This is the first verse of singer/songwriter sublime Koos du Plessis’s ode to Pretoria.
He frames his beloved city in a cloak of purple haze, which is how many of us identify the most colourful capital city.
But much controversy has surrounded this emblem of the city over the years and there are visions of fights for this particular tree and the replanting and upkeep of the city’s pride for those of us living here long enough.
Money talks, and the hordes of tourists who visit the city annually is proof enough for everyone who witnesses this influx that, at least for the moment, Jacarandas are allowed to flourish and bloom in all their splendour.
The four annual stages of the Jacaranda tree
Jacaranda trees were first imported from Rio de Janeiro by Baron von Ludwig of Cape Town in about 1830. A travelling nurseryman from Cape Town named Templemann brought two Jacaranda trees to Pretoria in 1888. He planted them in the garden he had laid out for Jacob Daniel (Japie) Celliers at Myrtle Lodge in Sunnyside, shortly after it was established as Pretoria’s second suburb.
In the 1890s Celliers secured a concession from President Paul Kruger to plant trees in Groenkloof for the Government of the Republic. James Clark, a wholesale and retail seedsman, florist and nursery, received the order to import seeds from Australia.
The story goes that among the consignment of eucalyptus seeds Clark imported for planting in Pretoria in 1898, a packet of Jacaranda seeds had found their way.
On 16 November 1906, the 51st anniversary of the founding of Pretoria, Clark presented 200 Jacaranda trees to the City Council as a birthday present to Pretoria. These trees were planted in Bosman street in Arcadia Park where the Pretoria Art Museum was established in 1864.
Frank Walton James was appointed as town engineer in 1909. He suggested the planting of Jacarandas in all the streets of the town to enhance the status of Pretoria as the proposed capital of the Union. When Jameson left the Council in 1920, fewer than 6 000 trees had been planted. By 1939, with the constant encouragement of Jameson, the number of trees had risen to 17 000.
Today there are approximately 40 000 Jacaranda trees in the streets of Pretoria.
And these facts were all handed to me in a letter by Jacaranda activist, architect Thomas Honiball, a man who has always battled and fought for the preservation of Pretoria as the beautiful city it is.
Some of us still remember the huge controversy about the west façade of Church Square, which was going to be demolished, but was finally left intact thanks to Honiball and a committee he had established with exactly this in mind. And the city proudly hails this part of its heritage today.
The aforementioned letter was written with a request to the Minister of Agriculture for the planting of Jacaranda trees in the city of Tshwane – and fortunately those battles were hard fought and won.
For Thomas, who lives in Nieu Muckleneuk with a spectacular view of Jacaranda blossoms when they are in full bloom, these trees hold and embrace the spirit of the city. He believes they were first planted to establish the character of a city that would be named the country’s capital – and thus it was.
“We have something that no other city boasts in such abundance,” he says. He also argues it is especially the city’s layout, the long streets, and the koppies, that allow for the spectacular showing of this tree Pretorians have claimed for themselves.
And he has many anecdotes to claim the city’s towering Jacaranda status. “I was told the story that Elon Musk’s grandfather when he flew over the city and saw the spectacle of the purple blooms was so overwhelmed, he emigrated here,” he says.
He also remembers as a young Free State lad paying his first visit to the city and sighting the purple spectacle, how it overwhelmed him. “It was just so pretty!”
That’s not all he achieved in this city. He was also instrumental in the production of a book with the listing of buildings worth holding on to, often used by city planners to save specific buildings which form a part of the city’s heritage. It’s not something South Africa has always done well and we need these visual planners who understand the importance of cherishing the old while celebrating the new.
He is very aware that everything cannot be kept simply because its old. There’s a saying that if a city centre doesn’t change, keep up with the times, it will die.
Fortunately for Tshwane, we have citizens like Thomas Honiball in our midst who have the city’s interests at heart and understand the importance of the picture perfect visual that keeps us all mesmerised.
Publishing this following story about a Durban/Kwa-Zulu Natal visit a month before the horrifying insurrection was quite tricky. In fact it was going to appear a day before the riots – but fortunately didn’t. In the meantime we’ve all been holding our breath so I’m hoping and have checked the places mentioned and nothing has changed apart from the city (I am told) getting a clean-up around elections, so please, if you’re planning to holiday in that region in the coming festive months, have a blast.
And for those who don’t understand the heading: It’s very good at the sea, or some such!
DIANE DE BEER gives a few impressions:
When a friend decided to celebrate her 50th birthday on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast recently, five of us decided to travel to Durban for a few days prior to the celebrations to explore especially the art and the food in a city none of us knew at all.
Art and culinary adventures are passions for all of us and we had read enviously about the hot spots in both Durban and the coast and we were excited to go on this adventure.
Travelling down by car, our first stop was for lunch in the region of Van Reenen’s Pass where two of our companions had previously enjoyed some excellent meals. The road to Oaklands Country Manor with a name change to Oaklands Farm Stay turns off (for a few kilometres) at the little town of Van Reenen and is easily worth the detour.
Together with the handful of super siblings (four sisters and a brother I think) who are in charge, the setting and the farm itself is special. On the day we stopped which happened to be a Sunday, there was a polo match in progress but quite a few families were occupying the outside tables with spectacular views, ready for lunch.
The splendours of Oaklands Farm Stay.
The menu was perfect for travellers, simple but with enough variety to cover the spectrum.
Salads either garden or chicken, toasted sarmies with chips, beef burger and chips, game pie or tagliatelle with garlic, chilli, anchovies, capers, broccoli and parmesan were the options. Our table covered the full menu and while the rest of the team started with a special cocktail, as the dedicated driver, I went for the homemade ice cold kombucha-style mixer, which was spot on.
The food was delicious, (I shared the game pie and the tagliatelle with the birthday girl because we both were undecided), but so was the atmosphere, the company and the hosts. We will be back whenever we travel this way.
We had ample sustenance for the rest of the journey which isn’t an easy one with all the trucks making their way to the coast. The bill without the lunch drinks was R250 per person (coffees included) which was a really good deal.
Durban was a huge surprise, great fun but not exactly what we expected. We took into account that we were there just before a strict lockdown and as we arrived the province was struggling with high covid numbers.
The splendours of the Phansi Museum.
On the art side we had two excursions: the one was the truly mind-blowing Phansi Museum (with on the side the exquisitely stocked African Art Centre if you’re in the need for some serious local craft shopping) and the other the Kwazulu-Natal Society of the Arts with a vibrant indoor/and out coffee bar/deli attached which was buzzing when we arrived.
The Phansi Museum will blow your mind. The breadth and scope of the collection is simply overwhelming and one wonders why this isn’t duplicated in every city in this country. There’s hardly a more accessible way to introduce the depth of the different cultures in South Africa. And I would travel all the way to the coast if only for a visit to this world-class museum.
Taking a guided tour with the embracing and embraceable guide, it’s amazing to discover the wealth and cultural riches of our people. Even if you are aware of the diversity out there, to see it all gathered together is magnificent. And there’s much to admire and much to learn, a truly heavenly experience.
