Fees increase has fallen

FMF leaderAfter a week of student-led protests around the country, President Jacob Zuma announced today that South African universities will not increase their fees in 2016, signalling a win for the #feesmustfall campaign. At Stellenbosch, students heard this news while waiting outside the police station for the release of some fellow protesters arrested earlier in the day. I shot some photos.

FMF police protect signFMF marshallFMF through the glassFMF white privilege

Photos: #Feesmustfall protest in Cape Town

Protest 10Student protests against university fee increases intensified across the country yesterday. In Cape Town, hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside parliament where Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene was delivering his mini budget speech. Protesters are demanding that the planned fee increases for 2016 be scrapped, and have rejected a deal struck between Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and university vice chancellors on Tuesday that would see fee increases for 2016 capped at 6%.

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What Melbourne learned cutting emissions from ‘1200 Buildings’

My latest article for Citiscope takes a look at Melbourne’s 1200 Buildings program, which the city launched in 2010 to encourage energy-efficiency upgrades to commercial buildings so that they guzzle less water and electricity. Read the intro here and go to Citiscope for the full story.

MELBOURNE, Australia — The octagonal office tower that sits above a Maserati dealership here has seen a lot of change since it was built for an airline tycoon in the late 1970s.

For one thing, the helipad on the roof has been replaced with a black “plant room.” This space houses the mechanical guts of the building’s new heating and cooling system — a much more energy-efficient version than its predecessor.

The current owners also installed new elevators that use a regenerative braking system to generate power for the building. These upgrades were part of a retrofit completed earlier this year. The changes cut the building’s energy bills by 25 percent, producing energy savings equivalent to removing the carbon emissions of 55 homes a year.

“We wanted to update the plant and the lifts so we effectively had a ‘brand new building’ with a shell from 1979,” says Barry Calnon, chief financial officer at PDG Corporation. PDG is a large developer and manager of commercial and residential buildings in Melbourne. It co-owns the tower at 501 Swanston with Bobby Zagame, who owns the Maserati dealership as well as an Audi dealership downstairs.

Calnon, looking sharp in a navy blue suit with a set of little silver cars for cufflinks, explains that the retrofit was part of a larger refurbishment meant to attract premium corporate tenants. It cost a few Maseratis’ worth, and was paid for with a US$5 million loan through a Melbourne City Council fund for financing energy-efficiency upgrades in commercial buildings.

PDG Corporation’s Barry Calnon: “We wanted to update the plant and the lifts so we effectively had a ‘brand new building’.” (Brendon Bosworth)

The retrofit at 501 Swanston is just one of many undertaken through the city of Melbourne’s 1200 Buildings program. It’s a multi-pronged strategy launched in 2010 to encourage energy-efficiency upgrades to commercial buildings so that they guzzle less water and electricity. The office buildings that dot the skyline in Australia’s fastest-growing and “most livable” city produce more than half of its greenhouse gas emissions. That needs to change if Melbourne is to reach its ambitious goal of being carbon-neutral by 2020.

– See more at: http://www.citiscope.org/story/2015/what-melbourne-learned-cutting-emissions-1200-buildings#sthash.8DYudu0G.dpuf

‘Normal’ screens at SA Recovery Fest

Screen shot 2015-10-08 at 10.45.05 AMThe short film Simon Taylor and I produced, ‘Normal’ screened at the SA Recovery Festival in September. The film is a 16-minute documentary that gives a window into the work of psychiatrist John Parker, who I wrote about for the ‘City Desired‘ exhibition. It includes Mykyle, one of Parker’s patients who is in recovery.

The film shows how John and Mykyle are both outsiders. One is a doctor who works in a
community very different to his own. The other is unfairly placed outside of what society considers ‘normal’ due to the stigma around mental illness. It shows the value each of them brings to the
world and takes an honest look at the subject of mental illness, something that afflicts as many as one in three adult South Africans in their lifetimes.

Simon and I were pleased to see how many people came to watch the film. After the screening, we had an engaging question-and-answer session that highlighted the importance of understanding mental illness and how it impacts our society. We came away motivated to work on our next project, a longer film we are developing.

City Desired

Last year, as part of the African Centre for Cities’ City Desired project I wrote an in-depth profile about Dr John Parker, a psychiatrist based at Lentegeur Hospital. This psychiatric hospital in Mitchells Plain, on the Cape Flats, is at the front line of treating methamphetamine-related psychosis in Cape Town’s poorer communities. If you’re up for a long-read that address issues of mental health, drug abuse, social deprivation, hope and recovery, my piece is available online and will also be out in Cityscapes magazine soon.Screen shot 2015-01-10 at 2.33.20 PMPhoto: Sydelle Willow Smith.

Longboard skating on Table Mountain

I have a friend I used to ride the Colorado skate parks with who always said “longboards are the wrong boards.” After eating some tarmac last year while trying out a friend’s board I wholeheartedly agreed with him and vowed to keep riding my street board only.

Here’s me eating it:

But this year I decided to give longboarding a second chance and bought a new set-up. I’ve been cruising with my good friend Shaun and we’ve been finding some magic up on Table Mountain. I made a short film about our endeavours. No face plants this time.

Offsets to Cushion South African Carbon Tax

CAPE TOWN, May 28 2014 (IPS) – To curb greenhouse gas emissions, South Africa wants to put a tax on carbon emissions from big polluters.

The aim of making polluters pay for the carbon they pump into the atmosphere is to help South Africa, the world’s 12th highest emitter of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, transition to a low-carbon economy.

“We have one of the most carbon intensive economies in the world,” Anton Cartwright, a researcher on the green economy at the University of Cape Town’s African Centre for Cities, told IPS.

Coal-burning power plants provide close to ninety percent of South Africa’s electricity, making the economy highly carbon intensive.

“We don’t get a great bang for buck on our coal,” said Cartwright. “We use a low-grade coal with a very high CO2 content.”

The tax was slated to take effect in 2015 but in February this year National Treasury announced it would be pushed back to January 2016, citing the need for “further consultation.”


South Africa battles drug-resistant TB


South Africa is battling to reduce its cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) with the success rate for those on treatment at about 40 percent.

CAPE TOWN, Mar 12 2014 (IPS) – Despite an increase in diagnosis times, South Africa is facing a growing drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) burden as nationally there remains a large gap between the number of patients diagnosed with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and those who start treatment.

Between 2007 and 2012, recorded cases of MDR-TB, which is resistant to at least two of the primary drugs used to combat standard TB, almost doubled.

South Africa has improved its ability to test for drug-resistant TB by introducing GeneXpert, a rapid testing machine that can diagnose TB in sputum samples in less than two hours.

But in 2012, just 42 percent of patients diagnosed with MDR-TB began treatment, according to government figures. The success rate for those on treatment is about 40 percent.

“If we don’t do something about it now, MDR-TB is going to become XDR-TB [extensively drug-resistant TB],” Dr. Jennifer Hughes, a drug-resistant TB doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told IPS. XDR-TB is a strain of TB resistant to at least four of the main TB drugs.

“If we don’t start focusing on how we treat XDR-TB properly as well, we’re just going to drive further and further resistance as we go.”

Read the full article at IPS.