Cape Town Artist · Kloof Street Cape Town · South African Street Artist · Surviving on the Street in Cape Town

An Artist Named Peter

In October of last year, I had the pleasure of spending time in Cape Town with two dear friends, Lisa and Klaus, who had come to South Africa to visit us.

Just outside the apartment building where we were staying, I noticed a fellow who would set up a row of paintings each morning complete with a handmade sign saying “Peter’s Art Gallery”.

We walked by Peter’s Art Gallery daily as we headed out to explore the city.  One painting caught my eye:


So one day, I approached Peter, telling him that I liked his work. He chatted about being an artist and how when he was painting, it took him to another place and how the rest of the world just slipped away. Without knowing it, he was of course, discussing the concept of drawing from the right side of the brain. It was a happy chat and I purchased the painting of what’s called a “Township Taxi” here in South Africa. It’s a shared minivan that provides affordable, although often dangerous, transport for the majority for the populace. This one, operated by his brother, Boeta, and now hangs in my home office. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

Here’s the artist at work in the tophat he always wears:


I returned to Cape Town in February of this year and hoped Peter might have another painting that I might like to buy.  I was surprised that he only had two paintings for sale and this one tells it all:


Angry Peter was a new aspect of Artist Peter. I stopped to chat and he told me that some street thugs has stolen all his paintings, so the above painting was his warning to them. An interesting enough painting, but not one I saw myself living with. I left feeling saddened that a guy with such a tough life already, who was working hard to earn some cash, was robbed. Maddening.

On my most recent trip, I stopped by to see Peter again who was in a much better mood.  He had a wonderful large work of a cow painted on a door that he tried to convince me to buy. (Sadly, it was sold the next day before I go a photo of it.) Peter scrounges for materials to paint on and so the size of each painting is dictated by what he finds. Another painting was of his cat trying to wake him that I liked very much but it was was too large to fit into my little carry-on bag. He said, “Come by tomorrow and I will paint one just for you.” Sure enough at 8 the next morning, I strolled by to to pick up this painting, smears and all,  on my way to the airport. Thank you Peter!



Life in Johannesburg

Yield Not

I often think about the differences between life back home in Canada and life here in Joburg. In both cities, we live very close to elementary schools.  Without much commentary, I think that the signs posted outside our local schools tell the story of two very different cultures.

First, a sign from our local Toronto school:

St Brunos

Despite having been battered by the elements, it still carries a positive hopeful message.

Here’s the sign for our neighbourhood Joburg school for students the same age as the Toronto school:


Complete with shield and sword, warning children from Grade 1-7 to “Yield Not”. As an adult, I’m not even sure what it means!

But step around the corner and Montrose has a softer kinder message for the kiddies–a theme carried through right to the top of that fence!






















In Botswana, they call it “pula”


To the north of central South Africa lies the beautiful land-locked country of Botswana. The arrival of rain is eagerly awaited there.  Rain is so integral to this semi-arid country that the word “pula” is not only the word for rain but is a greeting and a blessing and is also the name of Botswanan currency, as in “This costs 100 pula”.  Botswanans get the importance of pula.

Milky puddles of rain


South Africa is also water scarce country, but you would never know it. In prosperous cities, large homes are surrounded by verdant gardens and a rarely used swimming pool is essential. The country is dotted with small dams, not for hydro-electric purposes, but to store water. I am not sure if there are any natural lakes in the country at all!

It is only the extreme drought in Cape Town and the Western Cape has started to build water awareness. As the city races to build desalination plants and takes other measures to save water, only about 50% of the residents have cut back their water usage to the required 50 litres per person per day.  Acquifers are being drained by borehole usage in order to keep private gardens green.   The date has repeatedly been changed for when the Mother City will run out of water, but if the dams are only 18% full, how much longer can it be? The week after the July tap turn off date was delayed, water consumption jumped by 5%. What will it take for 50% of the population of 4 million to take the drought seriously? Even if Cape Town has a good rainy season (which should start soon. Fingers crossed.), it will not be enough to undo three successive years of low rainfall and extremely hot weather.

At one point, the South African Minister of Water and Sanitation sent a request to the country to pray for rain— evidence of just how well the government has bungled the management of the crisis when prayer is the best solution she can come up with!

