Princess Vlei on Etv

I was interviewed by an Etv news journalist about the campaign to save Princess Vlei from a shopping mall development, and the bid to have plans for a People’s Park on the vlei recognised as a World Design Capital project in 2014. There’s a short article and a video on the ENCA website at the link below:

Dispute halts World Design Capital event
Tuesday 7 January 2014 – 8:17am by Roderick MacLeod

CAPE TOWN – A small vlei on the Cape Flats is again at the centre of controversy.

Developers have been trying in vain for the past 15 years to build a shopping centre on the wetlands.

That dispute has now created another problem… It’s put a project for the prestigious World Design Capital event at risk…

Public housing

I wrote a letter to the Cape Times in response to an article by Allister Sparks on the issue of housing in South Africa – unfortunately the Cape Times online is behind a pay wall, but here is my letter, published on Friday 22 November 2013.

ALLISTER SPARKS suggests that the DA should, in all provinces and municipalities that it controls, “hand over state land to those who work it in rural areas, and to those who live on it in urban areas.

“They, the people, shall be made the owners of those properties and shall be provided with the title deeds attesting to their legal ownership” (“Politics is not ideological purity,” Cape Times Insight, November 20).

The problem with this suggestion is that we, the people, should already be regarded as the owners of state land.

What Sparks is suggesting is transferring public property into individual ownership. This chimes with Patricia de Lille’s own views on private ownership. Also in the Cape Times, on October 30, she writes of her belief that “there is arguably no single intervention that holds the greater prospect of changing the lived reality of poor and marginalised citizens than the provision of ownership”.

But giving people security and a stake in their living places does not have to mean literally owning the title deeds to land or a house. The state could provide security of tenure, services and infrastructure, to land that remains publicly owned.

In that way the broader public, both now and in the future, can retain land and housing as public, preserving these resources from commercial exploitation and speculation for people that may need them and not have the means (or desire) to buy them.

In Britain in 1979, the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher introduced the “Right to Buy” scheme, by which people living in social housing could buy their state-owned house.

This was popular with the public, speaking to people’s aspirations to home ownership, as I’m sure De Lille’s statements do now.

But the result is that today there is a crisis in the availability of social housing in Britain, with a growing waiting list.

In 2009 Caroline Davey, head of the charity Shelter, was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as saying “millions of homes have been taken out of the social sector without being replaced and two million households languish on waiting lists, more than one million children live in overcrowded housing and tens of thousands are trapped in temporary accommodation”.

There is value in keeping (and making) resources, including both land and housing, public, not privatising them.

We need to keep this longer term view in mind rather than rushing to dispose of publicly-owned assets that may never be recovered; and we need to explore alternative ways of helping people feel secure in their homes and in their stake in society, than solely through private ownership.

Ralph Borland

Peter Morgan receives award

C-type pump

Dr Peter Morgan with a prototype for the C-type Zimbabwe Bush Pump in his garden in Harare, 2010

Zimbabwean scientist Dr. Peter Morgan, whom I interviewed for my PhD research, has been awarded the Stockholm Water Prize. Dr. Morgan redesigned the appropriate technology icon the Zimbabwe Bush Pump, and was celebrated as ‘a feminist
dream of an ideal man’ by Marianne de Laet and Annemarie Mol in their seminal science and technology studies paper on the Bushpump, ‘The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology‘ (2000). You’ll have to read their paper to contexualise that remark!

Article below from (thanks Dad!)

Ray Choto

WASHINGTON, DC — A Zimbabwean scientist is this year’s Stockholm Water Prize
recipient for his innovations in safe sanitation and clean water supplies.

Dr. Peter Morgan, a former civil servant with the Ministry of Health, will
receive his prize of $150 thousand and a crystal sculpture at a ceremony in
Stockholm during World Water Week in September.

Some of Dr. Morgan’s innovations adapted by the Zimbabwe government include
the Bush Water Pump, the Blair Ventilated Pit Latrine and the upgraded
family well, used mainly by rural communities. The 70-year old researcher
says the technologies he designed are also being used in other African
countries. For each of his technologies, Dr. Morgan says he developed a wide
range of training and educational materials to help communities install and
maintain them without expert supervision.

Dr. Morgan calls the award an “honour” not only for him, but for all the
people of Zimbabwe.

“I think it means the recognition to me personally,” Morgan said. “It means
the recognition of perhaps most of my lifetime’s work, which has been
dedicated to this area. For the country I think it’s important to many of
my colleagues here within the [inaudible] community and within the
government have told me that it means a lot to Zimbabwe, as well, to be
recognized for the work that we have done in this country to actually push
the state of the art forward.”

Dr. Morgan is a naturalized Zimbabwean. He was born in 1943 and educated in
England where he graduated with a Ph.D. in marine biology. He worked as a
chief research officer at the Ministry of Health’s Blair Research Institute
in Harare, now called the National Institute of Health Research. In 1991,
he was awarded member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Dr. Morgan
has received many other awards and distinctions, including the International
Inventors Award, the AMCOW Africasan Award for Technical Innovation in
Sanitation, and the Rural Water Supply Network Award for Lifetime Services
to Rural Water Supply.

