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!
I hate it when my night Patrol duty falls on a Saturday night. That means I must leave Poppina in the cottage alone with Tank. And another thing – this was the third Saturday Patrol I’ve had been allocated this year. It doesn’t sound fair. In fact I had almost forgotten about the patrol and just remembered 30 minutes before I was due to report at 19:00.
The way it works here, it that the patrol vehicle is parked at the Service Station just up the road from me at Cow’s Corner. So I drove up, bought some snacks for the road and signed for the keys with the lady in the shop. My co-driver didn’t pitch. I contacted him, but his was pissed off because he didn’t receive the email roster that sets out the dates for all the night patrollers. I am perhaps more forgiving. I admire the volunteer energy that the people heading up “Farmcomm” put in, including the people that assemble and send out the night patrol roster.
Normally, not much happens on my night patrol shift, but last night was different. About an hour in to the three hour shift there was a call in the two way radio. Neil and his wife, from just over the road from us had been attacked. 4 men in balaclavas beat the two pensioners and took a shot gun, a 9 mm hand gun and cell phones. Very quickly the radio control guys stepped into place and coordinated the activities of the many “responders” who arrived at very short notice in their private vehicles. You see, each Farmcomm member has a two way radio. Many keep it on their person at all times. So if there is an emergency the response can be quite rapid. Some responders were directed to form cordons along certain roads, others were directed to launch the drone which is now fitted with a Fleur night vision camera of sorts. I was tasked to park at the corner of Kragga Kamma and Louisa roads, to direct police and other emergency personnel who were beginning to arrive on the scene. While this was going on the attackers were being pursued. The place where they cut the fence into Flanagan’s farm was found and as the police dog unit arrived they tried to find a spoor. The pursuit of these attackers went on until early hours of the morning. We come very close to apprehending the suspects as they took refuge in thick bush between Doorly and Destades road.
For much of the time from when the attack happened at 8ish until we received the order to stand down at 2:30, I was part of a vehicle cordon. Basically a row of cars parked along a road with lights shining so as to back it impossible for the attackers to pass. So I had a bit of time to think. At first my mind moved to how sad it is that we have this crime situation that requires all of us in this neighbourhood to lock ourselves in hour houses as soon as the sun goes down and to live behind high fences protected by viscous dogs, alarm systems and armed response companies. No it’s not nice. But I think what is good is that the community has organised itself and is taking responsibly for its own security. (Collaborating with the police of course.)
My mind also wandered to how futile it is to feel sad about this situation (or any other I suppose). The situation “just is” and I am faced with the option to deal with it or to move somewhere else where I may not have to deal with it. I have chosen to be here at Pebblespring farm. For better or worse, this is the decision I have taken. And with that mind-set, my only choice is to find joy in making every effort I can to protect my family and prepare myself as best I can to be able to deter and resist intruders. It feels better to have this mindset. It in fact feels better actively pursuing attackers at 2 in the morning. Just knowing that I am doing something perhaps. Not waiting for them to take the initiative and spoil my day.
I have a lot of work to do to be fully prepared. But that’s what I have decided to do.
By the way we never caught the guys, but we learned a lot and we are getting better with each of these “operations”
(This piece by Tim Hewitt-Coleman first appeared in The Herald on 24 October 2018)
Sardinia Bay on a Sunday morning is perhaps my favourite place in the world. Sometimes we walk “Tank”, our enormous Great Dane. Sometimes we go for a swim in the choppy surf. Other times we simply sit on the dunes taking in the panoramic view of Indian Ocean. There is something rugged and untamed about Sardinia Bay. Its massive sand dunes refuse to bow to the our feeble plans to build a road to the beach, perhaps rejecting the vulgar and boorish club house structures, maybe like a body would reject and vomit out that which is foreign and that does not belong. But, while the dunes may move steadily in their path and the ocean may look different every Sunday, what is unchanging in this landscape has been “Gunter’s Wurst Wagen”. Yes, that’s right, for as long as I can remember, this little german sausage “Food Truck” could be found in this remote little piece of Africa regardless of the weather or the time of year. A winter morning run would not be complete without huddling in the car park against fake tudor trailer from the blustery cold wind with a warm cup of Gunter’s hot chocolate (with those little marshmallows floating on the top.)
Seems cosy and perfect doesn’t it? Except, since 13 October, Gunter’s Wurst Wagen is nowhere to be seen. ”Did Gunter die?”, I asked, “No!” said the ubiquitous, lumo-vested car guard. “Did his trailer break down?” “No!” He said again……“His Permit Expried!”
As it turns out the “Wurst Wagen” was not at its usual Sunday spot, because there has been some delay at the Municipality in issuing the permit required to trade from this remote and dusty car park. The chatter among the Sardinia Bay car park regulars descends very quickly to baseless rumours of corruption, general winging about administrative inefficiency and about how we should see to it that more rules are put in place to stop municipal officials being slow to administer the rules that have already been put in place and still more rules should be put in place to ensure that people like Cheryl Zondi cannot be raped by people as evil as Pastor Timothy Omotose’s accusers say he is.
