Thursday, August 31, 2006

What is positive activism?

There is a saying that the price of freedom is eternal vigilism. That wise old guy Plato also once said that the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.

When we suffer from crime, poor service, corporate exploitation or poor governance, many of the roots can be found in our very own apathy. When our actions are negatively impacted, we very well might be ruled by evil men - and I'm not necessarily talking about someone in government here.

How often do we not say that we just don't have the time to do anything? Or to claim that there is no point in trying because those in authority will not do anything? Or to claim that it is not our job to get involved - that's why we pay taxes?

From my early involvement in analysing crime, it is apparent that previous years' success against crime in South Africa drew on community involvement. As crime in Gauteng was reduced in the late nineties, apathy grew and community involvement dropped.

But the effects of apathy are not confined to increasing crime. They can be felt in the service we receive from public institutions or at retailers. They can result in lack of representation in government.

Activists are not born, they are made. Be it through an upbringing that encourages standing up for one's beliefs or through circumstance that convinces them to say, "Enough is enough."

I believe we need positive activists. People who are not dragged into confrontation and negative criticism, but constructive engagement. People who want to be part of the solution and not the problem. People who understand that there is a personal cost to enjoying progress.

The positive activist's manifesto is:
  • I understand that positive engagement yields quicker, better results than negative attack

  • I understand that should I wish to enjoy the benefits living in a community then I must contribute to that community

  • I understand that my contribution includes taxes and moentary contributions but is likely to require personal involvement

  • I will seek to be involved in solution before criticising

  • I will act rather than pass by

  • I will give positive feedback - where this is not possible I will ensure my feedback is constructive

  • I will escalate rather than give up.

The positive activist's goals are:
  • To promote action rather than argument

  • To promote accountability and results

  • To promote community involvement

  • To make a difference.

If you agree and want to be involved, then feel free to post the following code on your blog / site that links to this article:

<a href=""><img src=""/></a>

This will put the following logo and link onto your page:

Update to a question: Corporate Criminals?

Just over a week ago (on the 21st August), I posted about illegal signs. I had informed the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council and been encouraged by their response.

I am happy to report that the signs have been removed (minus two that are on a servitude behind a fence, but the removal of those is in progress).

Congratulations to Jerome Thomas, Henda Boshoff and the Metropolitan Police for their swift action.

In addition, I have emailed the directors of the companies involved, and it appears that the Sandhurst Chronicle will run a story about illegal signage and this incident.

Lesson? YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Complaining at a dinner party and criticising authorities without doing your bit is not on.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How calm and collected are you?

"m'Lord, I'm sorry, but there is a snake next to the accused."

HA HA HA HA! Brilliant. This guy, a court interpreter in Ramsgate, KwaZulu-Natal, takes the cake for taking things in his stride.

For my overseas readers, a boomslang (Afrikaans for "tree snake") has a very dangerous neurotoxic venom. They grow to about 2 metres and their victim's only saving grace is that they are back-fanged, meaning they often don't get a great bite and inject a full load of poison. Nevertheless, they remain one of South Africa's most dangerous snakes, and they are quite common in all of sub-saharan Africa.

An African Boomslang Picture:

From News24

Sssilence in court!
28/08/2006 23:13 - (SA)

Lucia Swart , Beeld

Durban - It wasn't a snake in the grass that caused all the drama at Ramsgate magistrate's court on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast on Monday - it was one in court.

Court interpreter R S Madlebe was speaking just after noon on Monday when he suddenly switched to English: "m'Lord, I'm sorry, but there is a snake next to the accused."

Magistrate Charlotte Dickinson said a green boomslang slithered into sight.

"It was hot and the case was becoming quite drawn-out just before lunch.

"The interpreter was droning on in a monotone. He was in the middle of a sentence when suddenly, without moving a muscle or blinking an eye, he apologised and told me there was a snake," said Dickinson with a laugh.

She adjourned the court and everyone scurried out. The accused was taken back to the court cells.

The court orderly caught the snake (which was about half a metre long) and released it outside."

Just another day in Africa!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Could you overcome your pride?

Former apartheid minister of safety and security Adriaan Vlok's gesture towards repenting for his role in apartheid is striking. He washed the feet of someone who he felt symbolised apartheid victims, the Reverend Frank Chikane.