The Sweden-based Stockholm prize committee, which has selected a winner
every year since 1991, says Dr. Morgan was chosen for what they called his
“unwavering commitment to inventing low-cost practical solutions to provide
access to safe sanitation and clean water to millions of people worldwide.”
The Director of the Stockholm Water Prize, Mr. Jens Berggren, says making
the selection was not easy, but Morgan’s work was special because its
beneficiaries were the poor.

“I think the [inaudible] nomination committee was really impressed that he
has done over the past 40 years,” said Mr. Berggren, “sort of effortlessly
supporting the lives of poor people out there by designing and inventing new
solutions for—especially poor people’s—access to good sanitation and good,
clean drinking water.”

According to the committee’s website, the purpose of the award is to
recognize what it calls the world’s most visionary minds for driving “water
development forward.”

Litres of Light, Metres of Green

Mahala magazine on some design projects in Joe Slovo township, Cape Town.

Our man Bartlett bears witness to the first installation in Africa of ‘a liter of light’ eco-friendly ‘bottle light’ in a sangoma’s shack in Joe Slovo township, Cape Flats, along with the launch of the prototype of vertical gardening as a way to prevent township fires. One small step for greenies, one giant leap for the City of Cape Town? Mahala investigates.

Olafur Eliasson’s solar-powered lamp

The artist Olafur Eliasson, known for his large scale installations, has produced a solar-powered lamp for use in the developing world. Titled Little Sun, Eliasson produced the lamp in collaboration with engineer Frederik Ottesen. It is an example of work by artists, such as Marjetica Potrc, related to design for the developing world – though Eliasson might be fairly unique here in designing an actual mass-produced product for real use.

Little Sun

Little Sun

The project has a high-level art world presence – it will, the Guardian tells us, be used in the surrealism rooms of the Tate Modern in 2012, ‘which will be plunged into darkness after normal opening hours, and visitors invited to visit them by the light of Little Sun lamps’. They will also be for sale in the Tate store.

Explaining why he had developed a social project, the Berlin-based Danish artist said: “Art is always interested in society in all kinds of abstract ways, though this has a very explicit social component. The art world sometimes lives in a closed-off world of art institutions, but I still think there’s a lot of work to show that art can deal with social issues very directly.”

The fact that the lamp – with its cheery petalled face – had been designed by an artist was important, he said. “People want beautiful things in their lives; they want something that they can use with pride … everyone wants something that’s not just about functionality but also spirituality.”

Interested too in the mention of Eliasson’s cancelled Olympic project in the same article:

Little Sun, as the lamp is called, has risen out of the ashes of Eliasson’s Cultural Olympiad project, Take a Deep Breath, which the Olympic Lottery Distributor (OLD) declined to fund after details of the proposal were leaked to a newspaper. The project would have asked participants to inhale and exhale on behalf of a cause or idea, and then capture the thought on a “breath bubble” on a website. The “negative publicity” showed that the work was “contentious”, found the OLD’s board, according to its March 2012 minutes, and they “struggled to justify the £1m sought”.

“Donor aversion to ‘unsexy’ water projects…”

Fiona Harvey, Monday 27 June 2011

“A key development goal to halve the number of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015 will be missed because donor countries have diverted aid money away from “unsexy” water projects, according to the World Bank and the charity WaterAid…”

Steve Robins – How Shit Became Political

At the African Centre for Cities.

When: Aug 4, 2011 (3.30pm)
Where: Rm 2.27, Davies Room, Engeo Building, Upper Campus, UCT, Cape Town

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In this seminar, Professor Steven Robins of the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology discusses the challenges that activists, journalists and writers confront when trying to render the mundane realities of “structural violence” and chronic poverty politically legible. It is particularly concerned with how these representational challenges are played out in terms of the binary relationship between the “spectacular” and the “mundane.”


An editorial in the Guardian praises the work of Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee – the ‘randomistas’ – in conducting randomised control trials on development initiatives. Would like to see Ben Goldacre’s comment on the quality of their trials, as it’s one of his areas of specialty.

Particularly interested in the mention of their research into whether recipients of free mosquito nets value them – ‘an emphatic yes’. Kudos to them for questioning the simplistic (and non-evidence-based) idea that people only value things they have to pay money for; a convenient fiction for the interests that want to charge for goods and services (like water).

In praise of … Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee
Through lots of microstudies, they make a subtle case for one big argument: aid really can help poor people
6 June 2011

Since the banking crisis broke, the different schools of economic thought have gained much exposure. You’ve heard of the Keynesians, the monetarists, the behaviouralists. Well, now meet the randomistas. The nickname given to the work done by MIT economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo refers to their use of randomised control trials, familiar to whitecoats working in science labs but not so common among crumpled development analysts in, say, West Bengal. Yet Banerjee and Duflo put the random trial to excellent use to find out what works. Want poor families in north India to immunise their children? Offer the parents a small bag of lentils as an incentive and vaccination rates make a startling jump, from around 5% to almost 40%. Or take the question of whether poor Africans really value mosquito nets they are given free. Much debated within university faculties, it took a randomista to go out to west Kenya and find the answer (an emphatic yes). Duflo and Banerjee tell these stories in a lovely new book called Poor Economics. As they admit, randomistas cannot answer some big questions – how to tackle food prices, for instance. But through lots of microstudies, they make a subtle case for one big argument: aid really can help poor people, provided the money follows the evidence. The economists back home lining up to warn George Osborne his plan isn’t working must wish there was some simple experiment to settle the manner, without making guinea pigs of us all.