Lock down is time to do those projects we’ve been putting off for a while. I thought this rust old tank was worthless, until I found that it had a perfectly sound concrete lining. I cleaned up the years of junk that had collected inside and installed a DIY tank connector and valve – all in the course of a Saturday afternoon. And you know what!!! it works!!
(This piece first appeared in The Herald on 15 April 2020)
I know that there are a great many people that are experiencing intense discomfort and suffering right now during this COVID 19 crisis. I, though, am in the very fortunate position to say that I am not one of them. I am not ill. My family and loved ones are all well. I am safe and I have enough bully beef and two-minute noodles in my kitchen cupboard to last me till the end of lockdown. (and probably a quite a little beyond) I have been very fortunate be able to continue working. You see, I was very lucky to be able to quickly relocate my little household to the flatlet at my office in Walmer. Its actually very comfortable and it gives me the ability to be at “mission control” while my exceptional team have continued almost seamlessly to work from their rapidly established home offices via, VPN, Email and WhatsApp (and of course our new friend, Zoom)
Strangely though, I see that in spite of these longer working hours, (that “home office” arrangements tend to result in) I am finding much more time for reading, meditating and reflecting. I suppose it’s the simple nett effect of spending less time running up and down.
In fact, I was reflecting just this morning (over a luxuriously drawn out, yet mediocre, cup of coffee) how true it is that in times of crisis we come to see what is of value. To me it is clear as day that there is great value in remain connected, in having loved ones to care for and to be cared for by and in having a curious mind. But there is also a whole list of things that I can now see that have no value and that I’ve been doing simply out of the force of habit and not because I’ve thought them through. In this list I include, meeting reps, commuting, mindless meetings, daily shopping and even my morning fix at Seattle Coffee shop! But in addition to the personal stuff, my mind begins to wonder about what it is that we have been doing habitually on political scale, that we can now begin to see makes no sense at all.
There can be no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis is making it abundantly obvious that the world’s political systems are not designed (if they are designed at all) to be able to address any of the significant threats that face our species. As we speak, governments, presidents and sovereigns around the world are attempting to combat a global pandemic with political mechanisms and tools evolved to deal with the challenges and threats at a state level. This will simply not do!
From what I can gather, it seems that over the last 200 000 years or so, our species has formed itself into groups of varying size in order to deal with the prevailing threat of the time. In that way genes were passed down that gave the ability and inclination to function as a family unit where the duties of food gathering, child rearing and protection could be shared, thus warding of the ever present threat of starvation or attack. As time went on larger communities begun to make more sense. If the warlike clan across the river from you had 150 strong men, then you better be sure that you had 160 strong men in order not to be annihilated by them in times of scarcity. Historians tell us, that larger and larger competing political systems arose over the centuries so as to defend themselves against continually growing threats. This pattern has continued to the point where, by the time World War 2 came around, states had such large armies that they could (and did) cause the deaths of over 26 million people. It is the various parliaments, military councils and royal houses of the exact same type that engaged in World War 2, that, to this day, still take decisions that are meant guide our precious planet.
When I think of it, I struggle to find one single problem of any significance that our species is facing that is in fact not global in scale. Climate change is a global problem, nuclear proliferation is a global problem, human trafficking is a global problem, as are poverty, population, migration, water scarcity and habitat destruction.
The threats that we face as a species right now require that we take immediate action to move to the next logical step in political organisation. This is of course the incredibly complicated step of forming a new and overarching global government. This is where our energy should be focused. Debating and discussing what this kind of government should look like and what its powers should be. The discussion must start now, ahead of the next crisis, that we know will come and whose shape we know we are notoriously bad at predicting. We need to know that the conspiracy theorists, the flat earthers and the anti-vaxxer types will have a lot to say about a “return to colonialism” and the illuminati lizard people taking over. We will need to rationally and calmly weather this storm. Each of us will need to take to the streets (or to Twitter) and make our voices heard in what will surely be a brutal fight toward One World, with One Government.
We may, with time, come to see this pinnacle of all achievements as the lasting legacy of this terrible virus.
13 April 2020
If there is one thing of which we can be certain, then it is that there is great uncertainty ahead. As I write this we are in lockdown. We have been required to “stay at home” since the 26th of March. I have left the house only twice in the last 18 days. When I have left, I have kept the outing short. I wear my trusted “buff” as a facemask and spray sanitiser on my hands when I enter and when I leave a shop.
