 years and for the reinstatement of the heritage buildings on the Rand Steam Laundries site.

They were not marble palaces, but simple industrial buildings built of wood and iron, bricks and plaster. Even Imperial should be capable of rebuilding those.

Please go to our website: and press on the newsflash. If it doesn’t come up immediately you need to press the refresh button.

1. Please copy and paste the petition, filling in your name, and e-mail it back to us.

2. Please pass on to all people on your mailing list. "

Sunday, January 27, 2008

lest you think I have been exaggerating.....

The Power shortage has been declared a National Emergency. Here is a news article on the latest mind boggling measures to contain the crisis.

It is very hard to swallow authoritative sounding reassurances about everything being well in hand from the same morons who let it get this bad in the first place! After all they only woke up to the fact that there was a serious problem, and called a meeting to deal with it this week, when the country was already in a crippling position. It makes it difficult to place any faith at all in the emergency measures being put in place to remedy the situation.

Our economy is in very serious danger of a meltdown due to the long term effects of this crisis and the measures which will have to be taken to sort it out (like putting a moratorium on all future capital growth plans and initiatives, closing down our major mines etc!!!), and we are being told that all South Africans are going to have to dig deep in our pockets to help pay for all this, yet these are the same morons who are supplying as much power as the output of a whole power station to Zimbabwe FOR FREE!

I don't need to tell you how bad it really is, if you think of the long term ramifications of closing the mines down to save power in the short term, not to mention the impact on thousands upon thousands of poor mine workers whose livelihoood is on the line. In the end it is people like them who will pay the worst price for the criminal ineptitude of the Minister of Minerals and Energy Affairs, and the big wigs at ESCOM (who, BTW, were given multi million rand performance bonuses over the last 3 years!!)

Again the interesting dichotomy that South Africa is a 1st world/3rd world nation comes into play. Let's face it, millions of our citizens have never had the benefit of electricity in their homes, and the huge irony is that, when the new democracy was born, addressing that injustice was high on the priority list of changes to be made.

So to them all this ranting about power blackouts must seem like so much spoilt elitist whining. But the reality is that our economy and cities are run on a 1st world basis, and are entirely dependant on a stable electricity supply. It is not the inconvenience of darkness that people are complaining about, it is the fact that our hard won economic growth since democracy is being wiped out in a flash.

I suspect that, when Nelson Mandela and others made impassioned speeches about bringing about racial and economic equality, what they had in mind was bringing the living conditions of the poor up to the 1st world standards of the rest of the country, not reducing the entire country to the 3rd world standards which look more and more likely if this kind of ineptitude is allowed to continue unchecked!

I just want to clarify one thing. Anyone who is new to this blog and only reads this post in isolation might get the idea that I am one of the rabid old racist diehards who are, sadly still among us, and that nothing the new government can do is right. This is really not the case, and overall I am very happy to be a proud South African as we build the new democracy and redress old inequalities. Much has been done that is good, and there will always be sacrifices made in bringing about social change.

So, for example, those who are constantly harping about poor healthcare must bear in mind that in the past, 10% of the population got superb care while the rest got practically none. Obviously the 10% will have to accept some falling standards while the remaining 90% now get some care. Yes, stupid mistakes have been made, yes, it could be better, but change is a dynamic process, and there have been big strides along the way.

But having said that, just because I am basically pro the whole new setup, I will not sugar coat the stuff that IS wrong, and there are issues like this ESCOM debacle, and the crime situation, which are being handled very badly.

I think that is why this whole ESCOM debacle is starting to get to me so much (and yes Tom, you were right, more and more I AM finding it upsetting as the real long term effects and implications sink in!) because it is the poorest of the poor who end up suffering for the ineptitude of the few fat cats who are too busy lining their own pockets or following their own agenda for International recognition to care much about what happens to the poor masses who elected them. At the end of the day, the previously advantaged middle class whites, and the fat cat politicians can afford to pay a little more for the stuff which is going to sky-rocket when the full effects of this come into play. It is the poorest of the poor who will be the real victims once again, and who will be unable to meet the rising food and fuel costs.