Even if you are not a Christian, the symbolism is moving. In a statement released jointly with Chikane today, he descibes the importance of giving up his pride in the action.

Vlok did not seek any publicity for the move - Chikane discussed the meeting after it happened, and when approached by the press, Vlok deflected questions to the Reverend.

The action has since been praised by President Mbeki, who described Vlok's actions as an extraordinary and moving gesture of reconciliation.

The meeting follows a statement by Archbishop Tutu some months back criticising whites for their lack of contrition for apartheid wrongs.

Well done Mr Vlok.

More on News24.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Is corruption a white issue?

My last couple of posts have focused on the role of race in argument and the credibility thereof.

Tony Yengeni Photo: IoL
Today saw the admission of Tony Yengeni into prison to begin a four year sentence for not declaring a discount received on a Mercedes Benz from Daimler Crysler - a bidder in the arms deal Yengeni was party to.

There has been much outcry. Western Cape provincial ANC chair James Ngculu said that it was not as though Yengeni had stolen something - he had merely failed to declare a discount. Well Mr Ngculu, next time an agent of yours, perhaps in a housing deal, takes a cut from the other party to your prejudice, tell me they merely made a mistake. As an elected representitive, that is what you are - our agent.

President Mbeki chose this time to comment on a tough stance against corruption in his newsletter, ANC Today. Congratulations to him.

And after the shocking news that convicted criminal Brigadier-General Ernest Zwane had been appointed the South African Defence Force's director of prosections, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, who arrived back in South Africa on Thursday, announced that Zwane had been sacked. He has launched a probe into the selection procedures. Well done Minister Lekota.

Also in the news today is that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has told Jacob Zuma to do the honourable thing and forget about the presidency. While Tutu acknowledges that Zuma is a likeable man, he believes his sexual misconduct is inexcusable. Well done Archbishop Tutu.

What's the point of this post? Each of these issues is well removed from the struggling township dweller. They are seen as largely white issues. The calls for men of the people to be jailed are seen as racist in nature and the reaction is one of opposition rather than logic. For logic to prevail and South Africa to progress, debate for and against cannot be white versus black. Well done to Minister Lekota, President Mbeki and Archbishop Tutu for taking the moral high ground.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Do you work for a criminal firm?

The intersection of Sandton and Grayston Drive has become a veritable forest of billboards and signs - illegal and legal.

Controversy reigned about two years ago when one of the billboard companies merely chopped down the trees along the road in order to give motorists a clear view of their sign.

Others have proved equally bold - merely erecting massive signs on the pavement to advertise their services.

Enough is enough. We can complain about crime yet become complicit by acts like these - or working for companies with these ethics.

Further, most people are "too busy" to do anything. It's easier than you think to take a stand. After some trouble (20 minutes) phoning Joburg Connect (011 375 5555) I was put in touch with a very helpful gentleman called Jerome who asked me to note the names of the companies and email these to him. He would then do a site visit and begin the process against the offenders.

You might say, "Oh but he's probably too busy to care."

I would say not from his helpful attitude. Further, the DA informs me that the special court dedicated to Johannesburg bylaw transgressions only saw 13 cases for the whole of last year (DA representative - community crime meeting, 31 August 2006). 13!! If you want to see the amazing list of bylaw categories, click here. Then tell me the problem is not resident apathy.

Well I believe the time has come for positive activism. I'll post a separate thread on that.

In the meantime, let this post act as a name and shame catalogue for the companies involved. By all means, phone them and tell them what you think. Imagine you lived on the adjacent properties and let them know how you disagree.

Here's the astounding photo evidence:

And here are the telephonic details of each firm involved:

Interprise Broadband - 0861171717
DTZ Leadenhall - 011 2742300 - Natasha - 0829049631
Pam Golding - Pam - 0827759598
Sotherbys - Derek Ballantyne - 0827456390
Bradford McCormack - 0114429111
Chelsea Manhattan - 0117832111 - Mark - 0829406856
Auction Alliance - 0114305555 - Craig Hean - 0824449598

If you think the signs behind the fence might be OK, you're wrong - they're on a servitude. This I know from researching the area on (awesome website) and the Joburg GIS - An activist needs to know what tools are at his disposal!