A lot has happened at Pebblespring farm since the previous chapter. I came to live full time in “Kok’s Cottage” in April 2017. My marriage of 23 years came to an end with a very messy divorce that dragged out for over two years. My daughter Mandisa came to stay with me at the farm, two weeks on and two weeks off. I am in a new relationship with the beautiful, profound and perplexing Poppina. Together we have, under very difficult circumstances, made Pebblespring Farm a home. We have been joined by two lovely Great Danes: Tank and Nakia and two (mostly irritating) cats: Hamilton and Eliza. (Yes they were both named by Mandisa, a musicals nut!)
But today, as I write this, we are not at Pebblespring Farm. We are living through the lockdown at my office premises in the leafy suburb of Walmer. I am very fortunate to have a little flatlet on the site that has actually proved to be very comfortable. My thinking is that by making this rushed move, I am most likely to keep my office going through the lockdown. Being an Architect (as opposed perhaps to a waiter or a pilot) is useful I suppose in this time, because I can continue to prepare designs and documentation without having to come into physical contact with anyone. There are only seven of us in our team, so it really is a very small operation and a lot easier to keep going than the massive architectural offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg with maybe 200 or 300 employees or those of US, UK, China and Japan that employ thousands. By being here at the office, I can much more comfortably hold on to the reins at what has become “mission control”. Each of our team members is linked to the office server via VPN and each one, except of course Tafadzwa the general assistant, has moved their workstations with them to what has now become their home offices. I am very happy to say that the last 18 days have been a great success. The output in terms of quantity and quality has been good. We meet every morning at 9am with Zoom and review our progress and plan the work ahead. During the day we share our progress on the office Whatsapp group that we set up some time ago. I would perhaps post a diagram of what I have been designing on the drawing board, my colleague Chris or Siya may post for my comment of for Graham’s comment the latest version of a drawing that has been prepared on Revit (the very powerful design software we use). In this way we continue – “business as usual” I suppose. Except of course it is not business as usual. I have been in business for my own account now for 25 years. What I have seen in this time is that when there is trouble in the economy the first thing to be put on hold is any future construction project developers may have had in mind. A construction project can almost always be delayed so that they can “wait and see”. We can always live a little longer on the same old house. We can always wait a little longer before we build the next hotel in our group We can always squeeze in a little tighter into the existing office space until the crisis passes. So, right now, I am facing a great uncertainty. While I am reasonably certain that I will not die from the Corona virus, I do not have any certainty at all that my business and my means of supporting my loved ones will still be here in a year’s time.
That’s really what I want speak about today. I want to speak about uncertainty and how it is that we can come to make peace with it or even embrace it. I find it difficult because as I write these words, I am still trying to figure out for myself my own way forward. What I do know is that there is only one way to begin to make friends with uncertainty and that is to accept that it exists. Perhaps like the great Buddha tried to teach us: that it can only hurt us if we do not accept it. It seems to me though that in this time, what government and leaders are trying their best to do is to give certainty to the people. To give a guess as to when the “curve” will “peak”. People everywhere want the certainty to know if they will be getting their salaries or if they will be able to return to work or when they will be able to buy booze and cigarettes again. The horrible truth is that no-one can be certain of any of these things. What we are reasonably certain of is that about 115000 people have died of this disease so far. What we are told is that 25 of these are South African deaths. What we can be even more certain of is that we are in lockdown and will be until the end of April and that alone will devastate the economy in ways, in all likelihood, not seen in my lifetime.
Perhaps though what this crisis has brought more clearly into focus than ever before is that the certainty we thought we had was an illusion all along. There has never been certainty. There have only been those that have tried to calm the herd creating for them the illusion that there was certainty. It is very sad, but unfortunately true, that of all the people that I have ever me in my life, I am able to categorize either has having a “herd mentality” or a “herder mentality”. Others, like Fredrick Nietzsche have been perhaps only slightly more blunt when saying we either have the minds of “masters” or of “slaves”. I would guess, like everything else, the truth, as inconvenient as is, is probably a little more nuanced. In the same way maybe that each of us at times display more of our feminine spiritual energy and other times more of our masculine spiritual energy, we lean in some days toward “slave thinking” and in other days toward “master thinking”. Now though, is the time for us to discipline our minds and to discipline our thinking to the thinking of the “master”. To train ourselves to think noble thoughts. The noble soul does not seek certainty because it knows that certainty is an illusion. It knows that just because events have been seemingly predictable looking back, that does not in anyway help to predict the future. No, the noble soul knows that it must embrace the uncertainty, not only today in this crisis, but at all times. It must accept that we are present in a living universe and must be ready to make changes in its life in order to respond to this reality.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know when I will come again to live at Pebblespring Farm. I don’t know if I will come to build my dream house with a deck that looks over the spring. I don’t know if I will come to graze my heard of Nguni Cattle through a beautiful pasture and shaded food forest. I don’t know if I will be able to make the decisions in this time that will see Pebblespring Farm grow in biodiversity and being passed down through the generations of caring and deep-thinking custodians that will follow behind me. I don’t know, because I am not certain. But because of the noble soul inside that is battling and fighting off the slave-minded demons, I will learn to embrace this uncertainty and with practice and discipline come to love it. Yes, to love my fate including all that is uncertain about it.