When all those lives were lost to bring about social change in this country, are they not the ones who it was all about? The need to improve their lot in life was paramount? So when all the steps that have been taken in the right direction are wiped out at the flick of a power grid switch, it is DEEPLY upsetting and I believe those responsible for this should not get off with a mere "sorry, we made a mistake, now let's move on." They need to pay back the huge bonuses and pull in their belts and pay for the suffering they are causing...... but if recent coverups are anything to go by, I don't hold out much hope for seeing justice done in this case.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Penguin Rescue

On the Southern Coast of Africa we have a delightful and unique penguin, found only here. It is called the African Penguin, or alternatively the Jackass penguin because of its call, it really does bray like a donkey! They are the only nesting penguins found on the African continent, and can be found from Namibia, down the Cape West Coast, and all the way round as far as Bird Island just off the coast near us in Port Elizabeth. (When we went sailing on Wednesday we heard of someone who takes people out to Bird island on whale watching expeditions, so hopefully we will arrange to go in the correct season, and we will be able to get some cool photos of the Bird Island colony.)

They are sadly becoming a threatened species, due in part to to overfishing and oil spills. The present population is only about 160 000 birds, while historically it was well over a million. On Dassen Island, off the West coast, the population has dropped from over a million to only 30 000 birds.

This is one factor which has led to the establishment of Marine Life Rescue Centres, and one of their primary tasks is to help birds who get coated in oil from shipping, or are injured by fishing nets etc.

At the lighthouse in Cape St Francis, the Adjubatus Centre has been established, and they are doing great work helping marine life in the area. To help with funding the operation, a coffee shop has been opened in one of the vacant lighthouse keepers houses (with automation, less staff are required to run the light.) If you are ever in the area, it is well worth a visit, the meals are good and it is great sitting next to the lighthouse enjoying the sea air and view while indulging in a wonderful cream scone and cup of coffee!

The birds are cleaned, fed, tagged and released.

I mentioned on the St Francis Daily Photo blog yesterday that we had a very rare visitor recently. A King Penguin, who resides in Antarctica, went badly astray and ended up on our shore, looking very bedraggled and sorry for itself! You can see here the incredibly thick coat of feathers that it moulted in order to cope with our warmer climate.

The folk at the rescue centre took it in and cared for it, and it was soon strutting around. When Max took this shot, the bird was waiting to be sent on the next ship back to Antarctica.

I phoned Jared from Ajubatus to get an update and he tells me it was decided that, since it had spent so much time in close proximity to the African Penguins, there was a danger that it could take back some bug back to the Antarctic population that they would not be immune to. So instead it has been sent to a zoo in Nebraska USA, where there is already an established population of king Penguins. Apparently it has settled in very happily there, and strutted straight out of its travel crate like it owned the place! So a Happy ending.

Speaking of happy endings, one of the great recent rescue stories involved a huge oil spill off Cape Town in 2000. There were so many birds saturated with oil that volunteers had to set up plastic swimming pools as pens, and try to clean them. Bearing in mind that these were wild and traumatised creatures with very powerful beaks, they did an amazing job. However, the beaches were a mess, 18000 penguins could not be kept for long under those conditions, so to buy enough time to get the environment cleaned up for them to return to, the birds were transported to PE, and released.

Because of their amazing homing instincts they immediately began the long swim back to the West Coast. Some were tagged, so South Africans were able to watch their progress on the news and held our collective breath, rooting for them to run the guantlet of seals and great White Sharks around Hermanus, and get home safely. It was a very successful exercise, without which about a big proportion of the existing birds left in the world would have been decimated!

So these rescue guys and girls are doing a great job, hats off to them!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Skywatch Friday, sunset cruise

We were lucky enough to go sailing the other day, and got back to port just as the sun was setting, a fitting end to a wonderful outing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Latest ESCOM press release:

A statement has been released by South Africa's Power non-Supplier Escom :

"In a drive to save on electricity consumption, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off until further notice. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Kindly postpone all hopes and dreams."

Let us now stand as we sing our new National Anthem...
"hello darkness my old friend........"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Urban Renewal Update

I have realised that, on our Port Elizabeth Daily Photo Blog, I showed the work in progress on an upgrade of our city centre, in an Urban renewal project initiated by the Mandela Bay Development Agency, which is overseeing the revival of the city centre. But I forgot to give an update on the project, or feature the grand opening. I took photos, and somehow thought I had posted them, but apparently didn't! Very remiss of me because it took place in November last year...oooops! So to make good on that oversight, and at the same time to get up to speed on some exciting new initiatives, let's take a look at the revival of old PE.