This was followed by the Society of Arts also in the vicinity but unfortunately they were setting up for their next exhibition, which was a development project. We were, however, enchanted that in spite of the lack of any art happening at that precise moment, the café was packed. That is good news and I want to appeal to all the large art institutions around the country, in Pretoria in particular (The Pretoria Art Museum, The Javett and Association of Arts particularly on my mind), to find a way to serve at least good coffee with some refreshments. It’s a way of drawing people in whether for an exhibition or simply to gather for some bonhomie.
This particular space is enchanting, and you could see that the refreshments and food were as good and it has to have that stamp of approval. Nothing could be more welcoming and it makes perfect business sense if you get it right. They also have a fun museum shop and anyone traveling to world museums, will know how important those are. Our art venues have to find ways to appeal to visitors. Once there, they will hopefully be captivated by the art.
We popped into one independent gallery just off the well-known Florida Road, but they were also busy setting up and apart from these three, that, according to what we discovered and were told, was it.
On the food side it was also hit and miss. Our first stop was a breakfast/coffee shop which came highly recommended in an online paper and sadly was a huge let down. When writers go all out with their praise that might not be warranted, you are then reluctant to follow their advice. With only a few days at our disposal, we didn’t want any more disappointments.
Fortunately we also had some pointers from friends and locals and we started with what for me was a real find and a must if you go to the city. Glenwood Bakery and its pumping pavement area is an instant comfort. These are locals and you can see this is their regular haunt.
Our visit explained why. Starting with the bill, breakfast with two cappuccinos each, cost R100 per person, which was quite extraordinary considering the quality of the food. Bread and pastries is a big thing at the Bakery and our choices were as varied as our taste – from my mushroom and egg affair which was perfect in size, produce and preparation to bagels with various toppings, and even sweet delights with flavours like hazelnut and apricot which had to be set aside because things were flying off the shelves. We were told probably to preserve freshness, only a very specific amount of baked goodies are prepared each day, so once they’re gone, that’s it.
After our previous flop, this was at the other end of the cuisine spectrum and one to keep in mind if you need a failsafe option. It’s guaranteed!
Of course we had to do Indian and the name we had was Palki, which a few sources had recommended. On our last night we wanted to do take-out and as there were restrictions anyway, it worked out well.
Our cuisine connoisseurs made the choices and we had a mixed bag, which in this style relates to a food feast. Again it is the option to go for when you have such a diverse group of diners, all foodies but with different tastes. But it also allows you to be adventurous in some of your choices and to add new dishes to the group’s repertoire. This time round, it was the not to be missed paratha and dhal makhani, both of which should be part of any Indian meal. Added were a paneer driven dish, a chicken curry and a brinjal pakora. And for the solo diner who is reluctant to be too daring, there’s always a Lamb Curry mince.
And that’s how we even drag the less adventurous along who eventually cannot resist and grow their palate. Palki is not cheap, but it’s quality with great flavours – which is what we were told.
In between we hung out in the popular Florida Road, kept missing the Patisserie du Maroc which is French flair with Moroccan inspiration, but we had a Monday and public holiday squeezed into our stay, both not good for certain businesses. We caught up on lots of good coffee and artisanal ice cream (a delicious rum ‘n raisin flavour) and even managed to squeeze in some samoosas at the Indian market.
Which is where we spent the rest of the time; a variety of markets on and around Warwick Junction. Outside of lockdown, there are tours available and probably one of these can be fun to do as the different types of markets within the bigger precinct will be showcased.
The colourful area in and around the city markets.
We didn’t have the luxury of a tour guide, but old hands, we easily found our way around the colourful markets, which range from typical Indian and African fare to the ubiquitous Chinese goods which seem to have invaded all local markets.
Getting goods during these difficult times are also problematic and without the foreign buying power, these markets also seem quite depressed. We nevertheless had a great time just walking around, checking the scene (in between a confluence of railway tracks and a graveyard with some interesting gravestones) and seeing how the city centre functions.
From there it was a brisk walk to the Durban City Hall, Post Office and some other majestic buildings including a beautifully preserved Norman Eaton building from a bygone era but many of them still in use today. Sadly the back stairs of the post office was a sight to behold and those who are responsible for cleaning, cannot point fingers at the state of the rest of the city centre if this is the example.
And that was the sad thing about this very vibrant and embracing city centre. With its wide avenues leading to the sea front, it should be a tourist mecca with the markets and beautiful buildings included in this space. But the neglect is horrifying and typical of so many South African cities as white business moves out, it appears owners of the buildings also stop caring.
Also disturbing was the fact that we were the only white people in the area on both days we were there. Just the traffic and the double parking and navigating was like an hilarious movie. It just seems such a pity that a space this vibrant if spruced up and embraced by a much wider community – could become a real tourist mecca.
We had a blast and were welcomed everywhere we went but my heart bled for those who had to spend their lives day in and day out under these sometimes horrific circumstances while hardly a kilometre away, the Durban seafront is a completely different matter.
Personally I suspect its all about money but there’s bags full to be made if the city centre was given a touch of love and care – not gentrified – just a look that a buzzing city centre deserves. It already has all the basics!
We concluded our Durban trip with a breakfast at the promenade at Circus Circus. We were told they serve great coffee and the breakfasts are hale and hearty. It was good to witness the Durban community in all its splendour with joggers, cyclists, rickshaws and hawkers all part of the parade.
From there our trip became a celebration as we moved to a little touch of heaven called the Shangrila Beach House (in Bazley), a self-catering house, cottage and chalet (depending on the amount of people) with the best sea view, its own access to the beach first crossing a working railway line, and an exquisite garden designed by indigenous landscape gardener and botanist Elsa Pooley.
The bliss of Shangrila.
And I haven’t got to the best yet, a mass of friendly dogs and the most wondrous wrap-around stoep. Self-catering with a chef (á la Dr Hennie Fisher) in our midst was bliss and apart from an excursion to Botha House (now a guest house with spectacular views), which was built for the former prime minister Louis Botha by his friend Sir Frank Reynolds, we pretty much stayed put in our imagined home away from home.
Two last suggestions on the way back, was a fuel stop just off Pinetown called the Polo Pony Convenience Centre (571 Kassier Road, Assagay) with a Woolworths food store with the best takeout sandwiches and coffee.
A little further up the road, again at Van Reenen’s Pass (this time on the left hand side of the road on the way to Jozi), there’s the perfect lunch stop at The Little Church Tea Garden which serves food made by the local farming community.
We opted for pies followed by scones and coffee as well as browsing through their well-stocked shelves for some last-minute pressies if needed. There’s also a chance to visit the little church and while having lunch, the views are spectacular. Again, it’s the perfect stop before hitting the road back home.
When you are invited to the final meal at a favourite restaurant, there’s naturally some excitement about the event – but also a sadness because of all the memories. DIANE DE BEER predicts this might not be their swan song:
Especially in these Covid19 times, it’s been a tough environment for the restaurant industry. There is, however, one beacon of hope and that is the diners’ awareness about how much they miss restaurants when they’re not there.