While the water we use in the cottage for household purposes is all rainwater collected of the 160 sq m cottage roof, water for irrigation must come from the sources of standing water we are very fortunate to have here at Pebblespring farm. Not only irrigation actually. One of the big hurdles that we face in expanding our Tilapia tank systems and bringing cattle back to the farm is a reliable source of water for them. So as you can see, my continuous trials (an errors) of how to reliably (and affordably) harvest water are of critical importance to the continued sustainability of our many projects.
On weekdays I prefer working out at the gym sometime between 11 am and 1 pm. That way I break my day. I can be super productive in the morning, pushing to get things done before I head off and then super productive in the afternoon again after I am back and filled with all the good stuff that flows around in my veins after pumping iron for an hour or so. But yesterday (like too many other days recently) was different. I changed my schedule so that me and my fitness freak daughter, Mandisa, could start our workout at 3pm so as to coincide with my office’s load shedding induced down time. I was not at all happy about this inconvenience. I am not at all happy that Eskom is now causing me daily to lose money in business. But I was happy though that I got slightly more time, between bench press and back squats, to think a little. To ruminate. To ponder on the peculiar situation in which we find ourselves in this beautiful country.
Lets start perhaps with what we know. We know that we have all the essential ingredients as a country to deliver world beating performance. We have just this week delivered a South African Miss Universe. We have just last month delivered South African victors of the Rugby World Cup. We have in recent years effortlessly delivered Elon Musk and Trevor Noah onto the world stage. The evidence is clear, unequivocal and indisputable. We have the right stuff! We are able to dominate the world in a broad range of disciplines. But friends, how then do we explain Eskom, SAA and Mayor Bobani?
It seems perhaps that South Africa exists in two realities. One in which we are the absolute shit and another in which we are just plain shit! How is this even possible? Well I am glad you asked, because this gives me a chance to try out my theory on you.
My suggestion is that where we have succeeded so spectacularly as a country is where we have figured out mechanisms that allow for the best of us to “float to the top” of our chosen field. We have seen this in rugby, we have seen this in the Miss Universe contest and in the worlds of technology and entertainment. But where we have developed institutions that have built “filters” that prohibit the best from rising to leadership and decision-making positions, there we find failures like Eskom, SAA and the NMBM. Perhaps it’s just a simple case of where vicious competition is obvious and clear to us, we rise and where we are blinded to it, we fail. I say this because somewhere in our collective South African consciousness we must know that we have no choice but to put our best foot forward in the Miss Universe competition. If, in that contest, we had used our Eskom mindset, we would have held back Zozibini Tunzi in favour of a lesser competitor whose surname just happened to be Gupta. If we had used our SAA mindset in the Rugby World Cup competition, we would not have even made it to the first game. We would have insisted that a 15 man team is just not big enough and that we refuse to come on the field unless we can meet our job creation goals by having a 40 member squad!
If we were living in Southern Sudan, it would perhaps be understandable that we are experiencing Stage 6 load shedding or that we couldn’t figure out how to run a little airline with 58 planes (for heaven’s sake American Airlines has 1500 planes!). But we are not living in Southern Sudan. We are living in a country with significant human resource. South African has proven in the Miss Universe contest, in World Cup Rugby, in Elon Musk and in Trevor Noah that we can build systems that allow our best to shine and to make the world a better place.
But don’t get me wrong. I am not talking to you about politics (or the delusion that causes people to think that they can make any real change by queuing up once every four years at the ballot box). No. That’s not what I am after. What I want to see in each and every one of us is that we make sure, that within our own sphere of influence and control, we insist that the best of the best be allowed to float to the top. The best people, the best ideas, the best products and the best technology. And yes, you do have power and sway. It may be in your kid’s hockey club where you insist that the best kids make the first team. It may be in your office, where you make a scene where you encounter nepotism. It may just be you, on Instagram, promoting what you know to be the best sirloin steak in town or making a fuss about sub-standard service at the bank or being ripped off with data prices by your cellular company. It’s our duty every single day to reject bad design, bad coffee and bad attitudes. Each and every one of us must demand the best and we must insist that all that is not up to the task is sent back to try again.
Believe me. Our country depends on it! Our country depends on you!
I have no “Town Water” at Pebblespring Farm – I rely entirely on natural sources, either collected off my roof, or from the spring. Submersible pumps are therefore quite important to me for three reasons:
1 – to draw water out of the spring into the aquaponics system.
