Civic Matters

The Pretoria
City Hall was built to celebrate Pretoria’s city status, attained in 1931.
Designed by FG McIntosh and John Lockwood Hall, this classical Italian style
building has charmed residents and visitors alike since 1935.

Soaring 47
meters into the Highveld sky, the clock tower boasts a careillon of 32 bells,
donated by George Heys, famous owner of Melrose House.

10 solid
granite columns support the massive cornice and pediment, the latter sculpted
by Coert Steynberg. The designs represent the progress of the city.

The two
statues in the walkway in front of the City Hall, were also done by Coert
Steynberg. Andries Pretorius, after whom Pretoria was named and his son MW
Pretorius, founder of the city and first President of the ZAR.
(Zuid-Afrikaansche Republic)

Inside the
foyer a Walter Battiss  painting catches
my eye. It depicts the fauna of Pretoria 1855, with all the surrounding farms
named after animals depicted in the work.

Even though
most of the current council offices are found elsewhere in the city, some of
the chambers are still in use to this day. I peek into a vacant one, and I am
struck by the name on the huge mural, rather than the art work itself. Jan
Juta.  In the Pretoria of my childhood
one of the only 2 bookstores in the city, was called Juta’s.  Surely there must be a connection ? Turns out
Jan Juta’s grand father was the founder the bookstore in which I spent many happy

So, next
time you are in Pretoria, be sure to visit  the City Hall.

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The Pilgrimage

Some people are of the opinion that you should never go back to a certain place and retrace a childhood memory. I totally disagree, because that is exactly what I did today, and I loved every moment of it !

The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, opened its gates in 1899 and has since been consistently ranked in the top 15 zoos of the world.

Even on a drizzly cold May Day, hundreds of families enjoyed nature in the midst of suburbia. From squeals of delight in the penguin enclosure to the solitude  in  Africa’s largest walk-through aviary, the Zoo caters for every need.

The 85-hectare gardens with approximately 6 kilometers of walk ways, got a bit crowed at lunch time, and the golf cart traffic I found slightly irritating.  Fortunately I was there at 8.30, so for about an hour it felt like I had the whole place to myself.

Still my favourite things after 45 years…

The pink flamingos were positively the most exotic birds to my 5 year old eyes, and still are.

The imposing cast iron fountain looms large in my childhood Zoo. Now I am aware that this Victorian masterpiece stood on Church Square from 1906 -1910.

The 4 life size female figures symbolise : Commerce, Art, Science and Literature. Presented to the Zoo, by a hero of mine, the indomitable Sammy Marks.

The regal and graceful cheetah impressed me then, and still does.

The elegant, gentle giant exuding brute strength woed me then, and still does.

Even in the 1960’s the hyaena enclosure was not the most popular and still seems like that today, allowing me an up-close and personal moment, with this powerful animal.

My life long love affair with birds started then, and how could  it not, with such an imposing selection, from African spoonbills to the Spotted Eagle owl.  And for a mere R200 you too can adopt such an owl for a year.

The R55 entrance fee also covers the Aqaurium and Reptile park.

This definitely  is the closest I ever want to be near any shark, ragged tooth or not.

A raging Apies river flows through the gardens, and I loved crossing it via the various suspension bridges.

No visit to the zoo is ever complete without stopping at any of the many primate encloses. Entertaining then, and maybe even more so now !!

I vividly remember outside the entrance gates, rows upon rows of curio sellers on the side walk, then my first joyful introduction into Ndebele beadwork.  Today I spoke to 70 year old Katie Tlou, who has been selling her handiwork here in Boom Street since the early 1960’s. I buy 3 strings of colourful beads, just as I had wanted to do back then.

I had thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Zoo today. Maybe I should do this more often.

Need to know more ?

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The year in which Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands,  “Chariots of Fire” won the Oscar for best film, Prince William was born, Italy triumphed in the FIFA World Cup, Princess Grace of Monaco was killed in a car crash, and I was starting my first proper job.

Freshly graduated, I was little more than a filing clerk and glorified messenger in the halls of the Department of Foreign Affairs. My office was in town, whilest Foreign Affairs also occupied offices in the Union Buildings.  A shuttle ran daily trips to Meintjes Kop and I was the chief volunteer to carry documents across town. This was way before fax machines, let alone e-mail !!  And thank goodness for that.

I absolutely loved going to the Union Buildings. Partly to get out of a stuffy office but also to enjoy the grandeur of the Union Buildings as well as the magnificent gardens.

Now for the first time in 29 years,  I am driving up Government Lane.

Memories came flooding back, as the splendour of Sir Herbert Baker’s creation is sort of hidden, because you are approaching it from the side. It is only until you are parking in front of the majestic structure, that the Union Buildings tower over you.

It was a staggering building project for 1910…imagine  83 cranes dotting the site, 15 electrically operated, 3 steam driven and the remainder worked by hand…14 million bricks and 40 thousand bags of cement were used and up to 1 265 men worked furiously to finish the building in November 1913.

There are various statues and memorials scattered in the grounds of the Union Buildings.  My favourite by far is the replica of the Delville Wood Memorial, also designed by Sir Herbert Baker. It commemorates that epic First World War battle, during which a brigade of 3 400 South African soldiers were ordered to clear the woods and hold that position against the enemy. They did just that. When the 5 day battle was over, only 3 officers and 140 wounded and weary men emerged alive.

Lifesize figures of Castor and Pollux clasp hands across the back of a fiery steed. This monument was unveiled in 1929 by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.

In the Eastern corner of the gardens, stands the Police Memorial, quiet testament to their service and sacrifice.