While winter is the rainy season in the Cape, the opposite is true here in Joburg. Summer is ending, nights are cooling off and days are getting shorter, but we are still getting rain and plenty of it.  The last few days, we’ve had intermittent soft gentle rain which is rare in this city. I have always said that the rain in Joburg is like the city: aggressive and violent. Rain usually pounds down in the company of thunder, lightning and hail. This gentle soaking rain is a lovely way to wind down the rainy season. The garden is green and our tiny lemon tree has about a dozen still green lemons.

The dams in Gauteng (a small province primarily composed of Joburg and Pretoria) are nearly full and we all breathe a collective sigh of relief but the common refrain is “If we could only send this rain to Cape Town……”, 1400 kilometres (870 miles) away.

The rainy season, under normal circumstances starts in May during the Cape “winter”.  Please send your wettest hopes and wishes to Cape Town so that we can all learn the true meaning of “pula”.


Hail in our garden






Marakele National Park

Baboon-Proof Kitchen

Recently, we spent a weekend at Marakele National Park. It’s not possible to call it camping as it is definitely glamping. The Park has lots of  baboons who are always on the lookout for an easy meal. They are smart enough to open fridges, doors and cupboards, so the Park has created the Baboon-Proof Kitchen. And it works- as long as you remember to keep it padlocked!


Fortunately as part of the set up, we had a nice covered patio as it rained most of the weekend.


But the best is yet to come. Step inside our cozy little getaway:


Complete with crisp white bedding on very comfy beds– I could have stayed a week! And the luxury continues with…….


Our own bathroom in the tent complete with shower and hot running water. It doesn’t get any better than this!

Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me

“…the host of a fancy party in Aspen tried to explain a ‘very important’ new book about 19th century photography to her [Rebecca Solnit]– without giving her enough conversational airtime to explain that she was, in fact, the book’s author.”

-From an interview with Rebecca Solnit, Financial Times. 10 February 2018


Raise your hand if you’ve been there.

I see a sea of hands.

Here’s a link to the essay:

Altruism in Toronto

The Northern Ontario Effect

At the opening of 2018, when a good part of North America was experiencing below normal temps and we were sweltering in Joburg, I began to worry about our house in Toronto. What if the furnace conked out? All was well as my lovely upstairs tenants were there to keep me informed of any such thing. But, then, they left for two weeks of holidays……

I had the foresight to have left keys with two trusted neighbours and emailed one asking them to check on the house. They agreed to do it the moment they returned from their Christmas holidays the next day. All was well. Furnace was working. House was warm.

I’ll spare you the lengthy details, but due to neighbour Jackie and Andrew’s diligence, they discovered within a few hours of the furnace having conked out that a pipe froze and burst leaving a small flood in the basement. Completely without our knowledge, Good Samaritans Jackie and Andrew sprang into action with a wet-dry vac. Dehumidifiers and space heaters blazing, they set to dry out the basement. Learning of this in Joburg sent my head spinning of how this was going to be resolved long distance. Was this an insurance claim? Did I need to fly back and deal with this? Trying to assess the damage here in the Southern Hemisphere was a challenge and I can tell you there were a few tense days in this house. But with the wonders of Skype and WhatsApp and Andrew’s calm matter-of-fact approach, we were able to conclude that the water damage was no worse than the dampness of a good steam carpet cleaning (thanks to them) and to pals Boyd and Jo who stepped in to help.

But what remained was the matter of the (necessary) damage done by the plumber. He had to open up the wall in the bathroom and remove tiles to access the burst pipe. Who would do the repairs with new tenants moving in a few days hence? Andrew said “No problem”. He could do the repairs himself which he did and then refused payment except for the $36 he’d spent on materials.

Our sense of gratitude is enormous but even more is the awe of what these friends and neighbours took on for us. What could it be? Call it the “Northern Ontario Effect”—all of them, Jackie, Andrew and Boyd, grew up small town northern Ontario and all of them think nothing of going out of their way for others. Unbelievable in an era of self-absorption and appalling political hate. We need to spread the Northern Ontario Effect around the world fast.

And what was the cause of all this grief? A 9 volt battery.  The battery was in the furnace thermostat and when it went dead, it shut down the furnace. There was nothing wrong with the furnace at all and it continues to chug along keeping our house warm.

And the cause of the flood? Have a look at this cruel little smile.

Burst Pipe Pic_4736

Zimbabweans in South Africa

Fanuel, Part 2.