Being human as we all are, we tend to take our luxuries for granted until someone takes them away. The place I’m talking about is Tshwane’s Brasserie de Paris, where proprietor Sarie Jooste Jordaan magically created a very special restaurant. It’s something she and architect husband Johan Jooste almost fell into when they were invited by patron-chef Christian du Bois to become partners in his business.
When he decided to leave, Jooste-Jordaan knew she had the perfect setup. Her husband’s father Karel Jooste had designed and built one of Pretoria’s iconic homes in Waterkloof and while some might argue it’s not the perfect home, it turned out to be the perfect dining venue.
And then they had something to live up to. Expectations were set but Jooste Jordaan had a few aces up her sleeve. Her niece Elze Roome was a trained chef, which made this the perfect solution – a match made in heaven.
That was 26 years ago and in the meantime and a lifetime in the world of a chef, Roome (with her brother as partner and many adventures in-between) has opened a Tashas in Times Square and you just have to experience the buzz to know that they have struck gold – or more likely, they know what they’re doing.
“It all happened quite organically,” notes Roome, who has kept in touch with all the chefs who followed her at Brasserie about the celebratory final meal. Ané Wait (now from Buffelsfontein Beesboerdery in Greenlyn), Marlise Whelan (lecturer at Capitol Hotel School) and Loodt van Niekerk who pleaded to be head chef on the day because he hadn’t been one previously.
All of these chefs have a classic slant and drawing up the menu was a full-on team effort. For example, Roome explains that Whelan had created the original apple tart but Wait had refined it. It was a no brainer that it would be the dessert on the day.
Reading through the menu, memories flooded back, as they had put together almost a prototype of everything Brasserie represented. Starting with an amuse bouche of blue cheese cream and figs as well as Springbok carpaccio, these were started with a celebratory welcoming sparkling wine on their amazing roof, which probably everyone there had probably experienced in some madcap dinner. Ours was an Easter affair and one of the best evenings I can remember with the stars all aligning for a spectacular event all those years back.
But that’s what Brasserie has always been. I can’t remember them ever not getting it right. As chef Hennie Fisher always says about them: “One of my personal most favourite elegant dining choices – a sophisticated mix of old world charm and modern flair. And never broke the bank!”
Following Covid protocols as they would, the restaurant again proved its many assets because of the way we were all protected and yet not without managing to create the fondly remembered Brasserie ambience.
I was blessed to be in the company of a chef and two wine connoisseurs, so I knew this was going to be special. Leaving the wine in their capable hands, the men u prompted them to kick off with a white wine (Lismore Viognier) followed by a red (Thelema Merlot 2017).
Once seated we were first presented with a smoked salmon rösti, a smart choice because of the combo and the distinct flavours. Just the right entrée to get you hungry and with what was to follow, we needed that.
A plump scallop, sharp green pea purée and bacon crisp richly finished the seafood side of the menu. Following these teasers, Brasserie got stuck into the serious stuff: meat. I knew when the Japanese Embassy a few years back invited me to lunch here, it was a huge nod of approval. They were especially guided by the quality of meat and I suspect, the no-nonsense approach to things and the stylish setting also appealed to their specific sensibilities.
The trio of meat dishes was led by duck breast and sauce bigarade (orange sauce), a classic combination, followed by lamb loin, basil oil and wild mushroom and completed with a beef fillet, potato crisps and Bearnaise. These were all melt-in-the-mouth
And if it sounds like a mouthful, that’s exactly what it was and still remains my best way of sampling food: a tasting menu. This one was obviously substantial but for those of us riffing on nostalgia, this gang of superb chefs all had a role in establishing this kitchen and to come together in this way, could not make a stronger statement.
Finishing with the prettiest of apple tarts and mignardise with coffee, it was the perfect dining experience and especially savoured because of the people, the place and of course the times.
My hat off to the gracious Sarie Jooste Jordaan who had no plans to run a restaurant, but given the splendid setting and the right ingredients to make it work her way, in the end it was truly a grand affair.
I remember, part of the original idea was to stick to Du Bois’s menu guidelines and while settling in and finding their feet, they did exactly that. But having established the basic rules they could then start playing around, making it their own.
And that they did with classic flair and flourish. These are peculiar times and I know this is a business that isn’t easy but I just have a feeling that this is not the last we hear from the indomitable Sarie. So I’m tipping my hat to all the chefs for a fantastic experience in the Jooste house – once again. But I’m holding my breath before saying final goodbyes…
When traveling internationally, we wouldn’t think twice about going into an art gallery in a village you might be passing through, but locally – not so much. Harrie Siertsema and his team have made sure that both Richmond in the Karoo and Mpumalanga’s Graskop should stop you in your tracks. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look and loses her heart:
“Living with art” is a phrase invented for art connoisseur and instigator of the Modern Art Projects South Africa (MAPSA) Harrie Siertsema, which is mainly found in the small Karoo town Richmond and Graskop with two extraordinary galleries.
That’s right, not many when driving through or rather passing by on their way to either Cape Town or in the other direction, Johannesburg or pass through Graskop, would consider it possible to visit what many consider world class galleries.
But that’s exactly what Harrie and curator/artist Abrie Fourie have established with financial assistance from Harrie’s longtime partner Willem van Bergen with art possibilities growing and evolving at some speed..
It all began with Harrie buying what he thought was a single house in the small Karoo town, only to discover at closer inspection that it was much more – almost an entire block. While peeping through a window of the house he was interested in, someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked for work. The deal was done.
When you arrive in Richmond, this same George Williams will welcome you to MAPSA or for a stayover at their guesthouse.
With the purchase, Harrie’s many hours of play as a youngster- when this former architect was measuring not only every room in his childhood home but also the furniture – kicked in.
But not only that, he can remember buying his first artwork at the age of 15 with money he earned working at a local stationery shop. “I still have it,” he says as I sit admiring the amazing art I can see over his shoulder in his city home, a constantly growing extension of that first purchase.
This is a man with a straightforward passion, but one he has followed without fail while on the way, not only supporting established artists, but also discovering up-and-coming artists at shows, SASOL New Signatures and Absa L’Atelier.
He describes his particular art bent as close to the Italian Arte Povera (poor art) movement that emerged in in the late 60s. “It wasn’t as if I knew of them at the time, it simply must have been a part of the zeitgeist,” he believes. His interest is recycled and rescued art rather than the corporate kind and when you look at the names like Jan van der Merwe, Gordon Froud, Jeremy Wafer, Sam Nhlengethwa, Willem Boshoff, Robert Hodgins, Cecile Heystek, Diane Victor, Claudette Schreuders, Sandile Zulu, Seretse Moletsane and Strijdom van der Merwe (a who’s who of local artists and the list goes on).
The narratives grow and there is a multitude of South African stories being told by a diversity of local voices magically reverberating in places that will hopefully capture a much larger audience – of both local and international travellers.
