You’ve already read them, of course, but I’m so excited to see that the Cape Chameleon is up and running online. Straight from the internets, here are my old articles in all their glory:
Katherine Barry, USA
Katherine Barry, from Denver, Colorado, USA, is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago with a degree in Communication Studies. She enjoys excellent adventures, particularly road trips, and hopes that she will one day find a job that will her allow her the luxury of world travel.
Words : Katherine Barry
A pile of charred wood is all that’s left of the shacks. The sand where they sat is littered with burned belongings: a blackened Bible, an office chair, clothes no longer usable. The metal sheets that had once been walls have been salvaged, taken for use in new shacks, the obviously burnt edges blending in amongst the rust.
The first fire broke out three weeks before in the same shack that would be the ignition point of the second fire, which would tear through the informal settlement of Village Heights in Cape Town, depriving 15 families of their homes.
Fires in informal settlements – like Village Heights – represent one of the biggest dangers of living in such a community. Even with attempts to build with space on all sides, fires such as the one that destroyed those 15 shacks can spread quickly since the materials used to construct the homes are highly flammable and unregulated.
‘It was better under apartheid,’ says Bernadine, the community leader who has created and maintained the Village Heights library, and who is the recipient of the first Projects Abroad sandbag house in South Africa. ‘At least then we all had our own homes and jobs. Now we have nothing.’
According to residents, after the first fire the government offered four wooden posts, five pieces of metal and some grounding plastic as a replacement. However, the metal went to the construction of a roof and the residents were left to use plastic to create walls. During the second fire, a woman was badly burned when the plastic melted onto her skin.
Proper housing is something that many people living in South Africa lack, for a multitude of reasons, including long waiting times after application for government housing. ‘I’ve been on a waiting list for twenty one years,’ says one woman who lost her home in the fire. ‘My daughter is 20 now.’ She went on to detail her experience, saying that she makes regular visits to go check on the status of her application, only to be told that she is indeed still on the list, but that no further information can be released about the status of the application.
While debates rage about governmental involvement and personal contribution for houses, the issue remains that people lack proper living quarters. Residents of the informal settlements around Cape Town and throughout South Africa are forced to create homes using materials that they can find, salvage, or buy, resulting in homes that often lack even basic features such as a floor. Security measures are an afterthought as well, allowing for criminal activity to flourish in the crowded neighbourhoods. Where to go from here?
Sand is nearly ubiquitous in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. It also might present a feasible solution to the problem of the shack homes in the ever-expanding informal settlements. Filling bags with sand and then stacking them within a frame can create a solid structure that is built both efficiently and quickly.
Beginning with materials, construction with sandbags can be a cheap alternative to traditional building methods. Since all that is needed to build a sandbag structure are bags, sand, cement and wooden and metal framing, the cost drops significantly due to the lack of construction equipment needed. No cranes, no stacks of bricks and no heavy vehicles entering or leaving the construction site.
20% of the materials need to be allocated for the construction of the frame of the sandbag building, but there is a certain amount of flexibility as to what those might be – including the use of wood or tin. Bricks can be used as well, but in order to maintain the eco-friendly atmosphere, they should only be implemented if they are within reach to avoid the entrance of trucks and other machinery in to the site.
Benefits of sand building
This cost effective creation is incredibly ecofriendly. Since most of the building can be done with materials found on-site, the need for waste is nearly eliminated. This waste elimination plays a large factor in the ecofriendly nature of the sandbag buildings.
Builders who choose to use sandbag building as an alternative to conventional construction methods also stand to gain carbon credits for their choices. Carbon credit programmes offer financial incentives for companies to build in keeping with the ‘green’ trends and for waste elimination and recycling of materials.
This waste elimination and recycling process, presents an opportunity for those who are economically disadvantaged. By being able to build effectively and also save money, they can increase community bonds and safety.
Besides being fireproof, the sand structures also present an element of soundproofing not found in the corrugated iron structures, which currently make up most of the homes in the townships and informal settlements in the Cape Town area.
They are also not easy to deconstruct or demolish, in essence creating a lasting home that won’t be victim to natural disasters such as flooding or tornadoes. The solidity of the sand as it is packed and stacked neatly to create walls allows for an element of indoor climate control that supersedes that provided by the corrugated structures as well. The sand essentially insulates the home, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Spreading the word
The surmountable caveat to sand building is that it is not well known as a possible method for creating homes. The newly homeless fire victims had never heard of sandbag building when asked about it, yet were curious as to how it might work. They eagerly agreed that the community would want to be involved in such a building plan, given the right materials.
Based on the readily available materials and the community mentality that many of the neighbourhoods have, it seems that if sandbag structures could catch on, they might make a wonderful improvement for communities who are underfunded and under protected.
Projects Abroad began constructing their first sandbag house at the site of the Village Heights Library in August of 2010. While normally the construction of such a building (one room) would take less than a month, due to staggered volunteer arrivals, the project has continued for more than three months. Nevertheless, the house is beginning to take shape.
Bernadine hopes to show off the building project as a model of sustainable building. As of the beginning of December, the structure was complete and the roof had been added and finalisation of the exterior decoration was beginning. The hope is that the building will remain a long-standing testament to the possibility of creation from local materials and community involvement.
The project supervisor – Deen Singh – remains optimistic that the sandbag building will be used for the betterment of the community. He explained that everything must be done to help the children. The building has been designated for use in a crèche, or a childcare centre, one that will hopefully create a safe haven for children from all over Village Heights. Currently there are five volunteers working on the building. Rick, a German volunteer, feels that the building he is helping to construct will last, showing immediate change in the place that he came to volunteer. ‘It’s nice to leave something behind,’ he said.
