Category: General

Ralph Ziman’s ‘Ghosts’: Yarned, beaded and dangerous

For his first solo series Ghosts, South African filmmaker and artist Ralph Ziman photographed Zimbabwean street vendors wielding handmade replicas of AK-47s which are adorned in traditional Shona-style beading. The multimedia project aims to highlight the international arms trade and its devastating influence.


Ziman explains:

I had six Zimbabwean artists use traditional African beads and wire to manufacture several hundred replica bead/guns like AK-47s, as well as several replica bead/general purpose machine guns (GPMGs), along with the ammunition. In response to the guns sent into that culture, the mural represents an aesthetic, anti-lethal cultural response, a visual export out of Africa.  And the bead/guns themselves, manufactured in Africa, are currently being shipped to the USA and Europe.This bead/arms project provided six months full-time work for half a dozen craftsman who got well deserved break from making wire animals for tourists.

The completed bead/guns were the subject of a photo-shoot in crime ridden downtown Johannesburg.  The subjects were the artists who made the guns, several construction workers who happened to witness the shoot, and a member of the South African Police Services who just wanted his picture taken. The mural is mixed media, wheat paste, dye, acrylic spray-paint and ink on wood. This mural is the first in a series to be put up in LA.
In 2008, Ziman wrote and directed Jerusalema. The film was submitted to the Academy Awards as a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. He has also produced murals in Venice Beach, California where he lives with his family.
Ghosts will be on display at C.A.V.E Gallery in Los Angeles from February 8 to March 2.

How 3D printing is changing lives in South Sudan

In 2010, Mick Ebeling, founder of a company called Not Impossible, spearheaded the creation of the Eyewriter, eye-tracking glasses using open-source software, to allow paralysed people to draw and communicate using only their eyes.

Then, in November last year, Not Impossible printed a prosthetic hand that allowed a teenager to feed himself for the first time in two years. But that was just the beginning.

[Last week], Ebeling stunned audiences at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas with the story of Project Daniel.

Late last year, he set up the world’s first 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains. The first “patient” was a boy called Daniel, who had had both his arms blown off at the age of 14.

Mick and Daniel. (Pic supplied)
Mick and Daniel. (Pic supplied)

The boy, now 16, was living in a 70 000-person refugee camp in Yida, South Sudan. On November 11, he received the first version of a prosthetic left arm. It was named after the boy himself: the Daniel Hand. And it enabled him to feed himself for the first time in two years. According to Ebeling, he also ate chocolate for the first time.

With the assistance of an American doctor, Tom Catena, the team then set about teaching others to print and assemble 3D prostheses. By the time the Americans returned home, local trainees had printed and fitted another two arms, underlining the project’s lasting benefit beyond the presence of the Not Impossible team.

A local team creating prosthetic arms with the help of 3D printing. (Pic supplied)
A local team creating prosthetic arms with the help of 3D printing. (Pic supplied)

Equally astonishingly, Project Daniel successfully unfolded in a region where fighting was escalating, and where the people taught to use the 3D printers had barely any knowledge of computers.

“We’re hopeful that other children and adults in other regions of Africa, as well as other continents, will utilise the power of this new technology for similar beginnings,” says Ebeling. “We believe Daniel’s story will ignite a global campaign. The sharing of the prostheses’ specifications, which Not Impossible will provide free and open source, will enable any person in need, anywhere on the planet, to use technology for its best purpose: restoring humanity.”

The Daniel Hand was originally designed at the Not Impossible headquarters in Venice, California (United States), using crowdsourcing to pull in “a dream team of innovators”. Prominent among them was the South African inventor of the Robohand, Richard Van As, a master carpenter from Johannesburg.

The team also included an Australian neuroscientist and a 3D printing company owner. The project was supported by precision engineering company Precipart and by chipmaker Intel, which included Ebeling in its own events at CES this week.

“We are on the precipice of a can-do maker community that is reaching critical mass,” says Elliot V Kotek, Not Impossible’s content chief and co-founder. “There is no shortage of knowledge, and we are linking the brightest technical minds and creative problem-solvers around the globe. Project Daniel is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.”

While Project Daniel focuses on medical benefits of 3D printing, the project proves that the ultimate benefit the technology can bring is limited only by the human imagination. –

Arthur Goldstuck is the editor-in-chief of Gadget. Connect with him on Twitter.