Since its inception in 2005, MAPSA’s activities have included exhibitions in various venues in South Africa (Cullinan, Dullstroom, Graskop, Pretoria, Aardklop, Potchefstroom and Richmond) determined by Harrie’s many other business interests.
Like in Richmond where an old supermarket packed with broken pinball machines was turned into a spacious art gallery, Harrie was having a pancake at a small café in Graskop when before he knew it, he was the owner of a pancake joint with two burners. Many years later it has been turned into a flourishing business with Harrie’s Pancakes thriving in Graskop, Cullinan, Dullstroom and in Pretoria with a Delagoa Arts and Crafts alongside.
Further expansion in Graskop also includes a hotel where it really all began and where some of his favourite artists were asked to decorate the rooms, which allow visitors the delight of sleeping in a space filled with not only the individual artist’s art, but also a real sense of the artist. A gallery similar to that in Richmond also features in this Mpumalanga town with space that artists can usually just dream of.
There’s always something happening in their art world. MAPSA has commissioned site-specific installations and published limited edition monographs while artist’s residencies, workshops and retreats are ongoing at different properties in Richmond.
They constantly engage with the community and well as dealing with the challenges facing contemporary artists. They are determined to make a difference and to contribute to change and development whenever possible. Collaboration is something they encourage and nurture and with Harrie and Abrie a dynamic duo backed by the rest of the team, including the logistic genius, executive manager Morné Ramsay, they are constantly at work to provide creative opportunities to artists from around the country as well as Richmond inhabitants.
For people tackling the N1 in any direction, Richmond is the perfect stop for a stayover. The first time I did this with family and friends, finding ourselves the next morning with mugs of coffee still in pyjamas in a gallery with spectacular art – in the middle of the Karoo – was simply magical and unexpected. And still feels unreal and something to be cherished with every stopover.
That’s what art can do for you. It keeps on giving in the most imaginative fashion and when you have someone like Harrie with the team he has surrounded himself with as he would, you know that you have to keep an eye on what they come up with next.
On site in Richmond for example, they also have an extraordinary Bookbinding Project overseen by artist Mongezi Mcombo, an Artist Proof Studio alumni, who also produces his own work on the premises, OpenLab, a biennial project where artists can explore site-based public interventions, an interdisciplinary laboratory, the yearly Land Art Project for art students of the University of the Free State under the guidance of Professor Willem Boshoff (how can you resist with the never-ending vistas of the Karoo) and an informal Clay Brick Making Collaboration. And this sentence should really be open-ended because they are constantly coming up with yet another collaboration or creative venture that adds to MAPSA’s art experience.
Staying over is an option, but not everyone wants to take such a specific break when on the road. In that instance, Richmond is the perfect turn-off for a well-deserved artistic break. Pick up a MAPSA art walk map from the gallery, which will point you in the right direction to include their magnificent contemporary art collection. Also discover Willem Boshoff’s dictionary Word Woes (which as the title suggests works in different ways when read in either Afrikaans and English) as well as work by Strijdom van der Merwe, Johan Moolman, Gordon Froud and Abrie Fourie in the connected Sculpture Garden.
Included in this space is also the previously mentioned bookbinding project and Ella Ziegler’s Does The Ground Feel Tears?, a text-based work using handmade alphabet bricks, a MAPSA collaboration with local brickmaker Trevor Snyders.
Sculptor Guy du Toit has added his version of Two Thousand and Ten Reasons to Live in a Small Town, a public art project facilitated by VANSA and funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, which has many different goals incorporated in a single project.
The latest in the MAPSA series is Richard John Forbes’s Black Room (see more detailed story following in this space) which will blow your mind and give you a sense of experiencing art in a very distinct and visceral manner.
Add to that MAPSA’s fruit and veg garden, Hoggie Viljoen’s indigenous garden as well as Shane de Lange’s text-based work The Fence and Hannelie Coetzee’s Tokkas, Londa and Oom Samuel engraved on a plastered wall.
If all of this sounds quite hectic, this is just a taster and not even half of it. But it can all be explored in your own time. I would simply start with the gallery, have a wander through the sculpture garden and then see how much more is possible or keep the rest for the trip back or whenever you pass through Richmond again.
It can easily turn into a lifelong and life-enhancing discovery.
The latest addition to Richmond’s surprisingly bustling art scene is BLACK ROOM recently established by sculptor Richard John Forbes who opened the door during the town’s annual book festival in the last week of October. DIANE DE BEER speaks to the artist:
What you find in Black Room, is a collection of his work of the last 15 years.
It’s all still a project in flux and one that flourished due to synchronicity, believes the artist. When standing quietly and motionless just after entering the Black Room, what you discover is that this is a place where the artist, his work and the space found one another, and the winner is the viewer.
It all happened when Richard was in transit between Joburg and George where he was moving – and lives now – and the work was waiting to be moved from the north to the south. By the grace of how these things happen, Harrie Siertsema of Modern Art Projects South Africa (MAPSA) had a space looking for transformation, loved the work and Forbes’ ethos, and voila!
While Richard, always the philosophical one, doesn’t believe in luck but rather coincidence, he knows that what has been happening these past few months with his work – and the future to come – is meant to be.
He works predominantly with large sculptures, quite a limiting niche to occupy, because it is art that is bought mainly by serious collectors and institutions. Synchronicity plays an especially large role because of the way he works and produces, and when you walk into Black Room it makes sense with it all coming together.
He feels there’s a kind of providence about this specific exhibition and space, with Richmond on one of the main tributaries in the country (N1). It is meant to be seen and it seems the stars have aligned.
As an artist, he has often been told that his work is unpredictable. To my mind, with Richard being an artist, that’s a compliment. But, as with most things in life, people want you to keep producing the thing that perhaps made the biggest impact. That’s just not who he is. From start to finish he is about change and movement. Even the individual pieces move.
He has also changed mediums. He started out as a painter, one who loved colour. Since he turned to sculpting, he prefers to stay with the colour (or lack thereof) of the material he is working with.
The word that has been used to describe what he does is ‘erratic’ and yet, there’s no sign of that in Black Room, which has brought many of his big pieces together enabling a conversation. “When I put them all together, there was a flow with the different pieces communicating with one another,” he says. “It was so exciting and I really hope that many people get to experience this.”
And if I could do anything to help and encourage, this is it. Being in Black Room with the artist is a privilege. While these creative individuals are often reluctant to speak too much about their work, Forbes explains that his partner, Kate has encouraged exactly that. She believes that it can only enhance the work if the artist shares something about the process.
“I always felt that I had spoken my words in art, but she has taught me that I need to express myself,” he explains and in the process perhaps accessing the work more easily for the viewer.
As such, because he is seldomly around, he has introduced quite a few aids to help viewers to engage with his work. One of these was to invite a 10-year-old niece (living in the UK) to read his poem that’s a kind of introduction to the exhibition and now can be listened to instead of just being read. And there’s more, which should allow passers-by to access the art easily.