You’ll remember Fanuel from my last post. His story continues…… He works in our complex on Tuesdays and I usually bring him coffee and some cookies and we have a chat.  Last week, he told me he was looking to pick up extra work. I mentioned that I just saw a post on Our Hood that someone in the area was looking for a gardener and promised him I would pass on his contact info.

Today I was hoping to hear that he had picked up the extra work. He told me he had a pleasant meeting with the fellow who we’ll call “Mr. MC” (for Middle Class) and was offered the job. Then, Mr. MC asked Fanuel his rate to which he replied, “I work 8am to 3pm, no lunch break, for R300 ($30 Cdn)” Mr. MC counter offered R150! Fanuel reminded Mr. MC that out of that fee he had to pay his transport from the township where he lives, about $5-6 per day, leaving him $10 or less for his full day of work.  I asked apprehensively, “What did you do?”.  Fanuel, ever the diplomat, told me that he said, “No thank you” and walked away.  I told him how much I respected him for that decision.

It is the plight of workers everywhere– knowing what’s acceptable and what’s not and having the strength to stand up for yourself. With official unemployment at 25% in South Africa and the unofficial rate easily double that, unemployed Black South Africans are regularly offered substandard wages and are often forced to accept them out of desperation.  Foreign workers, like Fanuel from Zimbabwe and others from Malawi, are particularly vulnerable.  Knowing this makes me all the prouder of Fanuel and his decision regarding Mr. MC’s offer  He is worried about his paying his daughter’s school fees, but has the confidence and self-respect to walk away from unfair treatment. There’s a lot of xenophobia here regarding Zimbabweans, but I love their spirit! Go Fanuel!


PS Did I mention that Glen calls where we live the richest 3 square miles in all of Africa?

Zimbabweans in South Africa


A few days ago, I received this WhatsApp message from one of my neighbours in our small townhouse complex, “Fanuel is back and looking totally emaciated. Please would you be able to pop some money in an envelope and drop at # 8 or #9. No name. Whatever you can spare. It is the season of giving.” A few minutes later, this response arrived from Unit #7, “I have given him groceries, cooked food and a little cash already.”


Our Complex



Who is this Fanuel and why does he evoke such caring responses?  We live in a small townhouse complex of 18 units. There are two gardeners hired by the complex—both come from the same village in Zimbabwe, east of Bulawayo, and are, in fact, cousins. They are from the Ndebele tribe and the elder of the two, Cephas has been living in Joburg for 34 years, well before democracy.  I suspect that Cephas left the country because of Mugabe’s massacre of about 20,000 Ndebele from 1983-87 although he has never said as much.


But in a country with 90% unemployment currently, one can see why millions of Zimbabweans live and work in South Africa, sending money home to support their families.


Back to Fanuel. Like most people from Zim, they are lucky of they can get home once a year to see their spouses and families. Fanuel was very excited when I spoke with him in July as he was heading home for the month of August when his children were on their annual school holiday. His departure was delayed for two weeks when one of his other gardening clients headed off on her own holiday, neglecting to pay Fanuel prior to her departure.  He waited for two weeks for her return to get paid so he could start the long journey home by bus.  A month passed and he did not return. More weeks went by and no Fanuel. Cephas told me that while in Zim, Fanuel discovered that some of their cattle had been stolen.  Cattle is one’s wealth in countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana and Fanuel could not return without trying to track down the stolen beasts.


Fanuel was away so long that another gardener, Soft (yes, that’s his real name) from Malawi was hired.  I understood that we could wait no longer but felt badly for Fanuel, a lovely guy who resembles a young Thabo Mbeki.  Then I heard from Cephus that Fanuel was returning just prior to Cephus departing for Zim to spend Christmas with his family. I saw him for the first time and was struck by just how thin he was, yet when I asked about his wife and family, he broke out a huge smile and told me told me how well they all were doing and how great it had been to spend time with them again.


This is a Christmas story after all and it does have the happy ending with all of us stepping up to help Fanuel get back on his feet. The residents of our complex are a wonderful mix of races and religions and it does remind one that there is kindness here in the wealthiest part of Africa where people are often aggressive, full of entitlement and prone to flash their wealth.


And, to end on the happiest of notes, Fanuel did find his cattle and got his job back. It all just took a little longer than he had hoped.