Here is the map of the relevant area from the GIS* with the signs' location indicated by a red dot.

It is time to fight. Do not accept wrongs through apathy. Become an activist for positive change.

* As an aside, the GIS has all sorts of useful information, including tagged 2001 census data.

UPDATE: My email was sent to the Johannesburg Council at 20h00 last night. By 12h00 today I was copied on emails instructing the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department to remove the signs and begin legal proceedings against the companies involved.

Would it make a difference if Tony Leon was black?

Interesting question. Posed by Cyril Madlana in his Business Day column.

It seems that the Business Day has unwittingly hosted a thread of would the argument be received differently if the person was a different colour columns - which I have consciously picked up on (see my comment on Professor Xolela Mangcu and Professor Anton Harber's articles).

Madlana's commentary is interesting. He quotes Roger Burrow's (head of the Democratic Alliance for KwaZulu-Natal) retirement speech, in which Burrows laments that many followers of his party believed votes would come to them "because our policies and principles are so right." This did not happen.

Madlana says that, "Much has been made of Leon's abrasive and confrontational style of opposition politics and how Africans' sense of respect for authority is violated when he challenges the president, for instance."

Despite Leon's style, Madlana draws attention to the fact that the DA (while remaining small) has grown while many traditionally black opposition parties have struggled.

Madlana ends by saying that, "There are signs that some communities want to be ungovernable again in protest at failure of the authorities to deliver on promises. Would the country rather burn than pause to think whether there is any sense in what a white, DA-supporting Burrows, Leon or Eddie Trent are saying?"

I found the article interesting in light of my recent contact with the DA and Tony Leon in particular. Post a meeting regarding crime, I approached Mr Leon to offer my opinion on the DA performance during the evening. I introduced myself and noted that I had found the experience of the DA statements and comments during the evening an incredibly negative one. The DA national spokesperson on safety and security, Ms. Dianne Kohler-Barnard, had devoted much of her speech to attacking the Minister of Safety and Security, Minister Charles Ngakula, and National Commissioner of Police, Jackie Selebi. I mentioned that I was not a DA supporter for precisely this reason - I disagreed with the DA's style of negative opposition politics. I wondered if the DA might attract more voters like me (young, proudly South African) if they played a more constructive role.

Mr Leon appeared to lose interest and said he thought he had made quite a positive speech. He suggested that I continue to vote for whoever I did.

The lesson in all of this is, I hope, that the manner in which arguments are received is not merely an issue of race. It is one of commonality. When I made my observations known to Mr Leon, I had unwittingly been drawn into the DA style of engagement. Skilled negotiators know that we all tend to be drawn into the dominant style of an interaction. That style might be established through body language, tone of voice or turn of phrase. It takeconsciousious effort not to be drawn into a negative spiral.

As I mentioned in my comment regarding Professor Harber's article, we look for commonality or difference in the characteristics of the person we disagree with. Difference allows us to feel safe in our different point of view.

Tony Leon and the DA have different points of view to the African National Congress. Their style of engagememphasizesises difference and makes no attempt at establishing commonality. The fact that they are largely a white party provides their dominant characteristic to become the notable point of difference.

Commonality then defines the ebbs, flows and ultimately the outcomes of arguments. We look for commonality how others' views are put forward against our own. Failing to see this we look for differences in the critic's character, to justify why we might have a different point of view. And finally, our interaction style follows the dominant style or argument.

I regret that I fell into the trap - it is one that I try to avoid. I regret that my observations made to Mr Leon (and Ms. Kohler-Barnard) came across to them as negative criticism.

It is a failure that characterizesises politics. Mr Madlana's fears are appropriate. We need politicians skilled at building constructive dialogue. Whose views find common ground rather than negative space. Failing this (where the race of the sides is different), arguments deteriorate to the point that race becomes the accepted reason for disagreement.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Should your race affect the merits of your argument?

In an astonishing counterpoint to the article from Professor Xolela Mangcu who argued that race often stands in the way of things being said, Professor Anton Harber writes of arguments in an online forum that were questioned once the contributor's race was questioned. She claimed she was black and questioned many black contributors' claims in the forum. When they disputed her race, her arguments were then also questioned.

