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Comic Con Africa, festivals and more — things to do, places to see this week around South Africa

Your weekly round-up of go-to events around the country.
KIES / Tierlantynkies Design & Food Fair
With more than 90 exhibitors, you’ll have a world of options to choose from at KIES/Tierlantynkies Design & Food Fair, including local food, wine, jewellery, décor, clothing and homeware. The programme begins at 9am daily.
When: 28 September to 4 October 2022 Where: 3CI Church, 56 Saal Street, Zwavelpoort, Pretoria Tickets: R40 per person (week-long access). Tickets via Plankton.
Comic Con Africa
Comic Con Africa is a four-day gathering dedicated to pop culture. From cosplaying to Q&A sessions with artists, LARPing, meet-ups and product launches, there is plenty for comic book fans to enjoy. Expect to see American actors Khylin Rhambo and Dylan Sprayberry, best known for starring in the MTV hit series Teen Wolf, and English actor Jamie Campbell Bower, known for his role as Vecna in Stranger Things.
When: 22 to 24 September 2022 Where: Johannesburg Expo Centre, corner Nasrec and Rand Show roads, Johannesburg Tickets: R190 per person (general access) via Howler.
Montagu Museum Herb Fest
Botanists and plant-enthusiasts should check out the Montagu Museum Herb Fest. From talks about the medicinal properties of mushrooms, to the use of fynbos in skincare, traditional healing and indigenous Khoisan herb knowledge, there is much to learn. You can also expect art, music and herb-infused food.
When: 23 to 25 September 2022 Where: Old Mission Church, 41 Long Street, Bergsig, Montagu, Western Cape Tickets: From R50 to R100 via Quicket.
Hermanus Whale Festival
The 31st edition of the annual eco-marine festival celebrates the return of southern right whales to South Africa’s coastline. The festival features live music, market stalls, a 10km fun run, a street parade, guided walks, educational talks by conservationists and more. Check the programme on the official event website for further details.
When: 30 September to 2 October 2022 Where: 79 Marine Drive, Hermanus, Western Cape
Plett Arts Festival
The programme for this year’s Plett Arts Festival includes a masterfully curated selection of art exhibitions, workshops, a bronze pouring demonstration, twilight meanders, and more. Check the programme for details, including art, film and music presentations, with work from creatives such as sculptor Suzanne du Toit.
When: 30 September to 9 October 2022 Where: Mellville’s Corner, Main Street Central, Plettenberg Bay Tickets: Prices vary per event. Available via Quicket.
Bongeziwe Mabandla and Blick Bassy
South African musician Bongeziwe Mabandla joins forces with Cameroonian singer-songwriter Blick Bassy in what has been described as “one of the most exceptional live music ...

The Black Phone horror movie: Please, take the call

One of the horror movie standouts of 2022, ‘The Black Phone’ is a child abduction thriller with a supernatural twist.
Despite living in a world of big-budget blockbusters and strings of high-profile sequels, every year a couple of modest horror movies manage to stand out, earning critical and commercial success. They may lead to franchises, but typically they’re original creations, to begin with, making them even more special.
One of this year’s breakout genre hits is The Black Phone. The film is based on an award-winning short story by Joe Hill (Locke & Key), aka the accomplished son of Stephen King; and is directed, co-written and produced by Scott Derrickson, the filmmaker behind the memorably chilling Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, as well as the visually striking first Doctor Strange movie.
The Black Phone taps into the retro-set horror trend — think The Conjuring cinematic universe, X, It and Stranger Things — by setting its events in 1978. The film also has novelty value in that it sees Ethan Hawke, for the first time in his career, play a villain who is pure, inexcusable evil. As the greatest hook of all, The Black Phone includes a paranormal angle, but uses as its basis the all-too-real horror that is child abduction. You can almost think of the film as a gritty (and gory) true-crime tale with a touch of the supernatural.
In a Denver suburb, 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames), an often-bullied science nerd, becomes the latest target of a masked child abductor and killer, nicknamed The Grabber (Hawke). Finney is locked in a soundproof basement, but he finds help in a most unexpected form. A disconnected phone on the wall provides a link to The Grabber’s previous victims. From beyond the grave, these other kids offer advice to help Finney carry out what they couldn’t, and escape his hellish situation.
And that’s about all there is to The Black Phone, barring a secondary arc to do with Finney’s younger sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who is prone to psychic visions. The tight focus and simplicity of The Black Phone are its greatest strengths, though. At 103 minutes, this is a lean and distilled thrill-fest that, refreshingly, doesn’t try to over-explain things. It simply shows, and leaves viewers to make their own assumptions. For example, the film never dissects the psychological motivations of The Grabber, which makes him even more of a terrifying enigma.
Speaking of The ...