Sex education on a street kerb

Between HIV prevalence statistics, child grants, polygamy, Ben 10s, sexual violence and the annual initiation-school deaths, the medical, moral and economic panics that swirl around black bodies in South Africa are enough to power all the geysers in Gauteng for a month.  Perhaps it is with this knowledge of the many panics surrounding all matters black and sexual that enterprising self-proclaimed miracle workers going by nondescript names like ‘Dr Tony from East Africa’  promise all manner of miracle cures for all kinds of sexual problems – from fixing relationship crises to penis enlargements. (For some mysterious reason, these doctors are almost always from East Africa). This social investment in matters relating to black sexuality may explain why on one Cape Town train, the only stickers gracing the walls and roofs of carriages are adverts for penis enlargements and “quick, same-day” abortions (their  words). Whenever I take this train, I am uncertain what bothers me more: these doctors’ advertorial monopoly or the logic of having adverts for “quick, same-day” abortions side by side with adverts for penis enlargements.

True, I failed maths in school — which explains why all numbers have a slippery encounter with my mind — but the equation here seems too unfortunate, even for my anti-algebraic mind. I can’t decide whether it is a question of  ‘to each their perils’ or an acknowledgement of some correlation between penis enlargements and women’s desperation for backstreet abortions. In this social climate, a roadside conversation about sex and its perils is bound to be tinted with all manner of ideas.  But what better place than the Cape to have a random conversation about sex, with an unknown teenager, at 8:23 in the morning?

(Pic: Flickr / Rob Allen)
(Pic: Flickr / Rob Allen)

I am walking to work on a typical Cape winter’s day.  Sheltered by my umbrella, I’m listening to an SAfm talk-show on serial killers. Among the panelists is an ex-convict, invited in his capacity as a former serial killer. He clarifies to the talk-show host that, eintlik, he is an ex-murderer. Not a former serial killer. He just happened to have murdered, well, several people.

I feel the presence of someone beside me. Being hyper-sensitised by the talk-show discussion, I almost jump.  As I turn to my left, I hear the ultra-polite greeting, “Good morning m’aam”. I respond, as I remove my earphones, slightly puzzled at this young man, about sixteen, a few inches shorter than me, cuddled in a heavy coat, hands in his pocket.

“Ma’am, can I ask you something?”

I don’t know where this is going, and I am puzzled at the polite “Ma’am” laced with the heavy ‘coloured’ Afrikaans accent, but as we walk on, I say, “Okay?”

“Please, I am not being rude, but I want to know: is sex painful?”

Ei? But really now!?! I turn and look into his face, preparing to firmly tell him he is way too young to be trying this nonsense with me, and even for his age-mates, he will need to learn some ‘pick-up’ protocol. But as I look for words, I realise from the serious, slightly shy look on his face that he is not being cheeky. He is actually expecting a serious answer to this question; and from the shy look on his face, he has been pondering this question for a while.

“Yes, sometimes it is. Why do you ask?”

“My girlfriend says it is painful. Is it painful for men too?”

I never! It occurs to me then that I have never asked the men in my circles and life this question. The automatic assumption is that of course sex is always pleasurable for men.  It is still drizzling, and my office is a block away. It quickly occurs to me that this is a Dear Sis Dolly moment; and I must respect  this young man’s courage to ask this question of a complete stranger. He must have realised this conversation could go very badly. I quickly don my big-sister hat and step into this street-kerb sex-education scenario. I truthfully explain to him that sometimes it is painful for women, but I do not know if it can also be painful for men. I am a big sister/aunt. I tell him the best way around this is to always listen to his girlfriend, and never force her to have sex when she is not ready. I fumble around for polite language for explaining the importance of foreplay to women’s sexual comfort, as he listens attentively. Lastly, I tell him to always be safe and ensure he protects himself and his girlfriend, by using a condom. He giggles at this last part, and shyly tells me he knows about the importance of condoms.

“Good!” I smile back at him. “So, where are you going so early in the morning?” I ask.

To pick up something from his father, who works at our local supermarket.