It is fascinating reading the two articles (both from the Business Day). To my mind it illustrates the very roots of discrimination. We naturally look for commonality or difference. It defines the earliest social interactions we have. At pre-school level kids might find themselves part of a group or out of it based on a subtle attribute such as an accent. That grouping becomes all the more stark when we argue and instinctively look for support from those like us. When the argument itself is about discrimination, we become intolerant of those like us taking a different view - because it threatens our sense of who we are.

Professor Anton Harber's article can be found on his blog, The Harbinger.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Do you understand black conciousness?

This article appeared in today's Business Day.

It is one of the best written pieces I have read in some time.

It decries the labeling - in order to quash argument - of the originators of different points of view as racist, and calls for greater tolerance.

It is balanced and introduced me to a commentator I did not know of. Professor Mangcu, thank you for a very well considered point of view.

From the Business Day:

A tribute to two good white men who fondly remembered Biko
Xolela Mangcu

THIS is a belated tribute to two good white men who died recently — journalists Robert Amato and Barry Streek.

I had an indirect relationship with Amato through an interview about my resignation from the Human Sciences Research Council. Towards the end of the interview he caught me off guard with what I initially thought was a rather cheeky rhetorical question: “But Dr Mangcu, it is generally believed you are difficult?” I was still mumbling something about standing on principle when he offered an answer to his own question: “Is it perhaps part of the black consciousness quest for authenticity?”

It was clear to me that his understanding of authenticity was far more sophisticated than the stock-in-trade racial nativism we have now.

After all, black consciousness never had an essentialist approach to political authenticity. Authenticity was always a matter of choice and identification, not birth or ancestry. I am sure our nativists would have been disappointed to learn from Kwame Anthony Appiah that etymologically the word “native” refers to all individuals born in a country, and not, as is often assumed, to those who claim authenticity on the basis of biology or ancestry. In that sense, we are all natives now.

There is also another reason why we should move away from nativist conceptions of authenticity. The ideal of authenticity has been central to the modern democratic revolution.

Or as the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor puts it: “To see what is new in this we have to see the analogy to earlier moral views, where being in touch with some source — God, say, or the Idea of the Good — was essential to full being. Only now the source we have to connect with is deep in us. This is part of the massive subjective turn of modern culture, a new form of inwardness, in which we come to think of ourselves as beings with inner depths.”

However, freeing oneself from vertical hierarchies was never seen as a way to sever horizontal relations with society. Our individuality has always been dependent on the social relations we have with others. Hence Taylor’s assertion that “my discovering my identity doesn’t mean I work it out in isolation but that I negotiate it through dialogue, partly overt, partly internalised with others... my own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others”.

Kwame Appiah expresses the same idea this way: “Individuality pre- supposes sociability.” In isi-Zulu we say umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. To wit, horizontal relations are vital to the formation of both individual and national identities.

My concern is that in our country we have developed an intolerant culture in which we disqualify those we disagree with by labelling them racists. We often do not know and have never met the people we accuse of racism. Nor do we want to inquire about the reasoning behind their arguments, lest those arguments deprive us of the favourite pastime of throwing racial epithets.

This argumentation by epithets is one of the most dreadful aspects of the new political culture. Instead of engaging in a dialogical process by contesting ideas as ideas we opt for racial clairvoyance and reflexive dismissal of our critics even before they speak on account of their race. Unfortunately, this seems to be working, especially among white people.

Throughout the times I have organized public lectures I have always been struck by the silence of white people. They are afraid to speak, lest they be insulted or marginalised. And so they resort to anonymity, or to expressing outrage in the privacy of their homes or in bar-room talk.

What we all lose in the process is the ability to fashion, through open dialogue, an inclusive, authentic national identity through the horizontal relations of our civil society.

This national identity would come out of what Steve Biko called the “joint culture” comprising both the black and the white experience. Whether we like it or not, our fates are inextricably tied to each other.

Unfortunately the culture we breed now is also the culture we bequeath to our children — a bifurcated political culture in which black kids feel entitled to speak in public and white kids feel automatically disqualified from speaking. We need to inculcate in our children that this country belongs to all of them, and that none of them should feel less native than others.