The exotic world of deadly poison

Humans have an instinctive horror of poison and for good reason — tiny doses kill and it’s everywhere.
The Amazon frog was a beautiful shade of luminous green and didn’t resist being picked up. The guide looked alarmed: “I think you should put it down and wash your hands.” It didn’t help. Within minutes, the palm of my hand was so painful I nearly vomited and actually checked the back to see if something had drilled right through. The excruciating pain lasted half an hour. The little guy sure packed a poisoned punch.
It’s reckoned there are more than 300 species of poisonous frogs in the Amazon. They’re part of a class of creatures worldwide you want to avoid, including (at rough count) 1,200 kinds of poisonous sea organisms, 700 poisonous fish, 400 venomous snakes, 60 ticks, 75 scorpions, 200 spiders, 750 poisons in more than 1,000 plant species and several birds whose feathers are toxic when touched or eaten.
As Homo sapiens radiated out of Africa to populate the world, they must have poisoned themselves in the thousands while working out what to eat in new lands and what not to mess with. It’s amazing we survived. Columbus solved the problem by taking dogs on his second voyage to taste foods his crew had to eat in exchanges of goodwill with natives of newfound cultures.
Webster’s Dictionary describes poison as a substance that, through its chemical action, usually kills, injures, or impairs an organism. It’s generally used for defence or attack — except by humans, who have employed it throughout history for murder.
Deadly poisons active in small quantities have been a favourite way of offing opposition or unwanted spouses, especially since, until recently, there was no way to establish whether poison was involved.
It was liberally used to get rid of troublemakers and rulers in ancient Greece (Socrates was forced to take poison hemlock), Persia (Artaxerxes III and IV), China (a string of emperors), Rome and the rest of Europe (the Borgias made a science of it in Italy). After Hitler shot himself, his wife, Eva Braun, died by taking cyanide (after testing it on her dog), as did 18 leading Nazis. And millions died from Zyklon B in Nazi death camps – nearly 8,000 people were gassed each day at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Russian President Vladimir Putin uses poison against his enemies (former spy Alexander Litvinenko died three weeks after being poisoned by radioactive Polonium-210) and ...

Days Of Zondo: The fight for freedom from corruption

Days of Zondo is a riveting, shocking and at times emotional read that invites the public into the depths of state capture whilst at the same time giving acknowledgement and catharsis to its victims: the people of South Africa.
On 2 November 2016, then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela ordered a Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. Chaired by Judge Raymond Zondo, the commission began proceedings on 21 August 2018. After three years of staggering testimonies, the breadth and depth of how South Africa was captured has been laid bare for a traumatised nation to comprehend. Award winning journalist, Ferial Haffajee, followed the commission every step of the way and set about making sense of it all in her new book, Days of Zondo: The fight for freedom from corruption.
Read an excerpt here.
The first reports started emerging on 9 July 2021, as night fell. Orange balls of fire lit the winter sky, and as you panned closer, the arson targets clarified as trucks being set alight. On one, eight cars being transported each caught alight and burnt to a cinder. Over that night, 45 more trucks would go up in flames after their drivers were hijacked and tossed out of the cars – the huge freight carriers packed across the road to block the highway. About R3-billion of goods move daily on the N3 in an estimated 6,000 trucks, according to the Road Freight Association.
By the next morning, the arterial N3 highway between Johannesburg and Durban was closed, and cars stretched for kilometres in both directions. The mayhem had started, and it was organised. It snaked in fire-lines through that weekend, moving into Durban and to the outskirts of Johannesburg. By Saturday 10 July, the western edges of the city’s highways were closed, blocking a key entrance into and out of Johannesburg. The mine hostels just off the highway had erupted into protests calling for the release of former President Jacob Zuma, who had been imprisoned four days before. By nightfall, the entrances into Vosloorus, Sebokeng and Tembisa were burning as protesters put down rocks and set fires.
By Monday 12 July, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng were in flames as malls and warehouses were looted for more than 48 unending hours. Many were torched, with ATMs ripped from walls, leaving only the carcass of twisted metal and hanging wiring.
Over the next seven days, South Africa would lose 354 people in an orgy of looting ...