As we parted ways, my heart ached for this teenager, who had to resort to a stranger on the street to explain sexual matters when he lived with his father. I found this encounter so bizarre that the first thing I did was describe it to my colleague at work because it was so odd that it felt like a hallucination. My colleague had only one question for me: Why is it that of all the people on the streets he decided to ask you?

The jury is still out on this question.

Oh, and now, thanks to my male friends, I have an answer for my young friend on whether sex is painful for men.

Pay, pay and pay some more: Renting in Dar es Salaam

I was born and raised in Dar es Salaam. We locals call our city Bongo – a Swahili slang for brain,  and you need a sharp one to survive here.

My mother saved her civil servant salary for about three years to build the house I grew up in. For most of my life, I’ve lived with her in Changanyikeni, a peaceful suburb where everyone minds their own business. Apart from a lack of water in the suburb – we had to fetch some from the university block – Changanyikeni was a pleasant place to call home.

But after years of comfort, I felt like I needed a place of my own. I had spent three months in South Africa  living by myself. During that time, independence grew on me – there was no one to answer to about my whereabouts or why I was out late or didn’t want to eat dinner.

And so, at the age of 28, I decided to move out and find a place to rent in Dar es Salaam.

I gravitated towards the suburbs of Sinza, Mwenge, Kinondoni and Kijitonyama, which are coveted among young Tanzanians living on their own. They are close to the city centre and offer plenty of entertainment in the form of  bars, night clubs and shopping malls.

(Pic: Flickr / hownowdesign)
(Pic: Flickr / hownowdesign)

My first step was to find the right connections. The renting business in Dar is not exactly conventional. It’s dominated by middle men who connect potential tenants with landlords. You’ll find them every morning lurking around the suburbs, waiting for house-seekers to arrive so they can start pitching.

Most of them are good liars. They will wax lyrical about the perfect house, convince you to view it, and when you do, you’ll realise what an exaggeration “in good condition” and “lovely views” can be. And for every house you walk into, you’ll need to dish out at least $7 to the middle man as a “showing fee”.

I was first taken to Sinza, a middle class suburb full of bachelors and newlyweds who fork out a hefty USD 200 for a 2-bedroom house and at least USD 50 more for utilities. It is a nice suburb but I did not see myself living there. There is a bar, grocery store or night club after every two houses; it’s a party from Monday to Monday. Young people prefer Sinza since they do not have to drive out to have a drink; it can be found just next door.

My next option was Kinondoni but one of the middlemen told me to be very careful since all sorts of dark deals went down here. Drug dealers and prostitutes operate in this area, and the rent prices also put me off: USD 250 to USD 300.

A friend of mind suggested I try the suburb where he lived – Mbagala. Rental prices are very cheap here. For 70 USD a month, a fully fenced housed could be yours to live in.

He invited me to stay over at his place to get a feel of the suburb. The next morning I saw commotion at the bus stand near his house. People were fighting to board the bus to get to work in time. Some were even climbing in through the windows. One man complained he’d never occupied a seat on the bus for the past three months since it’s always overcrowded as people fight to get to work on time. With that, I immediately crossed Mbagala off my list.

After months of hunting for a place of my own, I realised that every suburb has its own drama. I ended up getting a one bedroom house in Kinondoni, away from the shady streets, for USD 150 per month.

I was relieved that my months of hustling were over – but I was also broke. Landlords in Dar es Salaam don’t accept one month’s rent. You need to pay six to twelve months’ rent  upfront. If the house you’re renting has damages, the landlord will ask you to organise and pay for the repairs. The money will be deducted from the next month’s rent – or so they say.

I won’t be moving again anytime soon. Independence certainly comes at a cost  but I didn’t expect it would involve this many people or so many dollars.

Erick Mchome is a former features writer for The Citizen newspaper in Tanzania. He is the 2011 David Astor Award Winner and worked at the Mail & Guardian between September and December 2011.

The Great Ethiopian Run: in the footsteps of Haile Gebrselassie

I am standing at the start line of the Great Ethiopian Run: not only the biggest race in Africa but one of the continent’s biggest talent-spotting contests. Officially there are 38 000 of us, all in yellow-and-green race T-shirts, jostling and shoving and staring down a line of police with batons. But hundreds of others have sneaked into line, with home-brewed kit, swelling the numbers still further. A marshal warns me, “Don’t try to get in front when they start – you’ll be trampled!”, then there’s the blast of a horn, a rising crackle of noise, and the police cordon sprints for safety. Ahead of me two men lose their shoes in the tumult – and don’t return – and I wonder: what the hell have I let myself in for?