If there is anything I admired about Amato and Streek it is that they never shirked their responsibility to speak in public. I will never forget the day Barry assembled a whole group of former National Union of South African Students members at his house so I could interview them about Biko’s impact on white student politics. Even though Biko was the fiercest critic of their liberalism, they respected his intellect and remembered him fondly. That’s because he never insulted them.

‖Dr Mangcu is visiting scholar, Public Intellectual Life Project, Wits University. He is also a nonresident WEB DuBois Fellow at Harvard University.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What do you call these guys?

Because calling them baboons would be too kind (and cruelly ironic to the victims in this post...).

I've posted about the Southern Cape Town residents' assaults on the Cape Point baboons before. It seems that things are going from bad to worse. From 26 baboons in the troop in May, only 16 remain.

The idiots behind this would no doubt point to the destruction and danger of baboons. I know this first hand, having had a fully grown baboon steal our food off the braai grid when I was a kid!

But there is no excuse. Residents of Kommetjie, Scarborough, Smitswinkel, et al have invaded the baboons' territory, and not the other way around. They would have been aware of the issue when moving into those areas.

Baboon watchers have been employed to follow the troupes around and keep them out of trouble. That doesn't seem enough - it seems that some people just want them dead.
From Iol

Baboon poisoning may have been deliberate

Melanie Gosling
August 16 2006 at 12:16PM

Two young baboons from the Kommetjie troop in Cape Town have died of suspected poisoning and a third is being treated at a local veterinary clinic.

Although all three animals are wild, they were so ill that they allowed Jenni Trethowan, who runs Baboon Matters, to pick them up and take them to the vet without resistance.

The young male and a young female died at the vet on Monday. Another young female, nicknamed Angelina Ballerina, was taken to the vet on Tuesday and appears to be recovering.

If they were poisoned, it is not known whether the young baboons - the only three juveniles in the troop - ate poison put out for rats, or whether they were deliberately poisoned in the continuing conflict between primates and humans on the Peninsula.

'He was so sick he let me pick him up, and he's a wild animal'

City health officials are due to examine the area where the baboons forage around the rubbish dump, as well as near a bakery in Kommetjie.

Trethowan said on Tuesday she had been alerted to the first sick baboon by the baboon monitors. "The monitors are brilliant. I went out to Ocean View on Monday and was shocked to see the young male. He was bent over with his head down. It was awful. He was so sick he let me pick him up, and he's a wild animal. I put him in the car and took him to the vet.

"While they were treating him, I got another call that there was a sick baboon near the bakery. I rushed there and she was in an even worse state. We took her to the vet as well but both of them died. It's so sad because they are the only three juveniles in that troop."

Trethowan said the troop had been reduced from 26 animals in May to only 16 now.

On Tuesday, the monitors phoned her again after they found yet another sick female.

Fourways vet Hernan Azorin was unable to say conclusively whether the three were poisoned, but found no signs of other sickness except for haemorrhaging, which is consistent with poisoning.

This article was originally published on page 5 of Cape Times on August 16, 2006

UPDATE: The baboons were poisoned using an old banned toxin. Not sure they should have published that - the person who did it will now be sure to dump it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Will this guard get a medal?

He should! Wow.

The fight against crime needs role models and this guy is one and then some.

Imagine risking your life as he did for a R1500 per month salary. Imagine chasing five armed robbers by yourself with the intention of arresting them?!

You are a hero, Nkosinathi Nkosi!

Well done also to the police for being quick enough to catch the remainder of the crooks.

From IoL

Security guard helps cops nab robbers

August 15 2006 at 10:17AM

By Gill Gifford and Poloko Tau

A gang of robbers believed to have been responsible for a spate of housebreakings in Johannesburg's northern suburbs during the past six months has been bust after a shootout with police and security guards.

Four robbers were arrested minutes after robbing a house in Emmarentia on Monday, with one arrested after being shot in the face by SAS Security guard Nkosinathi Nkosi and three others caught in the area as police swooped on them.

According to Nkosi, who played a pivotal role in helping the police arrest the gang, a fifth man escaped on foot.

'They began shooting at me while the car reversed...'
The gang used a particular modus operandi to gain access to homes and properties, then ransacking the houses and escaping.

According to police spokesperson Superintendent Chris Wilken, the gang would arrive at a house in a bakkie, and would sometimes be wearing overalls or work clothes.