I wander through the lush gardens, down the hill to the statue of General Louis Botha. South Africa’s first Prime Minister gazes resolutely down Church street.

Walking back up the hill, my eyes are drawn to the massive clock towers, all of 55 meters high. As the noonday chimes ring out, I take one last photo, and then one more, and one more,  as I can not stop looking. Still in love with the Union Buildings, 29 years on.

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Chasing the Cantatores

No, they were not in the cast of the Sopranos. The cousins were part of the approximately 90 000 Italian Prisoners of War who were imprisoned  in South Africa from 1941 – 1947. And the two of them, worked om my Grandpa’s farm in the Laingsburg district.

I decided to try and find  some official trace of Francesco and Giuseppe Cantatore, starting at the Zonderwater  Prisoner of War Cemetery and Museum, some 10 km outside Cullinan.

The camp started off being basic tented accommodation. In due course a hospital was built, a most efficient sewerage system installed and clapboard, brick, concrete and corrugated iron structures erected to house the single biggest prisoner of war population in Allied territories. None of that remains today.

The site now comprise of a small museum and chapel as well as 252 graves. All beautifully kept within this tranquil setting.

Prisoner deaths occurred for a variety of reasons: disease, accidents, lightning strikes and shooting by the guards (there were 700 attempted escapes with Enrico Mottalini famously reaching Cape Town !!)

Camp life was superbly well organised and run by Colonel Hendrik Fredrik Prinsloo who was the camp commandant. His fine treatment of the prisoners of war, stands greatly to South Africa’s credit for all time. Recognition for his achievements was amongst others to be awarded  with the Order of the Star of Italy as well as the Papal Order of Good Merit.

22 Orchestras  and theatre companies held special performances in aid of charities at the time. And  28 major football teams were organised into a league.

At the Northern end of the terrain stands a striking statue of an angel, holding a lamp of remembrance. It was consecrated in 1963 in Milan, before it was sent to South Africa.

Before I drove back home, I took one more photo of the striking metal art work at the entrance, the handiwork of famed sculptor, Edoardo Villa himself a prisoner of war here at Zonderwater.  After his release, he remained in South Africa, and be greatly missed, as he passed away on Sunday 1st of May 2011.

My search for evidance of the Cantatores, were a bit fruitless. After various visits to the Military Archive as well as the State Archive, all I found were two names on the list of soldiers, to be deported back to Italy.

But the close contact Francesco and Giuseppe had with the Kleinkaroo family they lived with from 1943-45 on the farm Rietvlei, still echoes in the fact that a distant cousin, 80 year old  George Neft, can still court to 10 in near perfect Italian.

Need to know more: Contact Emilio Coccia 012 6673279

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Global Village

I am not a season ticket holder at the Emirates Stadium, but I also lived, loved and enjoyed the 168th meeting between North London rivals, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, today.

When Arsenal was founded in 1886, no one could have guessed the technological marvels that would enable me in 2012 to experience the FA Premier League action in glorious hi definition, in my living room, live, half a world away.

Together with England caretaker manager, Stuart Pearce, (he in the VIP seats, me on my couch) we both applauded the fantastic skills of 22 superb athletes.

Stuart, you might have focussed more on Scott Parker( red card and all), Theo Walcott (and his 2 stupendous goals !) and Kyle Walker, whilest I was mesmerized by Luka Modric and Robin Van Persie.

Honours even at half time with 4 brilliant goals…and I have to re-fill the biltong bowl and get something frosty from the fridge. Hope you enjoy your half time tea and scone, Stuart.

Well done Arsene Wenger, your half time talk, sparked Arsenal to an epic 5-2 victory.  I don’t know about you Stuart, but I thoroughly enjoyed the match.

Safe journey home, while I take the dog for a quick walk before settling back on the couch, ready for the Carling Cup Final !! Vamos Liverpool !!

…and if all that is not enough, I will barely have time for dinner and taking the garbage out, to be ready before  the red carpet parade starts, leading up to the Academy Awards…and glory for Meryl Streep, I hope !! Me a couch potato ?? NEVER !!!

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Let’s recycle !!

Since last
September, as part of my morning walking routine, I started picking up glass
and plastic bottles on the pavement.

In total, I
rid the earth of 1 109 kilograms of glass and 170 kilograms of plastic. I
aim to do way better in my 2nd year of recycling.

This is what
I picked up this morning…

This is how
much I pick up in a week…

And this is
where it all goes, my favourite boulevard on the way to the recycle yard of “Remade”,
my local recycling plant.

As you can
see, recycling efforts come in all shapes and sizes.

The day’s
plastic mountain, to which I added 10 kilograms.

The tin heap
plus my 20 kilograms.

And I contributed
60 kilograms of glass to be melted down and re-used in future.

Thanks “Remade”.
See you all next week !!!

Need to know more: contact Remade at 012 386 7039

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Once in a Lifetime

Today a year ago, Spain won the 2010 FIFA World Cup at Soccer City, beating Holland 1-0 in the final, and these are some of my favourite memories of the 19th edition of the biggest show on earth !!

For 5 glorious weeks, this was my home away from home. Working at the International Broadcast Centre during the 64 matches was a fantastic experience.

I will never forget the moment when Mario Kempes signed my book. He who scored 2 goals in Argentina’s  1978 triumph against Holland in Buenos Aires.

On my way to the Round of 16 clash in the fabulous Soccer City, Argentina vs Mexico.

Under a full moon, amongst the Argentina fans, watching Diego Armando Maradona pacing the touch line.  Utterly unforgetable.

Friends for 20 odd years, eventhough we supported opposing teams in the final !!

Indeed a once in a lifetime experience, thank you to everyone who help make it a success. Let’s do it again, soon !!

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