For others, however, this 10km race around the hills of Addis Ababa, at an altitude of 2 300 metres, offers the chance to follow in the footsteps of the great Ethiopian runners: Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome running barefoot; the revered Haile Gebrselassie, 10 000m gold medallist at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics; and the current 5km and 10km world record holder Kenenisa Bekele. Previous winners in the race’s 13-year history have gone on to win major marathons and Olympic medals. The race – which is shown live on Ethiopian TV – is not just a showcase for runners, but for the country, too.

That it takes place at all is down to Gebrselassie, who many see as a future president of Ethiopia. Invited by Brendan Foster, the founder of the Great North Run, to come over to Newcastle, Haile responded: “Why don’t you help me to start a Great Ethiopian Run?” So Foster did.

“The whole country is running,” says Gebrselassie, offering Ethopian coffee so strong you suspect it partly explains the speed of the country’s athletes. “We try to rise up the people to do something. Sport has just one language, and when you encourage people through sport you encourage every sector, whatever their job. One religion, one culture, one language – and that is running.”

Haile Gebrselassie celebrates after winning his third consecutive Vienna half marathon on April 14 2013. (Pic: AFP)
Haile Gebrselassie celebrates after winning his third consecutive Vienna half marathon on April 14 2013. (Pic: AFP)

But caffeine-fuelled beverages aside, why are Ethiopian distance runners so good? “It’s because of opportunities here,” says Gebrselassie, who spends the days before the race patiently smiling, chatting and posing for photographs. “Plus the lifestyle: the kids walk to school – no, they run! – every day. I ran six miles every day to school and back so my training started when I was three or four.” Unsurprisingly, the Great Ethiopian Run even has a race for the under fives.

Though there are a few international runners – a team from Norway and a speedy gang from Birmingham – the race at elite level is tough for most foreigners because of that altitude. While your legs feel good to go, your lungs wheeze and moan in protest. It’s like someone has strapped an iron band around your chest and compressed it.

My first experience of this comes on a track built by Bekele high in the mountains. Bekele himself has come to train, and we jog very slowly with him. At least, my GPS watch says it’s slow – my lungs appear to think I’ve just finished a sub-four-minute mile. This is why athletes train at altitude – and why those born at it have an advantage – the body adapts to the relative lack of oxygen. But not, of course, on day one. And not when you are trying not to wheeze too loudly behind a multiple Olympic gold medallist.

After warming up, we follow Bekele into the woods where he and many other elite athletes train. He slips away in a matter of seconds, leaving us to puff and tootle around a few miles of hyena territory. “That’s OK, they only come out at night,” says a cheery runner. “Just don’t be last!”

But by race day, either I’ve adapted slightly or the adrenaline has kicked in. Once I summon the courage to get out of the sidelines and into the sea of runners, I’m away. The first few kilometres are very slow, because of the sheer press of people, many of whom are too interested in talking, showing off and having fun to care what time they finish in, but the atmosphere is incredible. There are spontaneous outbreaks of loud joyous songs and chanting. Others dance and shout. I can’t stop smiling.

The noise quietens – though only very slightly – as those hills kick in. I’m surrounded by friendly, chatty people, though the man who wants to talk to me about my impressions of Ethiopia probably shouldn’t have chosen an uphill stretch to do it. Where some races have hi-tech drizzle showers to cool you off, this one has a full-on garden hose. Most people stop to dance in its makeshift shower.

Way, way, too soon (something I have never thought in a race before, and suspect never will again) the 9km marker is in sight and it’s just the home stretch. The men’s winner, Atsedu Tsegay, finished a long time ago and is about to be presented with his trophy by Gebrselassie.

My finish time is six minutes slower than my personal best, but that’s irrelevant: this is the craziest race I’ve ever done and one of the best experiences of my life. As Haile eloquently puts it: “The best way to get rid of all stress and everything is to sweat a bit. It’s a kind of treatment.” And one that I would happily sign up to again.

Kate Carter for the Guardian