Grahamstown in Black and White

It’s an unusual place – Grahamstown – located in a basin at the headwaters of the Kowie river. The poor black population in the eastern townships look across to the middle class suburbs on the other side of the valley.  There are not many South African cities where black and white are so closely juxtaposed. I live in Sunnyside, on the south side of town, and our house is quite high up on the side of a hill. A lot of my pictures look down into the valley.  I’m frequently photographing into the light too.  The cathedral is nearby – further down Hill Street – with the northern suburbs lying beyond.  Makana’s Kop is another Grahamstown landmark. It dominates the eastern side of town – across the Belmont Valley.

I wanted a set of black and white pictures so I needed to capture textures and shapes. South African townships are typically laid out on rectangular lines. This makes for clear compositions.  The two pictures here were both taken in winter with low angled light. Before dawn Vukani was wreathed in mist and smoke. I managed to catch the first rays of sunlight cutting across the mists.  Monument to Makana was taken just after a storm had passed at sunset.  Highlights of rain outline the regular street patterns.  The 1820 Settlers Monument is the large rectangular building that lies in the foreground of the picture.

In summer we are likely to get thunderstorms – but many of them drift eastwards past the town.  From the stoep of our house you can see them over the horizon – behind the spire of the Dutch Reformed Church.  Of course some of them do hit the town bringing heavy rain and dramatic lightning.

Off to the north west is the Rhodes University campus.  It’s surrounded by tree lined streets. Some exotic monkey puzzle trees are in the foreground of this picture.  Belmont Valley lies to the south east.  It’s where the Kowie River runs down to the sea. The leafy suburbs shown here are above and below Hill Street. They are beside the old road down to Port Alfred.

The last two pictures are also taken from the south side of town.  They’re higher up – on Mountain Drive – where we take our dog walking.  Both of them are looking right over the bowl containing the old districts of Grahamstown.  The townships have now spread right up Lavender Valley and out on to the plateau at Hooggenoeg.  The mountains on the skyline are the Amatolas.  The last picture is looking north-west – into the semi-arid Karoo. It shows the Winterberg range that is approximately 80 kms away.

Contact me at roddyfox@mac.com if you’d like to purchase any of these images.  They’re reasonably priced. All of the pictures were taken with my Olympus OMD EM5 MarkII.  I’ve edited them in Lightroom using the Nik collection of plugins.

 

 

Makana’s Kop from Sunnyside

Makana’s Kop dominates the skyline over the township when you are down in the bowl where Grahamstown lies.  There’s a prominent straggle of fir trees on its crown and the oldest townships of Fingo and Tantyi run down towards you as you look up to it from the city centre. This sunset picture’s taken from above city though, on the hillside next to PJ Olivier High School, so you look across the Belmont Valley to the Kop.  It’s nestling in the crook of the burnt tree stump with the Old Municipal location, Ndancame and Vukani sweeping down the valley to the right of the picture.  The last of the light is just catching the houses on the west facing slopes.  It’s there that the full moon rises.

A big fire swept through this area in the mid winter of 2014 and there are quite a few blackened stumps like this.   I’ve a picture of the same tree stump in this gallery which was taken at sunrise.  The trees on Makana’s Kop are clearly visible in the second picture.

 

iPhoneography 2: stormy skies

It’s been really stormy this past few days and, as I usually don’t take my camera to work, a little more iPhoenography has taken place since my last post.  Here are two pictures taken yesterday morning on my phone. I was walking back on to campus from town and the black skies were ominous.

Drostdy Arch

Rhodes clocktower

The Four Traditions of Geography at Rhodes

We have our largest ever number of postgraduates in the Geography Department this year – 42 at latest count – and last Monday I welcomed them with a brief resume about the traditions of the Department.

ForbesatGraduation

The photo above shows four Geographers that personify the four traditions. They are celebrating Prof. Vernon Forbes’ honorary D.Litt at the 1989 Rhodes Graduation garden party.  From left to right: Prof. John Daniel, Prof. Vernon Forbes, Prof. John Rennie (all formerly HoDs at Rhodes University) and Professor Ron Davies (formerly HoD University of Cape Town) who received the first Rhodes Geography M.Sc. in 1955.

I’ve been researching our traditions since the Society of South African Geographers approached me to prepare a history of the Department for the commemorative publication celebrating 100 years of geography in the country. So I have been going back through the archives, studying the curriculum as it evolved, seeking trends in staffing demographics, examining the subjects that our postgraduates have studied, tracking contributions to, and awards for, research, teaching, community engagement, internationalisation and the environment. For example, here are Ms. Karabo Chadzingwa, Prof. Kate Rowntree and Ms. Louise Bryson with the 2013 Rhodes University Environmental Award.

Environmental award

Public Service

This is the first tradition and one which started with the Department’s first Professor, JVL Rennie. He was a fine scholar (Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 1939) and he was awarded an honorary doctorate in laws (LLD) in 1977 for his much broader contributions to the University at large and community in general. He was Rhodes’ first Vice-Principal, Chairman of the Albany Museum Board of Trustees, Commissioner on the National Monuments Council, Mayor of Grahamstown, Vice-Chairman of the 1820 Settler Monument Foundation and Chairman of the Grahamstown Group Areas Action Committee.