With this work all gathered together, he introduces different themes and layers. As the viewer standing in this dark room with light intruding as much as you wish, there seems to be a kind of silence before the storm – something which permeates the work, one piece even representing a tornado with everything else seeming to flow from that. “I feel there’s a bit of a storm in the room and it is important for me to have governance over that storm,” he says.
He adds that there are things in the universe that leave us in awe or that scare us and hopefully some of what you experience in the room filled with Forbes’ art is a pathway to navigate some of those feelings.
“People who have visited this work told me that at first they felt fear or confusion, a feeling of lostness,” he says, but he doesn’t want to elaborate more because it is something that people need to experience individually. And as is often the case, it’s all about who you are and what you discover that determines the experience. “The artist is a filter for the world and what filters out is his experience.”
Personally I felt an immediate emotional connection to the space – quite turbulent. But then everything went very still …
What we then do with what we see and understand will be different for everyone. And that is what Richard enjoys, seeing how people experience his work and the effect it has on them. Just being in his presence, his excitement about the work is extraordinary. It’s what creatives do. They make something, put their feelings on display and allow you to do with it what you will.
Another unexpected bonus of Richard’s Richmond experiment is not working in isolation. Being an artist in a studio can be a lonely occupation but once you start collaborating with others, it becomes a community. This is exactly what he found while working on the installation in Black Room.
Once he started talking to Harrie and they discovered similar obsessions with the tone (or lack thereof) of black, his journey took on new twists and turns – hence Black Room. Apart from the sculptures, it’s also black that keeps evolving and that keeps Richard engaged and playing. “Black became more and more significant in my work,” he says as he experiments with all kinds of ways to create a specific tone, a different dramatic effect. It is his curiosity about materiality that drives this particular experimentation, like when he works in paper pulp or burns charcoal, all of which imbues his work with energy.
With this current exhibition, Richard’s dream, which was sent into the universe, has come true. “All I want is a curator that allows me to be the expansive person I’m meant to be,” he says.
And in stepped Harrie Siertsema … and his team including curator Abrie Fourie, executive manager Morné Ramsay and the list goes on.
And we, the viewers, benefit from an experience that’s all heart.
I am fascinated by the idea that the greatest architecture in the city has happened by accident
Hustles – Five Years Of Local Studio by architect Thomas Chapman with photographer Dave Southwood:
Because of the time I’m writing in, I couldn’t speak to the author(s) face to face, but really didn’t need to, because they state their purpose so clearly in the book Hustle – Five years of Local Studio by Thomas Chapman (Photographer: David Southwood).
The title, explains the architect Thomas Chapman, refers to the “opportunistic process of becoming local – of using design to solve urban problems amidst immense financial and time constraints – and throughout this process, trying to hustle an architectural product that is present, engaged, hopeful and ultimately, never boring”.
Knowing a few of their buildings but also having read this book, they can never be accused of that – boring! No sir!
With this book then, Thomas wanted to capture the spirit of the five past years of his practice, which consisted entirely of projects that required hustling of some form or another to get the project done.
In the meantime, he states, while compiling the book, they have embarked on a new phase for the practice with “more trusting clients, (slightly) bigger project budgets and hence a greater refinement in design and construction.
He admits to it being tempting to include some of these projects to extract value from what was becoming a very expensive book, but he resolved to draw the line at 99 Juta, at the time their most recently completed project in Braamfontein, which he thought still captured the spirit of Local Studio as a start-up.
Their choice of photographer, David Southwood, a self-proclaimed human rights photographer, is someone whose pictures of their work made them change the way they saw and contextualised their work so that they started thinking differently about people in cities.
David recalls their first meeting in the book and quotes something he said on their drive: “I like photographing architecture, but I much prefer photographing scenes which embed the built form into the street and render the structure as a continuum of its context, if in fact they are at all connected. In fact the photos of architecture that I have done which I like the most obscure the structure almost entirely.” As it turned out, the architect and the photographer were a perfect match.
He remarked further on in this introduction: “The only way a practice can include as many street photographs as this in a monograph is if they are genuinely concerned with the street. Local Studio is obsessed with the street. The street is the immediate material context in Johannesburg if you are building, where the urban fabric is rough and unkempt.”
Familiar with the following project, the Outreach Foundation in Hillbrow, because of the Hillbrow Theatre where Gerard Bester is involved, this is also one of the projects I want to focus on here.
Gerard explains in a piece about this complex that the theatre provides a space for inner-city children and youth. It serves the neighbourhood and after-school programmes are held. The theatre was there, but in 2009 they raised some money for a homework centre. After workshops and discussions were held with Thomas, what emerged was a building that now houses the computer centre, dance studio, boardroom and offices of the youth centre.
He explains further that though Hillbrow has negative connotations for outsiders, “I think the people that actually live in Hillbrow, have made it their own.”
Even though it is one of the city’s toughest neighbourhoods, he believes that we have to keep “engaging an exercise in imagining what Hillbrow can be, and not oppose that; to absolutely engage with the people that reside in the neighbourhood, and not gentrify it but to create meaningful, authentic change.”
Which is exactly what has been happening with the project he is engaged with – creating a safe space that is also open and accessible.
Pretty close by is (was) the Hill Street Café, a steel restaurant pavilion built as a temporary structure on the foundations of a demolished lunatic asylum in Jozi’s historical Old Fort (just above the Constitutional Court) which was designed to last 2 years but eventually stood for four.
I can remember doing an interview with Gerard there about the Hillbrow Theatre and it’s a pity that the structure, which was erected there specifically to commemorate the space where the Asylum stood, has been removed. It was a warm and embracing space with great coffee and I remember cool service.
The other building which I am familiar with is the one that also houses the brilliant Breezeblock Café in Brixton. Called Fullham Heights, Thomas notes that it is one of the first projects to demonstrate the principals and guidelines of the Johannesburg Corridors of Freedom policy. It looks to promote mixed-use development and residential densification in neighbourhoods adjacent to the recently completed BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) network.
He explains that the building is a conversion of an old corner shop, which had been a Chinese restaurant and subsequently rented by Local Studio as office space prior to its purchase for redevelopment.
Now the building houses the funky Café and Whippet Cycle Company on the ground floor, Local Studio on the first floor and two residential units on the top floor. The new structure contrasts with the original concrete facade and pavement colonnade, which were restored as part of the project.
These are simply two projects selected because I am familiar with them, but there is so much more to this book. One needs to see the full scope to understand the ethos. Even if the firm is bigger and reaching higher, I can hardly believe that with this kind of creative compass, their work doesn’t still remain in this kind of contemporary African city mind space.
And what would be even better would be to buy the book and do your own guided tours to discover a city you probably weren’t even aware exists.
“Hidden Pretoria places the buildings of our capital city in the spotlight,” writes author Johan Swart, Lecturer and Curator Archive collections Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria.
The word Hidden in the title also suggests that much of what is showcased would not all be obvious to even Pretoria residents and for those visiting, would serve as an exciting guide to the many spectacular buildings in the city.
Even having worked in the city centre for most of my life, I was only vaguely familiar with a mosque right in the centre of the city which had through the years become hidden because of certain buildings that obscure it from the public eye.