I'll repeat what I wrote there, to give you the background on the project:

All cities go through cycles of growth and decay, and the centre of Port Elizabeth is no exception. Established in 1820, she grew rapidly and a bit haphazardly at first, to become, by the early 1900s, the South African port with the biggest exports. This was mainly because the diamond industry in Kimberley, and the Ostrich feather and mohair industries were all in their heyday, and used PE to export their goods.But as these waned, she was overtaken by other ports.
She became the centre of the South African motor industry, and boomed again for a while, but then fell on hard times in the 70s, when Ford relocated inland. Buildings started looking shabby, crime increased and suburban malls were developed. Decentralisation took place, and the old city centre became a place few residents would visit.
This is now changing, we are taking our city centre back from the criminals, and the town council is making serious efforts to rejuvenate the area, by diverting traffic and creating a pedestrian area full of market stalls, sidewalk cafes etc, with strict policing to make criminals unwelcome in the area.

Well here are the preparations for the street festival which was the grand opening for the upgraded City Centre.........

Building equipment still frantically completing last minute paving etc is moved to a nearby street, as the project was to continue further down the street after the opening.

A temporary bandstand was set up on Market square, next to the beautiful old City Hall building, and musicians were checking sound while we were there, so we got a cool concert preview!

and ta-rah... HERE IT IS. The new super dooper pedestrian mall leading down the main street in the city centre (Govan Mbeki Ave), with unique prototype vendors stalls which provide shade and lock up facilities for vendors, so that they don't have to schlep their goods back and forth.
Well done PEM and MBDA, we look forward to Phase 2!
Another exciting Project was announced last week. I frequently lament the run down state of so many of our historic buildings, especially those owned by Irish slum lord Ken Denton. However, he is not the only culprit, one of the really sad things has been to see the Municipality let one of its own properties degenerate into a filthy mess. I refer to the lovely old PE Tramways building in the Baakens River Valley. (To see some of the lovely old brickwork on this building, take a close look at the top of the gable in this photo)

If this interests you and you REALLY want to see the current disgusting state of this old treasure, check out this article on the very informative MyPE website.

Anyway here she is at the moment, taken from the St Marys graveyard at sunrise. The good news is that she is about to get a much needed facelift. It was announced last week that the Municipality has awarded Pambili Developments the tender to redevelop the Tramways building. The development will contain a mix of tourism, leisure, entertainment and office space, with construction due to begin in April 2008. The Tramways redevelopment project will be managed by Mandela Bay Development Agency which was also responsible for the Market Square and Govan Mbeki Avenue upgrade.

You know I can't resist vintage photos, here is the Baakens River Mouth and the tramways building taken in 1865, when the river still formed a natural lagoon at the mouth. The Tramways Building is on the point where the bank juts into the river and the road does a dog leg to the right of the photo. (Sorry about the horrible quality, it was a photo of a photo that appeared in the Herald Newspaper today.)

And here it is in the late 1800s after the river had been channeled into a canal, to the left of the building (Tramways is the one with the 3 belching chimneys!)
As a comparison, here are two from a similar viewpoint at Fort Frederick, one taken in the late 19th century, and the other a couple of months ago.

However, there is an issue here, the Baakens may look like a dried up insipid little river, and to be honest, most of the time, it is! (Even stagnant and smelly to tell the truth!) But it has a nasty habit of coming down in flood at fairly regular intervals. And the Tramways Building usually bears the brunt of it, being right on the bank of the inadequate canal through which it flows. Obviously this is a major concern for anyone who is thinking of spending a 100 million on an upgrade of the building!

This is a famous photo of a major flood in the Baakens River, in 1908, when this mule ended up on a roof! You can see the Tramways building on the top right of the picture, with water washing through it.

As recently as August 2006, the river flooded again, this torrent was the road leading past the Tramways Building, as you can see the street lights which are normally on the centre island are now in the river!

The road was completely washed away, and it is a major project to replace the bridge, so for now, it is still blocked off, and a detour takes you around the hole in the road.

Given all this, it is good news to hear that a project is being considered, which will remove the canal, dam up the river to create a natural lake, and establish it with indigenous plants and waterlife to produce a balanced ecosystem. This will tend to absorb much of the impact of future floods, as well as creating a pleasant environment around the revamped building. Let's hope this plan gets off the ground soon. It is exciting to see that people are at last waking up and entertaining these visionary ideas, and actually beginning to implement some of them. Watch this space!!