It’s in this tradition that the staff and students of the Department still serve. Recent examples would be the activities of the Catchment Research Group who won the RU Environmental Award in 2013, the Geographic Information Systems class who, with Ms. McGregor, won the Community Engagement Student Award in 2010 (pictured below).

GIS Award 008

 

Intellectual Agility and an Appreciation of Diversity

The Department’s staff have demonstrated the unusual ability to embrace widely different themes and approaches in their work. Professor Vernon Forbes was the Department’s second Professor. Trained as a geologist he was a flamboyant figure who was renowned as an arctic explorer. His undergraduate career at Cambridge was barely over when his first paper ‘The Moon and Radioactivity’ was published in both the Geological Magazine and the annual report of the Smithsonian Institute. Yet he was to be awarded a honorary doctorate in letters (DLitt) in 1989 for his historical geography: the series of books he wrote that chronicled the exploration of South Africa through the eyes of the Pioneer Travellers. His DLitt is the reason for the celebration at the garden party.

Graduates and staff of the Department have examined themes of great social and environmental importance long before they became fashionable. Professor Ron Davies was a geography, chemistry major who went on to publish the classic urban geography text that outlined the workings of the Group Areas Act ‘The Spatial Formation of the South African City.’ Professor Keith Beavon was another science major. His career began as a lecturer at the Rhodes Port Elizabeth branch and later he became an internationally famous urban geographer. His paper ‘Black townships: terra incognito for urban geographers’ was an iconic call to become engaged with research into the problems experienced in apartheid’s black townships.

Research of the Highest Quality

The four Professors introduced above were recognised for producing research work of the very highest quality.  That’s a tradition that has been proudly carried forwards to this day.  Professor Etienne Nel, for example, won the Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Junior Research Award in 1998. Four of our postgraduates have been awarded the SSAG’s bronze medal for the outstanding masters thesis: Ms. Maura Andrew (1992), Professor Vincent Kakembo (1998), Ms. Brigitte Melley (2012) and Ms. Christel Hansen (2014).  Professor Vernon Forbes (1977) and Professor Roddy Fox (2000) were given Fellowships of the South African Geographical Society and Society of South African Geographers respectively. These are awarded for outstanding and sustained scholarly contributions. The picture below shows Ms. Andrew and her supervisor with the SSAG Bronze Medal for 1992.

Fox and Andrew Crop

 

Applying Geographical Skills to Real World Problems

Our work as staff and postgraduates is replete with this. Special mention needs to be made of Professor Daniel in this respect. He was the Department’s third Professor but first Human Geographer and, displaying the intellectual agility mentioned above, quickly recognised the need for research into the water problems of the semi-arid Eastern Cape. Consequently he built up the Hydrological Research Unit through the 1980s: finding the funding for numerous staff posts, laboratories, new buildings and equipment. The HRU has since become part of the Institute for Water Research. Our curriculum today boasts a popular degree in Environmental Water Management that would not have arisen without his foresight. In 1989 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the South African Geographical Society for Outstanding Service to the Geographical Community in South Africa.

DanielGoldMedalCrop

All of the information highlighted above and much more is summarised in the two graphics below. These posters are on display in the foyer of the Department with examples of the awards. medals etc. It’s a sobering thought that the number of academic staff today (five) is the same as it was in the mid 1960s when Keith Beavon was in the Department. Clearly we will face major challenges in the years ahead if we are to maintain these traditions.

SSAGAwards

RUHigherDegreesandAwardsSmall

 

 

Cathedral, Church and Chapel: three pictures of Grahamstown

Grahamstown’s well-known as ‘the city of Saints’. It’s a bit of a cliche and so are many of the photos of our city. Picture postcard shots of the imposing cathedral and Victorian shop facades in Church Square spring to mind.  I thought I’d try and get something a little different that gave a bit more of the feel of the place and the different buildings.  So here’s three black and white shots.

Cathedral of St Michael and St George

I like the Cathedral picture because it captures the scale of the building in its urban setting: the tree, wooden verandah and city hall make a frame for it.

Dutch Reformed Church

The Dutch Reformed Church is another building I walk past regularly. The shadow in the foreground leads you up to the steeple and the sky above.

Chapel of St Mary and all the Angels

Lastly, there’s the Chapel of St. Mary’s on the Rhodes campus: it’s the rich texture that makes this picture, the slanting light and the dark sky behind.

 

After the summer storm: Feb 1 2014

It’s been really hot this summer.  Today it was 37 degrees.  Our swimming pool has been getting lower with all the evaporation and swimming so after lunch I decided to fill it with some of the rain water from our new tanks …. there was also the thought that if I did use up our water it would encourage a storm to come and make filling the pool rather redundant!

I was right.  By 5 this afternoon a huge storm hit us with very strong gusty winds and torrential rain.  We had to mop up all the water that came in under the doors and through the leak in the hallway – I have never managed to locate where it creeps under the overlaps of our old zinc roof.

After the storm had passed we went out on to the stoep and were treated to the most lovely light and a double rainbow – exquisite!