Perhaps this sandbag building can be a model of change for a community that is desperate for change, but lacking the resources with which to create it.
Words :Katherine Barry
The clink of glasses and the soft murmur of conversation fill the air with the sounds of a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Searching for looming mountains, lush vineyards, and quiet roads, families and groups of friends flock to the wine lands in the Western Cape for vacations, day trips and evening meals to sample wine and pass time under the South African sun.
Behind the idyllic fields that birthed the South African wine industry, lie the lingering oppression of apartheid and the pain of extreme poverty. South Africa, which wasn’t known for being a world exporter of wine until post 1994, when apartheid induced international boycott ended, had eighth largest wine producer as of 2005, according to a report published by the South African Wine Industry Council in 2007.
South Africa entered the wine industry long before 1994, however Jan van Riebeeck planted the first vines in South Africa in 1655 and the first wines produced from those grapes appeared four years later. After initially planting vines in what is now Wynberg, the wine industry began to flourish in Constantia.
It was soon after the French Huguenots settled in the Cape area during the late seventeenth century; the wine trade began to flourish. Exports from Constantia became well known in Europe, creating the market for South African wine. However, Phylloxera, a disease that kills grape vines, was discovered in 1886 and caused much of the vineyards to suffer heavy losses.
The twentieth century was one of the most important centuries for South African wine. In 1925, Stellenbosch University Professor Perold was able to blend Pinot Noir with Hermitage grapes to create the Pinotage. The Pinotage wasn’t marketed until the late 1950s, but has since become South Africa’s most famous and successful cross-pollination.
As of 2008, the wine industry grossed 2.2% of the country’s GDP, which was about R26.2 billion. The latest numbers, coming from the wine industry, show an increase in production, up R4 billion from five years earlier. The industry also provides 275,600 job opportunities as well, according to South Africa information (www.southafrica.info). Wine tourism draws a steady stream of people to the winelands in the Western Cape. Stellenbosch and Paarl are among the most popular destinations.
The problems plaguing the heavily white wine industry are most certainly correlated to other social problems in post-apartheid South Africa, and while they do not necessarily have their origins within the industry itself, it is apparent that the industry is feeling problematic reverberations throughout its entire structure.
The antiquated ‘dop’ (meaning ‘drop of alcohol’ in Afrikaans) system, under which black and coloured workers were paid in alcohol, usually wine, rather than cash or other goods, led to high rates of alcoholism among the workers, whose consumption of the wine left them tethered to the farm that they worked on in order to maintain a continuous flow of alcohol from the farm owners, who were (and still are) overwhelmingly white. Even though the ‘dop’ system has been abolished, and reforms are in place to ensure that the workers are compensated legitimately, alcoholism remains one of the main social problems emanating from the Western Cape wine industry.
Shebeens, or other illegal liquor establishments, are often hotbeds of alcohol-related activity. The farm workers, who often lack other means of entertainment and suffer from geographically induced social isolation and lack the money as well as other resources needed to overcome these obstacles, have easy access to the Shebeens.
Since these Shebeens often act as community centres, the presence of children is common. Some mothers even put wine into their babies’ bottles in order to keep them quiet, according to Professor Dennis Viljoen as quoted in an article written for VOAnews.com (Voice of America) by Darren Taylor.
Another of the far-reaching social problems stemming from the South African vineyards is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS and other alcoholrelated developmental problems occur when the mother ingests large quantities of alcohol during pregnancy and is the most preventable cause of mental retardation. Many mothers continue to drink throughout their pregnancies, due to a lack of education about the ill-effects of drinking during pregnancy as well as disregard for that information.
Estimates of FAS in South Africa, average around 45 cases per 1000 (suggests Jake McKinstry in the American Journal of Public Health, 2005). Compared to rates of one case per 750 infants born in the United States, (according towww.kidshealth.org) the rate of the South African FAS is staggering. The country has one of the highest FAS rates in the world. Children who suffer from FAS often suffer from symptoms such as: a low birth weight, developmental delay, learning disabilities, behavioural problems and poor social skills.
All of these symptoms could be easily avoided if mothers would abstain from alcohol while pregnant, making FAS the most preventable cause of developmental problems. In South Africa, awareness of FAS is limited, but attempts to spread information have begun. International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Day in on 9 September. Despite the fact that attempts are being made to quell the rise of FAS in South Africa, it cannot be achieved without support from the systems that have contributed to the spread of the problem.
Alcoholism is not the only problem plaguing the South African wine industry. The lack of diversity may seem inconsequential, but in order to maintain growth rates that mirror those of the population of the country, it is imperative that more black wine farms be created. A black economic empowerment (BEE) charter drafted in 2007 attempted to address the economic disparity and to create a more diverse industry has failed to move through governmental channels. However, there has been promising, albeit slow, growth within the industry. According to the Wine Industry Development Association (WIDA) 38% of ‘wine operations’ have programmes in place for black empowerment. Another positive indicator of progress is Thandi, now an independent company that was started under Paul Cluver Vineyards. Thandi began to show profit and has also been able to pay dividends to its shareholders. However, it appears that Thandi might be an outlier rather than part of a growing trend. BEE research shows that only 2.26% of vineyards are operated under black ownership. Growth and change may be coming to the South African wine industry, but it’s coming slowly.
Putting it all together
The South African wine industry mirrors the rest of the country quite clearly in racial breakdowns and social problems, but it also mirrors the positive impact that time seems to be having on those same issues. Racial integration has been slow coming to South Africa, particularly the Western Cape, but it seems as though the tides are slowly changing as the workforce becomes a more integrated, educated place. The determination of industries to diversify has only added to the sense of hope being fostered among communities of all race, socio-economic, age and demographics.