But because of Swart’s architectural eye and non-Pretorian photographer Alain Proust’s specific and individualistic way of looking at and capturing buildings, the beauty or unusual features of even a familiar building emerge much more strongly.
“With the Hidden Pretoria project the publisher was looking to work with someone in the academic sphere. My focus area at the university is local (South African) architectural heritage which was a good fit with the project.
“ It also made sense for a Pretoria-based academic to take on this task, as a great amount of effort went into ‘location scouting’ and access arrangements for which I called in a number of favours within local architectural and conservation networks. I also have access to a number of archives and libraries that contain information about sites in Pretoria,” explained Swart.
He also had the difficult task of appeasing the highly critical academics among whom he finds himself, while ensuring that the book is accessible to a much wider audience at the same time. “I needed the book to be a responsible account of the architectural history of our city, something that could be prescribed to a student at our department, but also a book that these students would be able to lend to their family and friends as an enjoyable read.” And he certainly pulled that off.
It’s clear that he did extensive fieldwork before selecting buildings for inclusion in the book, and he says that only places that he had visited and where he saw (and felt) a deep quality of place were chosen.
The book serves as a reminder of what the city holds. “Architecturally, Pretoria’s buildings tell the story of a 19th Century republican outpost ignited by the politics of the British Empire, transformed through apartheid-era restructuring and evolving into a 21st century African metropolis,” writes Swart.
In the initial stages, the book posed many challenging questions. For example, which buildings are the most representative of Pretoria’s architectural legacy? What contribution can this publication make to the historical record? How can a broad audience be introduced to the city and its buildings?
His answers to these served a number of aims: Hidden Pretoria is both a momentary snapshot of spaces that might soon change or vanish, drawing attention to their incredible value and potential, and a photographic documentation of the city, structured and written as an architectural survey. Diverse hidden spaces are exposed, he explains, and ultimately the range of buildings captures the collective spatial identity of the city.
The theme dictated that the book be curated as a journey of discovery revealing a series of surprising spaces in a manner not accessible to the majority of readers. This is enhanced by Proust’s particular eye for a picture.
He has collaborated with Struik Lifestyle for decades, so he was the obvious choice for the Hidden series of which Pretoria is the third city following Johannesburg and Cape Town.
“But apart from that,” says Swart, “I also believe he is one of the best architectural photographers around, the style of his photographs are straightforward in terms of angles and perspective but incredibly good in terms of light, colour and focus etc.”
He was thrilled that Proust managed to get incredible quality and richness out of even the most elemental architectural moments. “He was at moments surprised with the quality of buildings and spaces in Pretoria and I believe the journey of discovery that we embarked on also enthused him to capture the best of Pretoria for a wider South African audience.”
Many of the spaces lie just beyond the surface of known facades, notes Swart. “Historical buildings such as the Palace of Justice and Old Standard Bank are well-known neoclassical edifices in full public view that hide beautifully articulated interior volumes.”
Specifically to capture the intent of the book, the cover picture captures exactly that ethos. It is the most dramatic example of a hidden treasure behind a relatively nondescript facade right in the heart of the city.
The author also explains that some buildings are not only architecturally important but also worth exploring for the hidden objects. The works of artists like Alexis Preller and Walter Battiss, for example, remain locked in the abandoned TPA Building and like the mosque, some buildings are hidden because of their urban context.
For city dwellers themselves, some of the facades have disappeared simply because of familiarity and the interiors are quite breath-taking, yet we walk past them sometimes on a daily basis never having ventured inside.
One of Swart’s aims was to inspire a general awareness and appreciation of the architectural heritage of the city. All the selected buildings are of heritage value and their relevance in the present, can be measured according to a number of themes.
As an architect who works in academia himself, he argues most succinctly and with each building or site also details many facts that would be unknown to those of us who simply see an interesting or historical building – some which we might even in these past decades have turned our backs on.
He points out, for example, that the Dutch Reformed churches at Universiteitsoord and Burgerspark are of particular architectural and historical interest because they’re illustrative of the Regionalist and Brutalist design approaches that prevailed in the 1960s. Both the Voortrekker Monument and Freedom Park have value as spaces of reflection and debate as they present as reference points for dialogue about identity and memory.
Those who know and visit Marabastad for some extraordinary shopping and food or drive past on their way to the city centre, would have noticed the extraordinary Mariamman Temple, a place of gathering and an anchor point for the identity of its faith community, says Swart, as he goes on to point out many more features of Pretoria’s unique architecture.
Some would argue about the choices, and others might miss some of their favourites, but no one could be critical about the way the city is showcased from both a public and private point of view.
I loved the few private homes chosen; the fact that the home and work space one of our best artists, Angus Taylor, is featured. Or that House Jooste (Pretorians will know it as Brasserie de Paris) is featured as a homage to Le Corbusier as well as for locals who have a taste for French cuisine and Brutalist architecture. And then there’s Ora Joubert’s Ivy Villa Studio which makes a specific architectural statement, which was also its intent. She has been critical of the mediocrity of design in too many of our suburbs and has taken great pleasure in breaking that mould.
Whichever way you want to use or look at this book – whether a resident of the city or a visitor – it has been beautifully crafted from the selection of buildings and places to show. Extraordinary photographs and informed research guide the traveller, and finally, all come together to present something which is much more than a coffee table book.
And a final word from the author: “Even as a Pretorian who knows the city rather well, I was once again surprised with the intriguing and beautiful places that are to be found in and around the city. It takes a good amount of effort to discover and explore our cities but the personal reward makes it worthwhile.
Polley’s Arcade was named after Polley’s Hotel which stood on the site previously. The sweeping staircase is one of the city’s hidden treasures cherished especially among Pretoria’s architectural community. The intricate floor was built with off-cuts from a stonemason’s yard, which architect, Norman Eaton, used to create an ever-changing woven texture that reflected his interest in African patterns and surfaces.
Burlington Arcade is lined with small shops and the original shopfronts supplied by Frederick Sage & Co are still in place.
“ I have a much more comprehensive and embodied understanding of our city after completing this project. It is also remarkable once we start understanding the incredible financial, architectural and social investment that was spent in the making of these special buildings, Pretoria really does have a ‘grand’ architectural legacy to take pride in and be inspired by.
“Another surprise is how wide the spectrum is along which the condition (state of conservation) of buildings can be placed, a surprising amount of heritage buildings in the city really is in almost pristine condition, where other sites are in complete and indefensible decay, perhaps this reflects something of the schizophrenic nature of South African society in general.”
Hopefully Hidden Pretoria will highlight the neglect of some of our hidden treasures, remind citizens of their architectural riches and enlighten visitors who might think the city only offers the Union Building with the monumental Mandela statue and the Voortrekker Monument. There is that but also so much more.
Pretoria has some of the best markets in the country and one of those, Market@theSheds, is probably still one of the best kept secrets in town.
Part of the reason is because it happens in the city at 012central, the trendy arts precinct in Pretoria CBD.
