Canaries in the Suurbraak coalmine

I came away troubled from a meeting I attended on Monday 24 April 2017 in the Suurbraak community hall called by the Swellendam executive mayor, councillor Nicholas Myburgh, to address a host of community-related issues.

After prayers the meeting immediately turned ugly when Myburgh laid down the rules: only three questions allowed for each point on the agenda, the meeting would end promptly by 21:00, if we didn’t abide by these rules he would pack up and drive off.

There was an immediate outcry slamming Myburgh’s attitude. Somewhat chastened, Myburgh adopted a more conciliatory approach although his persona slipped at times within a context where it appeared that there was at least one individual present whose goal seemed to be to stoke emotions.

The dark mood of the meeting constellated around five issues: heritage, services, oor die rivier (over the river), housing and fluisteringe (whisperings)

Heritage

There were repeated references to Suurbraak’s heritage. For instance, the aforementioned gentleman complained about hideous Eskom electricity poles which he believed detracted from the character of Suurbraak. Heritage or precedent underpinned many of the other issues raised, as in: this is the way it has been for generations why these incursions, fences and/or rules?

Services

On complaints from certain ratepayers about the two municipal picnic spots, the municipality apparently tightened their procedures and, in the process, have antagonised large sections of the community. This anger again erupted during the meeting. A second service-related issue were hiring costs for the community hall, and dissatisfaction that the hall needed also be cleaned afterwards.

Oor die rivier

There was unhappiness about the allotments on the other side of the Buffeljags River which had for generations been regarded as commonage for grazing and recreation and which were now being sold – by members of the community, Myburgh reminded the meeting – and fenced off. For instance, the question was asked: can someone own (by fencing off) a waterfall?

Housing

My sense was that the majority was there to hear about housing, so when Myburgh announced that there was no longer money to build the promised 180 plus houses and that, instead, only 30 houses were to be built and that these would be allocated to the elderly and those with disabilities, and that the remainder would only be receiving serviced parcels of land (sewerage, power point and water), there was an outpouring of disbelief, disappointment and anger.

Despite numerous interruptions what I did manage to piece together from the reply of the municipal official who manages the housing portfolio are the hurdles before land can be expropriated. These include: EIAs (environmental impact assessments), terrain (some of the sites identified proved to be unsuitable as they were too steep therefore alternate land needed to be identified), and protocols (for instance, the names selected for housing had first to be advertised for comment).

Fluisteringe

There were insinuations of corruption (money earmarked for Suurbraak has been appropriated for Swellendam). When raised Myburgh looked confused, mentioned that the municipality had had a clean audit for the past two years and asked the aforementioned gentleman suggesting the allegations to bring him written proof and he would investigate. Another person in the audience got up and mentioned three sums of money, but before Myburgh, his director of finances and a third man (all three of whom had gone into a brief huddle in front, I assume,  to confer)  could reply there was a howl from a core group at the back of the hall (as if, I guess, to suggest collusion). This group then staged a walkout thus effectively shutting down the meeting.

Reflections

Communication: A hallmark of the meeting was that the residents were adamant that they would be heard thus leaving little opportunity for Myburgh and his team who had been lined up to respond to complaints and queries to be heard. This, I felt, was an opportunity lost because rumours doing the rounds weren’t able to be countered and a general sense of discontent still prevails. It waits to be seen how Myburgh will now deal with these rumours and the discontent.

Canary in the coalmine: During the meeting I thought to myself that if there was this level of discontent in the top municipality in the country, what mustn’t be welling up elsewhere in South Africa.

The micro is in the macrocosm: What was also reaffirmed for me was that Suurbraak is a local instance of global problems: joblessness, tragedy of the commons, land grabs, agroecological farming versus global corporate agribusiness, the haves and the have-nots, gentrification, and that because most of these problems are intractable, our planet is in trouble.

Danger: certain individuals – perhaps working in concert or perhaps not – give me cause for concern, because deep down I fear that he and/or they might not have the community of Suurbraak at heart but is/are, instead, fabricating or inflaming issues for his/their own or factional ends. I do not deny that there are real issues – one being gentrification – but why, for instance, if housing is an issue, complain about the aesthetics of Eskom poles and why insinuate and ask questions without waiting for the reply?

The poorest of the poor: Finally, and this is for me the big worry, is the question: why are there now insufficient funds for housing? My unavoidable conclusion is that funds that should have been available for the poorest of the poor have, instead, been squandered, for instance: the Arms Deal, Nkandla, Sassa, Prasa and the mooted nuclear deal, and that all our futures are now imperilled.

Facebook and me

I posted the following to my Facebook timeline:


Hi, if you arrived here and don’t find much, this post tries to explain why I’m using Facebook as a placeholder rather than a space to share my life:

I find Facebook creepy

Whenever I’m on Facebook (Fb) I feel I’m being observed and analysed by computer code (AI/artificial intelligence) or the faceless programmers behind that code. It’s like being on the wrong side of a one-way mirror in a psychiatric ward.