Load shedding 101 – what to consider when buying LED emergency bulbs for your home

More than 15 years of load shedding have brought numerous energy solutions to keep the lights on during power cuts. Rechargeable LED bulbs are among the more accessible solutions, but with so many options and so much jargon, how should you go about choosing the right rechargeable bulb for your home?
Rechargeable LED bulbs, also known as emergency bulbs, are among the more relatively affordable options when it comes to keeping the lights on and easing the frustration brought on by frequent load shedding.
Some, when bought in packs of five or six, cost as little as R40 per bulb, while on the higher and brighter end, they might cost up to a few hundred rand. They work like regular bulbs when the power supply is available, during which time they also recharge while the switch is on. Once the power cuts, they stay on, using the rechargeable battery in the bulb itself. Depending on the bulb, they can last two to eight hours.
It’s important to take charging time into consideration, since some that are advertised to last longer during a power cut, will also require longer charging time. For example, one popular local brand promises up to four hours of battery-powered light, but it also takes for hours to charge fully. Hence it is important to also pay careful attention to the load shedding schedule to check that you have allocated enough time for charging.
Unlike regular incandescent bulbs, LED light uses less energy for comparable brightness. For example, an LED light that uses 13W to 15W of energy, provides about the same brightness as the standard 60W incandescent bulb.
LED lighting is also measured in lumen units, which give a much better idea of the brightness one can expect from a bulb. However, when shopping, especially online, you’re more likely to see the watt measurement in the product description, so it is important to get a sense of that in relation to the lumen units.
For example, looking at popular available options, which range from 5W to 15W, 5W will be the least bright at about 450 lumens, while 15W will be the brightest at around 800 lumens, a relatively standard measure for indoor lighting.
While manufacturers will often provide a lumen measurement for standard use, it is important to consider that many bulbs will be dimmer when switching over to emergency mode during a power cut, in order to get the longest-lasting light ...

We Met in Virtual Reality — connections, community and love in the metaverse

Director Joe Hunting explores the ways online communities are using simulated spaces to connect and help one another in this first-of-its-kind documentary made in VRChat. Gender expression, language and dance classes, and digital weddings suggest a kinder side to the metaverse.
Director Joe Hunting’s immersive film is rendered in real-time on VRChat, a virtual reality platform in which users can have full-body control over CG avatars and interact with one another across a variety of contexts and thousands of kilometres.
Filmed during Covid-19 at a time when many people were physically isolated and struggling emotionally, it takes a strongly promotional stance on the burgeoning technology, celebrating its potential to create community, seed love, and connect people across the world.
An advantage of filming a documentary about virtual reality entirely in virtual reality is how effectively it enables “show, don’t tell” filmmaking, free from a clear narrative. Most interview participants in the film have trouble communicating in conventional ways, either because of physical disability or social awkwardness; but the film does not require them to explain themselves perfectly because the very phenomena they are seeking to describe are being played out for us as they speak — the joy and emotional support that the interviewees find on the platform is touching and easy to recognise, as are their unspoken idiosyncrasies.
When VRChat user Toaster tells us that dating his partner Dust Bunny in VR made him feel “comfortable in his own skin”, the irony seems lost on him — Toaster’s avatar has cat ears, white hair and a tail. This kind of tragic anecdote is often bandied around in the context of new technologies — whether it’s kids preferring video games to playing outside or social media users glued to their phones even in the company of friends.
Yet, there is a difference between VR relationships and those two examples, because while social media users have the opportunity to talk to their friends if they just put down their phones, Toaster may never have found the confidence to be in a relationship (which has extended to the real world as well) if not for VR.
Toaster speaks of the privilege of being able to start over and be whoever you want to be, free of expectations. The other interviewees echo these sentiments. Dust Bunny teaches belly-dancing lessons in VR, and others facilitate lap dancing and improv classes, skills that many people wouldn’t have the confidence to attempt ...