And importantly, first things first, there’s safe parking. Find free parking at 216 Sisulu Street which provides direct access to the market. Overflow parking is available at the State Theatre, 140m away from the main entrance at 381 Helen Joseph street.
This coming market on Saturday is really one for music lovers. Best of the Sheds Music Festival is the grand finalé for 2019 and the emphasis is on local. Throughout the year, more than 60 talented local bands and musicians perform on stage at the monthly Market@TheSheds.
Once a year, people get the chance to see the year’s favourite bands and musicians with this action-packed Best of the Sheds Music Festival. It truly is Tshwane’s best showcase of the finest local artists and bands.
Tshwane School of Music
On the schedule, Gina Mabasa
Brian Themba to perform at Best of the Sheds Music Festival
If music is your thing, this is a fantastic venue to catch the vibe. Join the festivities on Saturday (November 30) and see more than 10 live bands in action. What is described as the ultimate line-up includes The Muffinz, Brian Temba, Morayks, Pedro Barbosa, Gina Mabasa, 1520, The Tshwane School of Music, Lehlohonolo Ntsoko, Chievosky and Zebra.
A feast of food at Market@theSheds Picture: Ofentse Baanda
Having fun at Market@theSheds Picture: Kudzaishe Gumbo
What makes Best of The Sheds different from their usual market experience? It’s more than just a vibe-driven art, fashion, food and a designer show. Complimenting the music festival, there is a festive market with over 40 designer stalls stocked with colourful, locally produced products. It’s a perfect opportunity to shop the market streets and find quirky gifts while having a great time with family and friends.
Market@theSheds has always meant different things to different people. Personally it’s people watching and fantastic food for me although music is a big part of the market’s success. But if you want less noise and more kuier, it’s best to go earlier in the day rather than later, when the party really gets going.
Pretoria’s hip inner-city market is where you will find delicious gourmet street food, craft beer, gin and cocktail stalls and the open-air courtyard with a jumping castle makes it fun for the whole family. But it’s also a place where those with true Tshwane style hang out – both the parents and their kids.
If you’re checking for classy street vibes or high-end individual style that seems ready to vogue, this is where you’ll find it.
Tickets can be bought on-line at Quicket. Online tickets are R120 pp and entrance at the gate will be R 150 pp. Kids under 12 come in free.
It’s time to shop, play, dance, be merry and have fun with family and friends.
Market@theSheds is the place to start the discovery of a city you think you know. It is a project of the Capital Collective, a non-profit organisation promoting rejuvenation efforts in the inner-city. And it’s working. Don’t miss out being part of this hidden jewel of the inner city. It’s a blast, every last Saturday of the month.
And this one will be happening with a music line-up of note.
Today, October 7, is World Architecture Day. Tshwane’s latest art centre opened on Heritage Day. Featuring a clutch of galleries as well as offering a brand-new architectural feature on the edges of the University of Pretoria’s Hatfield and South campuses, DIANE DE BEER gets the lowdown from architect Pieter Mathews whose firm Mathews and Associates designed the Javett Art Centre (Javett-UP):
It’s been a long haul for Mathews and Associates with the first concept design penned in 2012, but finally the time has come for the magnificent building and the art to be revealed and to determine that their initial goal to create a space that will activate the connection between art and architecture has been achieved. Time will tell but everything seems to point in that direction.
For lead architect Pieter Mathews (helped by project architect Liam Purnell and assisted by project dedicated architects Carla Spies and Jannes Hattingh) the specific site (one of three options) was selected because of its proximity to the Boukunde Building and the Visual Arts Building which flank the Art Centre. “They should all be in conversation,” he says, which is what influenced certain aspects of the design and the materials used.
It also contributes to the easy nestling of what is an enormous group of structures into the established landscape.
Mathews describes the style as Neo Brutalism. “Brutalism is part of the architecture history of South Africa (and worldwide) and was especially popular in the 60s and early 70s. What it means is to use the material in an honest way. Concrete which has a soul of its own is simply cast and left like that. Aesthetics are determined by the building method and the way the materials are used in its most brutal form.”
American architect Louis Isadore Kahn, known as the world leader in brutalism, most famously captured the concept with the following quote: “Even a brick wants to be something.”
In that spirit Mathews describes the abstract and brutal “mountain” of concrete (created by a local concrete shuttering firm) and representing the Mapungubwe Gallery – which is home to the world-famous Mapungubwe Gold Collection with the golden rhino – as honouring the honesty of the construction methods of brutalism with the natural elements of concrete coming alive as it will show signs of ageing throughout its life. Natural light casts patterns changing throughout the day. It’s the standout feature of the centre.
Perhaps one of brutalism’s strongest features is what captured his imagination specifically when designing the Javett-UP. “Buildings appear as if they have been there forever,” he explains, which is important in especially this university set-up.
Linked to the Mapungubwe Gallery by Museum Square (with a restaurant to the side and an outside exhibition space) are a selection of public galleries (nine in total, together with the two student galleries below Art Square). The public art galleries will display the best from the collections of the Javett Foundation (lead donor on the project) and the University of Pretoria, as well as various temporary exhibitions with arguably a more contemporary slant.
The Centre also includes a 117-seat auditorium, administrative offices, storage, art conservation and quarantine areas.
The Javett-UP was designed to embrace both the space and the surrounding buildings, and while it might achieve iconic status, it shouldn’t stand in isolation. He was also intent on linking the Art Centre with the campus from every possible angle which makes access easy from different vantage points. This was a Centre that had to function for both public and educational purposes.
The gallery space extends across Lynnwood Road via a bridge (Bridge Gallery) which brings together the Hatfield and South Campus. As another outstanding feature, the most visually accessible, it has been turned into an eye-catching attribute wrapped in lightweight concrete panels that reaches across the exterior and interior based on the much-loved “shweshwe” fabric. It displays different patterns and designs depending on the time of day as shadow and light come into play, turning it into a spectacular showcase when it is lit at night.
For the architect it seems as if a bank of fairy lights is sparkling in the middle of the road through this dashing design which symbolises strong, embracing South African connections across a wide spectrum.
If you haven’t noticed the new building yet, it’s fast becoming a landmark as you travel up and down Lynnwood Road. The bridge spills out onto University Square with the student galleries positioned below and then extends into the historic Tukkie Laan linking the Art Centre with the main campus. The squares are specifically placed to gather people. “People attract people,” says Mathews with the one easily accessible to the public and the other gathering the students from the campus.
Mathews wanted a building with no bling or shine, something he has achieved with his design and building materials.
Patterns at play on the bridge.
Javett-UP patterns reimagined.
Patterns on the bridge
They had to find a method of linking the various elements like the bridge patterned panels, the faceted concrete shell structure of the Mapungubwe “mountain”, galvanised steel pergolas which again repeats the “shweshwe” design and all the other building elements. Colour was the most obvious solution. As the structure is dominated by the hue of concrete – a natural light grey emerged as the leitmotif. When they wanted to separate various elements, they used charcoal as the shadow colour.