Facebook makes me feel manipulated

When I respond on a friend’s feed, I’m conscious that strangers will also read my comment. So how I might normally communicate becomes mediated by a mostly invisible audience: another one-way mirror. So the question is for whom am I doing this?

Facebook makes me feel cheap

I resist posting to Fb because then you’ll get a message announcing ‘Hendrik updated his status.’ This is frankly embarrassing: my ‘status(!?)’, nothing less. I find the whole business patronising and coercive.

I find Facebook depressing

Is it the shade of blue or the font, or that we’re all crammed in there desperate for affirmation? I want to run a mile!

Facebook is changing the nature of relationship

To communicate is to be with someone. By being, I mean listening carefully from a place of silence. Otherwise, what’s the point? How can I or anyone else do that on Fb?

Facebook’s now calling the shots

The last time I logged onto Fb I learnt important news from a good friend’s feed. It came as a shock as I wouldn’t have known otherwise. The implications are that I must dutifully log on to Fb like everyone else for news that might formerly have been shared directly. But it’s logical that if everyone’s on Fb why have a conversation with only one. It’s economics.

A matter of principle

Many of the over one billion people who daily ‘do their Fb’ have apparently never used a Web browser and therefore assume Fb is the World Wide Web (WWW), which it isn’t. Fb is an app – as in application – which (together with the other Fb-owned apps: Instagram and WhatsApp) is luring and then locking the world behind its walls. So I’m walking my own path, thereby supporting the WWW by blogging instead (see below)

Where I post

Please visit me on the WWW at the following URL where I try, as in this post, to understand what’s actually going on: www.hendrikmentz.com, alternatively email me: info@hendrikmentz.com.


Acknowledgments

The following two Medium posts suggested I do likewise, namely, analyse and share, on Facebook and elsewhere, my fear of and aversion to Facebook:

 

There’s rustic and there’s rustic

“Rustic is in,” Lianne assured me. “You must see the rustic bed made from pallets and lights in Pinterest” (see below)

The rustic bed that Lianne loved in Pinterest
The rustic bed that Lianne loved in Pinterest

Continue reading There’s rustic and there’s rustic

No! to the proposed SA nuclear build programme

My written submission objecting to the proposed plan to put into effect the first stages of a plan to build approximately eight nuclear power stations for South Africa

I thank you for the opportunity to comment on the above.
History has shown that:

Continue reading No! to the proposed SA nuclear build programme

‘Enter’ wins a South African Independent Publishers Award

Friend and writer, Ken Barris, put me onto Darryl Earl David, language lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and initiator of a number of literary festivals that are helping keep reading, writers and publishers alive in South Africa.

arryl Earl David co-organisers of the Booktown Richmond Literary Festival
Darryl Earl David co-organiser of the Booktown Richmond Literary Festival

Continue reading ‘Enter’ wins a South African Independent Publishers Award

Looking for the door to ‘Enter’?

Is ‘Enter’ a tough read? The answer to the question, based on feedback by presenters at the launch of the book ‘Enter’, has been mixed and telling:

  • The book is “deep and yet accessible” (Paul Ashton)
  • “I read it remarkably quickly – twice.” (Joshua Mentz)
  • “I found (the book) a tough read and a very interesting and a fascinating read.” (Ken Barris)
  • “(The book) will speak to those who take the trouble to engage with it” (Louis de Villiers)
  • “The book demands that you enter, and entering a space is different from how we normally approach life. Entering is hugely challenging.” (Matthew Mentz)

Continue reading Looking for the door to ‘Enter’?

‘Entering the void’ and other voices

Paul Ashton, Jungian analyst, Ken Barris, writer, critic and friend and three readers who helped shape the text: Louis de Villiers, Joshua Mentz and Matthew Mentz, and Llewellyn Alberts – quoted at the head of chapter eight, were asked to present at the launch of my indie-published book ‘Enter’. This is what they said.

Continue reading ‘Entering the void’ and other voices

Thanks guys for helping launch ‘Enter’

‘Enter’ saw the light of day almost a year earlier but when the Book Lounge declined to include the book in their launch programme the books remained in their boxes under the bench in the lounge for close on a year.

Continue reading Thanks guys for helping launch ‘Enter’

Portent

I manage a small agroecology farming operation in Suurbraak on behalf of my son (Matt) and daughter-in-law (Sasha). On my return Japie Present reported that when he had tried to secure the ducks and chickens for the night he wasn’t able to find the fourth duck.

Continue reading Portent

Seven black wattles


Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savour it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savour the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, savouring must come first (E.B. White)


“But Louis,” I remonstrated, “Look behind you. There’s a forest of black wattles.”

Continue reading Seven black wattles

I try to see things as they are