They would ask the domestic worker to open up and let them in as they had been sent by her employer, whose name they would give.

Police believe the men checked letterboxes to establish the names of the occupants of the homes.

"They would say 'We've been sent by your boss to clean the pool and we're in a hurry.

"If you don't want to let us in, we'll leave and it will be your problem. We've got other jobs to get to'," Wilken said.

The story they used would change from time to time - they would claim to be carpet cleaners or technicians needing to work on the phones - but in each case they would strike as soon as they gained access.

On Monday the men arrived at the house in Emmarentia, pulling up at the house in a white bakkie.

"They had the home-owner's name and asked the domestic worker to open up for them because they were there to do some damp-proofing and some repairs to the floors in the house," Wilken said.

Unsure of what to do, the domestic worker opened the gate and they entered the property. One of the four men was armed with a gun, and threatened the woman while his accomplices tied her up.

As the robbers ransacked the house, the domestic worker managed to free herself and pressed the panic button linked to an armed response service.

Nkosi was patrolling The Braids Road in Emmarentia when he heeded a call for help from the domestic worker.

"I immediately called for back-up and drove down the street and saw a white bakkie parked inside the yard. I then blocked the driveway and they must have noticed me and ran out of the house," Nkosi said,

Five men emerged from the house, jumped into the bakkie and prepared to reverse out of the premises.

But their way was blocked by Nkosi's vehicle.

"They jumped out and approached me, demanding that I remove my car. That was when I threatened to shoot if they came any closer. I ordered them to remain still but they went back into the car."

Nkosi jumped into his patrol car when they reversed. Despite his blocking their way, he thought they were going to drive over his vehicle and he moved out of the way.

"They began shooting at me while the car reversed. I returned fire and one of them, who had not jumped into the car... he managed to flee on foot as I went after the other four," he said.

Nkosi managed to catch one suspect, while the remaining three men were caught by the police.

All four suspects are from Soweto and will appear in court on Wednesday.

Police commissioner Oswald Reddy paid credit to the "excellent work" of the police and the security company, saying he was very happy with the breakthrough.

"We must continue to work like this to make Joburg safer," he said.

This article was originally published on page 2 of The Star on August 15, 2006

Friday, August 11, 2006

Are you a criminal?

Something that makes my blood boil are drivers who remove their number plates to avoid getting caught in camera speed traps.

It is likely that many of these people complain bitterly about crime and the state of the country, etc. But they have no qualms about speeding, plotting ways to avoid getting caught, bribing police officers, jumping red traffic lights, etc.

Of course almost everybody speeds at some point. I have my share of traffic fines. But we know the rules and if we break them we must be prepared to accept the consequences. Except that some people are not prepared to do that.

So I am very happy that Johannesburg Metropolitan Police are cracking down on plate-less cars. They will issue a spot fine of R200 per missing plate. I think this is way too little - it is very easy to get a speeding fine of over R500 - how many fines have these people avoided? I think the cops should rather impound any car with a missing plate and the driver should appear in court for a serious fine and possible jail time for repeat offenders - that might stop the problem.


Cops chasing speedsters numbers
10/08/2006 20:24 - (SA)

Johannesburg - Metro police will clamp down on motorists not displaying number plates on their vehicles.

Metro spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said on Thursday: "Many motorists remove their number plates in order to avoid being caught when speeding through speed cameras."

Motorists found driving without displaying their number plates would be fined R200 for each missing number plate.

Fines also would be issued if the number plates were obscured by a tow bar, were not clearly visible, had faded or were illegal. Number plates must display the SABS stamp of approval.

Metro police have already fined more than 10 000 motorists between July of last year and June this year for number-plate offences.

"We would like to reiterate that any person found driving with a false registration number will be arrested immediately and taken to the nearest police station," said Minnaar.

"The offender will be charged with fraud."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Will the Johannesburg inner city rebirth happen?

Downtown Johannesburg at dusk
I'm lucky in that I have spent a lot of time in London, Paris and New York.

That's allowed me to witness inner city living in the cities that made it trendy. It also made me think about why it became trendy.

