Ubuntu versus Western Consumerism

Posted January 25th, 2009 in South Africa by Frérieke


By Frerieke van Bree

The birth of the ‘informal settlement’ (= the official name for ‘township’), goes back to the early 1900s, when the diamond and gold industries required workers from rural areas to come to the urban centers to provide labor. In the 1950ies the Apartheids regime and their Group areas act was the cause of forced removals, resulting in even more separation and the growth of the informal settlements.

1994, the end of the ‘separation’ (Apartheids) regime and the beginning of a free movement for any South African human being, meant a flow of families trying to find their luck away from the rural areas. The Townships experienced another huge increase in number of inhabitants.

2009, 15 years later, still 1.5 million people occupy ‘shacks’ (the structures constructed from waste material, mostly consisting of corrugated iron and timber)

Why is that number still so high? What is holding urban planners back from developing the empty sandy fields within the Townships? What is holding government back from replacing the informal settlements by RDP Housing?

A lot of people blame the so called ‘corrupted leadership’ within the country. I think that is an easy way out of facing reality and taking responsibility.

This week I attended a debate that was organized by the architectural firm I am working for, www.makekadesign.com. The main intention of the debate was to bring together different stakeholders (interested in urban planning and development within formal and informal settlements, the South African ‘Townships’). The goal was to continue the conversation about cooperation and development (No, it’s not a new conversation. Actually 15 years of talking has already past).

Talking, talking, talking…South Africans are good in talking -shit-. Where is the action? Where is the talk without judgment? When does the ego finally realize that success is not measured on the amount of talk about it, and has nothing to do with result either. Real success is to be found within the intention and the actions that are taken by compassionate individuals.

What made the debate this week different from all the previous ones in the last 15 years? >> Its’ location was quite unique: in the township. The ‘white jewel’ is a beautifully designed, modernistic building, shining bright. Yes the jewel is shining bright but also standing lonely on the Sandy grounds of Township’s Khayelitsha Central Business District (to be). The opening to the public will hopefully happen soon and it will then become clear if the architects and clients’ (city of Cape Town) intention was truly in benefit of all people, with needs identified from within the community…

A few kilometers up the road you’ll find the Lookout hill Center, constructed in 2003 with the goal to attract tourists and create a new market in the Township. This beautiful -but empty- building (it has almost not been used at all the past 5 years) reflects in my opinion a typical greedy consumer society development. Although I am not sure about the actual intention behind the building, the implemented current policy is in no way serving the community (local community is not allowed to use it and the flows of tourists are lacking). This makes me wonder who was suppose to benefit from the profits of this tourism market anyways? A sad story. The few local community members that occupy the craft market (that lacks visitors!) give meaning to an empty place, falling apart by the lack of maintenance..

Why do tourist not get to the lookout hill in Township Khayelitsha? Where is the ‘white’, wealthy man? Where is the ‘black’ brother that is celebrating life in the Suburbs?
The answer is mostly to be found in the fear that exists among above mentioned groups. This is a fear for hatred resulting in criminality.

Is that fear grounded? No. I have been going in and out the Townships for the past years and have only once seen a criminal action. My brother has once been threatened with a knife and forced to hand over his belongings in safe place, The Netherlands. Does he walk around fearful now?

Unfortunately, we create monsters. In the society of exclusion there will always be those who need to fight for the material that is to be said to be the road to success. The ego is a master in misleading consciousness…

What creates this fear? Or better: why do we allow the voice in our head to tell us that we need to be fearful? My two cents… a lack of understanding cultures.

Day 25_ understanding cultures: read this

Steven Otter writes in his book Khayelitsha, Umlungu in a Township: “This way of thinking comes from ignorance and stupidity, a combination that ruled our land for almost fifty years, and one that very nearly ruined the lot of us. And if, as white people, we continue to keep a distance between ourselves and the black man, how will we ever know him? How can we pass judgement on someone we don’t know? There are thousands of Ta-fumsas and Madibas out there, but we whites ignore them and do our best to encourage them to become the thugs we so desperately fear.”
(Steven has been living in Khayelitsha among the black community for a few years in 2002 and 2005.)

I highly recommend this book to every white person out there, to understand the communities in the South African Townships and more important, the spirit of Ubuntu:

“Umuntu ngumuntu nga bantu” an old Xhosa saying – meaning a person is a person because of other people.

Our Western consumerism tells us “to have is to be”. My status is measured on the material possessions I have. We become very individualistic, protecting our belongings from our neighbors. Our perception of community is very different from the African community of sharing.

Urban planners in South Africa are -unfortunately- predominantly white and brought up with the ‘Western perception of community’. We mirror our materialistic world view upon a community of Ubuntu. We tell them to put a fence around their house to be protected from criminality …while in fact we increase the criminal madness with our individualistic approach. By fencing each house, the street becomes no-mans-land, which can also be called: criminals playground!
…and so do we keep our own created fear alive and are able to proof our misleading fear-monster right: township is dangerous, black man is dangerous. You white fools! Wake up.