Mathews is the instigator of Cool Capitol, the world’s first uncurated, DIY guerrilla biennale that is a place for citizens of the Capital City to collectively contemplate and express their love for their city – and how to improve it. He and his Cool Capital team also hosted and designed the 2017 South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
He has declared himself an ambassador for the visual environment and it is this blend of art and architecture, part of his DNA, which made him and his team, the perfect match for the Javett Art Centre – UP.
Even though they had to survive many hills and valleys with the building of this monumental project, he declared from the start: “I am very confident in the collective brain at work here.”
Now we’re simply waiting for the art to come alive on this spectacular stage.
Go to https://javettup.art for more information. Open times are daily from 10am to 5pm and apart from the exquisite building also shows collections of spectacular African art.
The Department of Consumer and Food Sciences of the University of Pretoria is hosting a special dinner to celebrate our indigenous food of which some of these ingredients will be foraged on their Future Africa Campus. DIANE DE BEER spoke to botanist and curator Jason Sampson as well as some of the other participants about this exciting concept:
This is not the first time the students of Consumer and Food Sciences will focus on indigenous ingredients, but it is their first foray into the Future Africa Campus.
The gardens at Future Africa were purposefully designed and developed to cultivate and produce edible and indigenous plants. “We developed a menu to celebrate and use some of these ingredients in the menu that were available and as it was the end of the season for some of these products, we were able to harvest them and include them in our menu (like water chestnuts and makataan),” explained associate professor Gerrie Du Rand in charge of the Hospitality Management Final year students who will be preparing the dinner.
“What is exciting about this garden is the fact that many of these plants are unusual and not freely available and it provided our students the opportunity to celebrate these ingredients in a challenging manner with an unusual menu.”
Much of the expertise and help was given by botanist Jason Sampson from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, the man responsible for among others the botanical garden on the main campus of the University of Pretoria which holds a collection of living plants that is scientifically managed for the purposes of education, research, conservation as well as community service.
Known as the Manie van der Schiff Botanical Gardens, the aim is to raise awareness of our indigenous plant heritage and if you’re fortunate to be taken around the campus by Sampson, it’s as if the campus becomes a living organism with aloe walks on the Hillcrest campus and his magnificent fully fledged plant wall for the masterfully designed Plant Science building which functions as insulation as well as an aesthetically pleasing feature while also mimicking the natural habitat of some very unique plants.
From the rose garden which was replaced by an aloe garden in front of the admin building (possibly the most visible ship structure on the most southern point of the campus), to what is referred to as a living laboratory, the rainwater harvesting plant (which is part of the Mining Engineering Study Centre of UP with a series of rain garden ponds and a storage tank which was installed as a reactive storm-water control system), someone has a firm eye on sustainability in these expansive grounds and to the scarcity of water in the future.
Working with UP’s resident architect, Neal Dunstan, they saved the university a stack of money but also created a system that harvests enough water for the glorious botanical gardens.
“The aloes haven’t been watered for six months,” he says and of course, that’s the point. And as you drive further through the campus, the signs of replanting and water-resistant plants are overwhelming. You just have to pay attention. This is truly forward thinking.
All of these projects and unique plant species are also available for study purposes as are the gardens that Sampson is involved in on the Future Africa campus. “There are quite a few master and doctorate studies to be done here,” says the man who describes his role on the new campus as “advising and interfering”.
And believe me he will. But with his passion for and knowledge of especially indigenous flora and to the benefit of the Consumer and Food Sciences students, a love for food, he will walk you through those gardens, still only in their infancy, and if you listen to him talking, have dishes rolling off his tongue.
His conversation centres on edible gardens, food forests and the need to diversify food crops which also leads to wild food plants. Today the world is dependent on five staples – none of which come from Africa. He points to the Irish food famine for example as a country that was solely dependent on one staple – and then starved. He knows this is a simplistic version but is also a reminder of food shortages and famine in the future.
“We need to focus on our little known orphan and African crops,” and here he points to examples like African berries (of which there are different kinds), a local grape version that instead of a bunch, forms single large grapes on a rounded bush or as an exotic example, the dragon fruit cactus which he is especially keen on as a vining waterwise fruit which could substitute for grapes to make what he believes will be excellent wine.
Cactus is a thing that he feels can be used in different ways (“eat the weeds”) and he is also keen on a sugar sorghum which delivers two food crops: wheat and sugar.
It’s one of the strengths he argues one finds in African crops. Most modern crops are single usage crops where a marula for example has multiple outputs. We would use the fruit, the nut, the bark and there would be a medicinal purpose introduced as well.
He feels we have been behind the times with indigenous planting (and he’s not against bringing in a few exotics). Some of his current plants in the Future Africa gardens include big-leafed spekboom (a different version of the plant that has become so fashionable in the past few years), Lowveld chestnuts that grow only around Mbombela and Barberton, the Pondoland coconut which is almost extinct in the wild, a horned cucumber which is farmed commercially in New Zealand and grows wild throughout Southern Africa, a makataan (wild watermelon) – and he can go on and on and give numerous ways of using these edible plants in innovative ways.
That’s exactly what the students were tasked to do. Research a menu, take the guidance from Sampson and then harvest what they need for their specific menu. What they have come up with is a truly innovative forward-thinking meal under the guidance of a student tasked with putting together a menu: Zandile Finxa. They also had to stick to a curriculum which not only introduces the different local ingredients but also a range of cooking methods.
It starts with an arrival snack consisting of a savoury Msoba (nightshade berry) panna cotta, aloe and spekboom salad and wild African sage (of which Sampson says, there are 27 different species in South Africa alone!).
The starter is a panfried Amadumbe gnocchi with African water chestnut mash (found with what will become a huge crop of waterblommetjies in the rainwater harvesting pond), roasted balsamic beetroot, guinea fowl with beetroot extract and biltong; followed by a mains of seared sous-vide Kudu loin with ting (sorghum) prepared risotto style, butter-tossed waterblommetjies, rooibos smoked carrots, creamed marogo and a venison red wine jus.
To end on a sweet note, there’s a chocolate and carob (of which the trees also grow at the university) macaron with milktart cream filling, amarula ice cream, horned melon and plumbago gell with a cinnamon and wild rosemary crumb.
Guests are then presented with a gift of glazed makataan (wild watermelon) and according to Sampson, this is a fruit of which the peel is considered to make the best watermelon preserve/jam and if you mix the fruit itself with pap, it’s lip-smacking.
The dinner will be pre-empted by a public lecture by Prof Herb Meiselman, an internationally known expert in sensory and consumer research, product development and food service who will deliver a public lecture on The influence of context/environment and psycho-graphics on product design and evaluation prior to the dinner for those who are interested.
Sensory and Consumer Research has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, moving from pure sensory research to a broad array of tests involving the psychology of the consumer and the place where testing and product consumption are done. While testing used to focus on the product being tested, it now includes the consumer and the environment.
Date: 7 August 2019 Time: 7pm for 7.30pm Venue: Future Africa Complex RSVP and Enquiries: Prof Gerrie du Rand, 012 420 3547 or email@example.com Tickets R300 per person.