New York is known for the density of its population - Manhattan is jam-packed with people. Two things make New York city (as opposed to Conneticut, etc) a good place to live in. The first is the lack of commute. When you're working between 12 and 16 hours a day on Wall Street, an additional trip into the city of at least 1 hour each way is not desirable. The second is city life - you can literally take the elevator from your flat to the sidewalk and sit down for dinner at your favourite cafe. If you're willing to take a 20 minute cab ride (or subway if the weather is amenable), you can eat at a variety of the best the world has to offer around Manhattan.

London and Paris share the city life attraction with NYC - neither have the "elevator to sidewalk cafe" factor to the extent that New York does, but both have fantastic food and entertainment cultures.

Both also share the commute factor. Neither have resulted in high-rise living to the extent of NYC, Singapore or Tokyo. Anybody who has worked in "The City" will understand the nightmare that is the London tube commute. It can take almost as long to commute from Wimbledon as it might from the Surrey countryside.
But bans against high-rise development have meant that London has maintained a fairly spread out city and the beautiful old buildings of Paris may have halted the building of massive skyscrapers (with the exception of the new city near the Arc de la Defense).

But the single most important factor resulting in true inner-city high-rise living remains space - or more precisely lack of it. Manhattan is relatively small. There is not much opportunity to build left on the island. Tokyo's sprawl means that the city extends for hours in every direction. Singapore is on an island.

So it was with skepticism that I watched the development of apartments in Johannesburg city centre. The Johannesburg downtown area does not have an entertainment and food culture anymore. Most businesses have moved out to Sandton and the Midrand areas, meaning that living in the inner city does not offer much advantage with respect to traveling. Johannesburg has no space constraints. The areas surrounding the city all support further development - to the extent that Johannesburg and Pretoria are almost one city now. While there are many beautiful old buildings in the city, developers appear to have been attempting to cash in on the world-trend - without any of the factors other inner city revivals have enjoyed.

Cape Town on the other hand has almost all the factors in its favour. People commute to work in the city centre. The food and entertainment culture survived some years of threat from crime and grime and it is now difficult to find parking in the city centre at any time of the night. And most importantly, Cape Town is on a peninsula, restricting the ability to merely continue expanding the city. For many years (before the development really took off) I looked for an apartment in the city bowl. If only money had allowed!

The article below is from

Designer flats empty

10/08/2006 08:43
By: Joan Muller

Johannesburg - Despite the perception that downtown, inner city living is fast becoming a preferred choice among Jo'burg's trendy set, owners of upmarket office-to-flat conversions are apparently battling to find tenants.
Property commentators say it's one thing for developers to sell high-end CBD products off-plan to buy-to-let investors - typically priced at between R10 000 and R15 000m² - but to let these units once completed is an entirely different matter.

The general view is that a lack of infrastructure such as shopping facilities and restaurants as well as crime and grime are seeing high-income tenants staying put in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

Pace Property Group MD David Green, who is involved in a number of inner city office-to-flat conversions, says while there is huge demand for bachelor and one bedroom flats priced at rentals of below R5 000/month, the inner city is not attracting upmarket professionals (owner-occupiers or tenants) to the extent that many expected.

Green believes the reason is that upmarket CBD developments are simply too pricey, competing with developments in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

"Why would someone pay R15 000/m² in downtown Jo'burg when they can buy a new apartment for less in Sandton?" Green says tenants are also unlikely to pay R10 000/month for a luxury apartment in the inner city when they can rent in Hyde Park at the same price.

Trafalgar chairperson Neville Schaefer, who manages about 3 000 rental flats in Johannesburg's inner city, Hillbrow and Berea, agrees that demand for upper priced rental accommodation has yet to materialise in Jo'burg's CBD.

He says while inner city property owners can easily fill their flats with lower and middle-income tenants who are prepared to pay between R1 800 and R3 000/month, there's little if any demand for units priced above that.

Schaefer says despite talk of upmarket retail, leisure and entertainment offerings coming to the CBD, the reality is that the inner city doesn't offer sufficient infrastructure to support high-end living.

"I would be nervous to invest in anything priced at R600 000 or more in the inner city," he says.

Meanwhile, developer Urban Ocean has sold all 135 luxury apartments at The Franklin, the old Ernst & Young building across from the old JSE headquarters in Diagonal Street, from R299 000 right up to R1.8m. Buyers are still waiting for occupation. But whether investors will find tenants at reasonable rentals remains to be seen.