As I pretend to listen to all this, my thinking drifts, as it especially tends to do on a Sunday, to the Constitutional Court and the recent ruling of judge Zondo, legalizing the smoking of Dagga. My humble attempt to paraphrase that part of the ruling that interests me is that “…there is no science that has been presented that can show that dagga causes harm to the extent that South African individual’s privacy and freedom, as envisaged in the constitution, should be curtailed and limited.” So, though parliamentarians may have believed differently, they are in fact not free to dream up random legislation without having considered the science of the matter. What judge Zondo’s ruling says is even if 100% of parliamentarians believe that you and I should not smoke dagga, they are not permitted to pass legislation to prohibit us from doing so in the absence of scientific proof that harm will be caused by the activity that the legislation is attempting to outlaw.
But back to our friend Gunter. What worries me about this story is that so many of us are completely happy that a “permit” should indeed be issued, and that Gunter should just be patient. I, on the other hand, rather think we should be asking the question?: “ What harm would be caused if all the sellers of German Sausages, Ice cream cones and hot chocolate were free to decide for themselves whether they should try sell their stuff at Sardinia Bay. What if we allowed beach goers and tourists to decide for themselves who they would rather buy their Hot-dogs from??? My guess, it that there would be chaos for a few weekends with a dozen “Wurst Waggen” clones trying their best to offer their wares to a half a dozen windswept beach goers. But then, with time, the natural order of things would sort things out. The truth is we do not know how it would work out. We cannot see the future, but luckily in this case we are under no real pressure to be able to see the future. There is nothing of any real consequence at stake. There is no science anywhere than any person can quote that predicts that anyone while die at the Sardina Bay car park or that anyone will even be harmed if the municipality just backs off and lets people be as free as the constitution of the republic tells them they are.
So while the constitution is clear to me and to our esteemed friend, Judge Zondo, the sorry reality is that it is completely unlikely that our friend Gunter has saved up enough over the years from the sale of Sunday sausages from to be able to afford the fancy lawyers that will be able to take this case to the Constitutional Court. But while it is sad, it does not mean that those of us who value freedom are defeated. No. I take courage from something I heard an old farmer quote the other day: “Tend the garden that you can reach,” he said. Right now, through this piece of writing, I can reach you. Who knows, maybe tomorrow you can reach your mates around the braai. Who knows, maybe the next day Gunter and others like him will be arguing for their Freedom at the Constitutional Court.
One step at a time!
This is important to know
There is a Natural Order to things; I see it when I look around me. Our dog “Tank”, a huge Great Dane, is friendly and sociable. He is a pack animal. It comes naturally to him. It’s also completely “natural” for him to chase the chickens, lick his genitals while we’re watching movies or bark at our assistant, Roy, when he comes to work in the morning. It would be completely “unnatural” for Tank to live in a fish tank or to eat a raw, low carb, vegan diet.
Of course, the idea of the existence of a “Natural Order” is not new at all. Lao Tsu spoke of it 4000 years ago already. The Idea of a “Natural Order” makes perfect sense when we apply the thinking to dogs or even to people like you and me. We can see that there is a natural way to be that just seems comfortable and right. My thinking though has (over the last 20 or so years as an Architect in private practice) meandered to the question of whether we can find a “Natural Order” that will guide the design of buildings, objects and spaces. Is there a way that a brick wants to behave; is there a way that a piece of timber or a roof sheet wants to behave?? Is there a natural way in which a landscape, a building site would like to express itself and most of all is it possible for an architect to facilitate the expression of this “Natural Order” through a conscious and mindful design approach? Is there a “Natural” way in which a team can come together to design and build beautiful things? And in any case what is “Natural” anyway? Perhaps a better word to use would be “comfortable”? I’m not sure. But I can easily spot when something is not natural, when it feels uncomfortable. When a building is “pretentious” and “overdesigned”, I can feel it. When a building is overly decorated or overly complicated or when it is just unresolved and clumsy, I can feel it. I can feel the absence of a “Natural Order’. It is this quality, this “Natural Order” I seek in our buildings and in the spaces we design. It is this quality we set out to achieve at the Bhisho Contact Centre and many of our other precious projects. The quest for a natural order informs its geometry, its relationship to the site, its use of materials and its play with light. The building seeks to answer the question, what was “meant to be” on this site. The building seeks to answer the question: “What would this space / surface / door / window / ceiling / component look like if it were to look like it were “meant to be” like that? This is what we have come to see as the “Natural Order” of design. I have come to see that this design approach is crucial if we are to play any part in creating a Natural Order Habitat.
To be clear, I am not speaking about a search for simplicity like our friend Mies van der Rohe. I respect that quest Sometimes the Natural Order of things is very simple but at other times it can deliver surprising complexity. Also, to be clear, my quest to find a Natural Order in design should not be confused with attempts at “Bio-mimicry”, where we learn lessons for the building of a staircase from the geometry of a sunflower or where our parquet tile floors are inspired by the patterns in the scales of an Armadillo. I love all that, but that’s not my quest right now.
We have been searching for this Natural Order for a long time. It permeates our attitude toward design and also, perhaps even more importantly, our attempt to find a comfortable and natural feel in the interpersonal collaboration that makes up the design and construction process. Some say it’s a silly quest, some say it’s a waste of time. I say though, that it’s a quest that I know may not reach a clear answer, a specific result or a particular destination. I know that this may in fact be true, but I also know along the way we will learn. Perhaps like the Alchemists that searched for a way to make gold from ordinary stuff, we may not find this elusive “Natural Order”, but we will learn many lessons along the way.
As we learn, I will share with you.