2 – to circulate water in my aquaponics system
3 – to irrigate (fertilized water) from the aquaponics system to my garden and orchard.
The Davey Sump pump (DC10M-2) and the Resun King 3 are roughly the same price in South Africa (Around ZAR 1000 or USD68 ) – my feeling though is that the Davey Sump pump gives much more pump for your money!!
There was beautiful rain on the farm on Saturday night. It’s been very dry here, so the sound of rain on the tin roof as we huddled in front of Netflix was even more pleasant, even more comforting than it would usually be. Except of course that the tiny cottage we live in is located in a little patch of third world where, for some reason, the internet goes down every time there is the smallest drop of rain.
With no connectivity, activity in the cottage quickly gravitates to reading, playing chess or trying to teach our enormous great dane “Tank” to add “lie down” to his small repertoire of tricks. My grown son Litha, was slouched behind the Weekend Post. “Dad…What can we do to get it opened?” He asked, referring to the headlines talking about the “Disgrace” that the beautiful Red Location museum remains closed to the public for six years now. “It’s not that simple” I mutter vaguely as I try for the third time to reset the WIFI router. His question interests me though and we end up debating the issue well into the rainy night. The exchange got me thinking about the issue and wondering if this whole matter has been thought through properly.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that the buildings that make of the Red Location Museum precinct are the best collection of contemporary buildings in the province. The buildings were lovingly designed by Jo Noero, an architect deserving of the highest levels of respect. I suppose, though, the question still remains “Why does the museum remain closed?”
Perhaps there’s more to it this than the lawlessness of the local neighbourhood? Perhaps there is more to this than the fumbling incompetence of the three spheres of government that have power and sway here. I’m beginning to think that the real problem is that Red Location Museum was way ahead of its time. But not in a good way.
I have visited Berlin. There is a Holocaust museum there (as there are in many other parts of the world) While these museums are all different, they have one thing in common. They were built after the holocaust was over. Just like the Vietnam War memorial was built after the Americans lost the Vietnam war. Just like the little memorial I visited in Buenos Aires was built after the Falklands war. I suppose it’s a matter of timing.
Mayor Nceba Faku was the best Mayor PE has ever had, but perhaps he got this wrong. Perhaps he declared victory in the struggle for liberation against apartheid too soon. Perhaps the people struggling in desperate poverty to this day in Red Location and hundreds of other places like it, may say that it is even now, 25 years after 1994, still too soon to celebrate or to memorialise victory.
After all, our World War 2 hero, Winston Churchill did not declare victory on “D-Day” when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy. No. They pushed on, did the dirty work and cleared Europe of every last Nazi Pantzer, released every last Jew, Gypsy, Gay and Slav from the concentration camps and then, and only then, declared victory on Armistice day.
I guess that the city’s great thinkers, like the erudite and well-spoken Rory Riordan, who worked tireless to ensure the Red Location museum received funding, got built and became more than a mayor’s pipe dream, will argue that I am misguided. He will point to the projected economic impact and how the tourists could flock there, spend their Euros and Pounds and Zim Dollars and thereby stimulate the economy and create a better future for the poor and destitute of Blawa, Ndokwenza and Katanga. Well friends, I am afraid the jury is out on this one. In the thirteen years since the museum was opened in 2006, it could not even generate enough tourist spend to keep its own little museum restaurant running let alone stimulate the rest of the region’s tourist economy!
I am afraid colleagues this project is a failure. It is a failure despite the good work of Noero, Faku and Riordan. It is a failure by the ancient measure of that most famous of roman Architects, Vitruvius. Even before the time of Jesus, Vitruvius helped us understand that in order to for Architecture to be enduring and cared for, it must prove itself against the age-old tests of “Firmness, Commodity and Delight”. Yes, Red location Museum is “Firm” (It hasn’t fallen down). Yes, it is delightful. But no, it does not offer “Commodity”. It is not used. It has no function in this particular time, in this particular economy and under these particular social conditions. By the measure of the great Vitruvius therefor, The Red Location Museum is failed architecture.
Of course, we are concerned as tax payers that we have spent so much money on these buildings. We feel therefore that something productive must be forced upon them. This mistaken thinking, friends, is the “sunken cost fallacy” AKA “throwing good money after bad”. Even the Berlin Wall and the Sardinia Bay Life Savers Club were demolished when we reached consensus that building them was a mistake.
Perhaps then, if anyone ever resuscitates Mayor Faku’s great plan to demolish the freeways that devastated the once bustling and thriving Strand street, they may also be so wise as to add the Red Location Museum onto the list structures to be dynamited!