To go back to the debate this week, the main things we were talking about (that interested me) are cooperation and documentation.
Cooperation between:

  • Government (local, provincial and national > at the moment they often have conflicting requirements > how to get them on one line?)
  • Business (work together with the potential -previously underprivileged- entrepreneurs in the Townships: how to stimulate this?)
  • Transport/infrastructure sector (streets and transport nodes need to be ‘owned’ by the township dweller. Including a part of the public domain to the place you call home will lead to maintenance and crime prevention. “houses are built on foundations with walls and roof. Homes are built with things much deeper and less concrete” (Sandile Dikeni in the book Shack chic)
  • Urban planners/architects (think about your intentions! Get rid of the ego, listen, learn to understand cultures)
  • Community (how to -include- members of the community in the development process. Yes, a debate -open to the public- in the Township was a great first step. The language should be understandable for all, and members should be invited to come. The needs of the community need to be included in the policies and development plans that are being created)

Documentation: share knowledge. Don’t reinvent. Be creative in your ways. Use modern social media.

Instead of blaming the local and national governments of corruption (I am not saying corruption does not exist)…let us all focus on how to understand Ubuntu from our Consumerism glasses. Learn to understand cultures. Listen.

– Image MPC Khayelitsha by David Southwood
– 3d virtual images by Virtual Africa.
(explanation: image 1: on top of the Lookout hill in Khayelitsha, spot me and the Afrigadget girls on the pic! image2: Khayelitsha, Bonga Drive. Thank you Tinus from http://virtualafrica.co.za for this wonderful way of illustrating these words!)

Students for Humanity

Posted January 22nd, 2009 in Portfolio by Frérieke

Bridging the digital divide, one blog post at a time …

Students for Humanity started in Jan 2009 with a group of students from underprivileged areas ‘Townships’ around Cape Town. I got to know those students quite well the year before while teaching them Leadership-class (working on self-esteem, presentations, teamwork). The reasons to start working ‘online’ with my students was three-folded:

– bridging the digital divide

– empowering students to have a voice (a continuation of our leadership program)

– creating global awareness : connecting students worldwide

I tried to involve outsiders as much as possible (for example, Jan Folmer – from the famous podcast justvocabulary.com came to do a Podcast workshop with the students). Andre Vermeulen (A South African living in the UK took care of the technical bits to create the site) The passionate South African writer, Nonkululeko Godana came to join the team during the second half of 2009. We are now trying to get youth in different places of the world to join the conversation,  some partners in that process are Zamo Nkatshu in Johannesburg, Chris in Malawi and Pelle Aardema in The Netherlands.

Read an interview that Media24 took with me here

VISIT THE PROJECTS WEBSITE HERE: www.studentsforhumanity.com

A trip to heaven..

Posted January 21st, 2009 in Personal Fre by Frérieke

Day 21_ Krista R.I.P.

goede reis, je hebt nu geen gewicht
ga sneller dan het licht
de planeten zingen zacht van het wonder dat je wacht
kijk niet om en ga steeds vooruit

(text Spinvis song: Astronaut)

31 years. Krista, my second cousin. She didn’t wait for a cancer to enjoy life…

This lady has been a lot in my mind the last few days. (or actually few months)

We were not just born on the same day…we shared a lot of passions for people, travel, Spanish, salsa, .. >> I’ll make sure your enthusiasm lives on! Love Ya Krista!

Photo a Day

Posted January 21st, 2009 in Portfolio by Frérieke

I post a photo each day.

Because my memory is so bad, and works very visual…I decided to make a record of my year. I started doing this the beginning of 2009. I managed to post 325 pics in 2009….improvements to be made this year!

Each photo has a description. Not just of what there is to see in the picture, but the life that is behind it… enjoy!

PS…most pictures are taken with my mobile phone (a Samsung SGH-E730) Material is no excuse…pics are not the best quality but the messages will be clear… BTW…you are welcome to donate me a REAL great camera!

You’ll find my photos and stories on Flickr, an online photo album. Click on one of the photos below and you’ll get there!

B’day and things..

Posted January 8th, 2009 in Personal Fre by Frérieke
A few things:2008 was a bad personal blogging year. Shall I still continue?
yeah, I’ve got plans. Did you check out my new homepage? Integrated Flickr (photo album) and Twitter (multi user messaging/blogging tool) Follow me here: flickr
or here: twitter

yes, it is this time of the year 11.1.81 > B’day time
Everybody in Cape Town: Edith (10.1.81) and I are celebrating at Jamaican me crazy (Roodebloem, Woodstock) from 19.30 on Sat 10.1.09. Come join us for a drink!

NO presents needed! Please if you want to give something (other then a big hug)
donate to my account: (I need to save money to replace my dying laptop)

fj van bree 9169749182
br code 632005 (ABSA)

fj van Bree

paypal: freriekevanbree at hotmail.com (replace at with @)

OR donate to the projects! (check out http://lovetotheworld.org)

stichting Umeebee

paypal: freriekevanbree at hotmail.com (replace at with @)

(please note what you want to donate to)

On a sad note..
I’ve got a great second cousin who is sharing her B’day with me. She is going through a serious difficult time of her life. She has been diagnosed with cancer….unfortunately the doctors aren’t able to help her… another young person facing the end of this earhtly life. Krista, all love and blessings for you. You demonstrate what ‘enjoying life and travel’ means. you inspire many of us! I hope your energy is there to enjoy this day 31 years ago you were born…