Extra! Extra! Read all about it in The Messenger

One of South Africa’s longest-surviving weekly country newspapers still operates in the Karoo. You should meet the guy who runs the show these days.
The authors of this article are both former newspaper reporters – in all our years on the papers, the only time we ever ventured downstairs to the printers was to attend the company Christmas Party, where grubby blue collar would meet wine-stained white collar and share a dram or two.
Although we loved the sights, sounds and smells of our print shops, we had no idea of how they worked. Like water just flows from a tap, all we knew was that the latest editions of our respective newspapers were the end-products of a mystical process. And, if we were lucky on the day, one or two of our own stories would be in the editorial mix.
Old School Print Shop
So when we pitch up in the Northern Cape town of Victoria West in 2016, we are intrigued to hear of an ancient print shop on the main street, behind the Kempen & Kempen law offices. We have to find out more.
A friendly auditor called George Kersop opens up for us and there it all lies: the Original Heidelberg printing presses, the paper guillotines, piles of printer’s trays, and rows of lead type ready to be arranged and stacked into this week’s news of note. This was once the home of the venerable Victoria West Messenger, a very old country newspaper.
The morning sun shines through the windows and we stroll around, disturbing dust motes that rise in the light. There is a faint smell of hot ink, oil and bird droppings. But there is also still the embedded memory-magic of deadlines chased, local, national and world news written, processed and printed, and a Karoo community informed on many levels.
A Remarkable Country Newspaper
The Victoria West Messenger was born on 11 July 1875. The little Northern Cape farming town lay on the fabled Diamond Road between Cape Town and Kimberley, where a full pack of hookers, hucksters, chancers and chandlers were operating alongside men who were actually getting their hands dirty on the diggings. There was much to report on, as the diamond boomers flowed through a rather astonished Victoria West on their way north.
The Victoria West Messenger was launched by Christiaan W Zinn in 1875, and left in the care of his son (also a Christiaan) in 1890 until 1902, ...

Wonders of the Little Karoo — the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Home to the Big Five, this vast territory resembles the ‘land before time’ and is resident to all manner of living beings. Here, history has been preserved, its secrets revealed at the rock art sites dating back 3,500 years.
As the rubber meets the dirt road that meanders toward the pick-up point at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, one is instantly surrounded by the sound of silence. It is here that wide open plains, mountaintops and gorges create the foothold above which rest the Warmwaterberg mountains.
This diverse slice of the Little Karoo holds within its basin an impressive kaleidoscope of wildlife, a life force of its own. Here, history has been preserved, its secrets revealed at the rock art sites dating back 3,500 years. This is the land of plenty, a national treasure trove in the heart of the Little Karoo. Archaeologists discovered the tools of the early Stone Age hunter-gatherers, the region’s earliest inhabitants — citing that the region, including what is now called Sanbona, supported Homo sapiens more than 500,000 years ago.
The name Sanbona (“vision of the San”) is in recognition of the San, the original indigenous hunter-gatherers who inhabited the landscape for thousands of years, while bona in many African languages, such as isiXhosa and isiZulu, means “to see”, recalling their view of the Little Karoo, a land once rich in game.
The San were semi-nomadic; they followed the availability of water, game and edible plants; for millennia, they moved through the land using only what they needed when they needed it. The remaining tangible reminders of the San people’s existence today are their rock art sites, where images have been painted and engraved on the rockfaces of shelters and caves — some of which are visible at Sanbona today.
There, a rehabilitation programme hoping to recreate an ecosystem as close as possible to the way it is thought to have been 300 years ago, gives visitors an immersive and visual experience of the Little Karoo as it was back when the San inhabited it.
The Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
The Sanbona Wildlife Reserve commands 58,000 hectares (a little under the size of Singapore) of Little Karoo landscape, which is made up of two biodiversity hotspots; the land was reclaimed from 19 farms that historically reared livestock and farmed with fruit.
The reserve was conceptualised and created to attract sustainable nature-based tourism as a way of promoting human, social, cultural and economic development while protecting ecosystems ...

Worried about a watershed – here are different options for back-up water tank for your home

A back-up water tank can collect rainwater, municipal tap water or both. Before deciding which one to invest in, here are some things to consider.
When shopping for a back-up water tank, the choice of tank as well as its water supply system will be informed by, among other things, the water source. Tanks from locally available brands such as Jojo, Roto and Eco can either be filled using the municipal water supply, rainwater harvesting, or both as part of a fully integrated system. It can sound a bit technical, but we break it down for you.
Municipal back-up tank
Municipal back-up systems include a tank that is connected to the municipal water supply. This fills up automatically when water is available from the tap, and if there is a water cut it supplies water to the home. Since the water comes directly from the tap, it should be clean and ready to drink.
However, if you’re unsure about the quality of municipal water in your area, consider adding a post-tank water filter. This could be an under-sink or countertop filter for taps that provide drinking water.
Alternatively, a whole-house filter could be installed outside, close to the tank and water pump, so that it filters all the water going into the house. This system would also have a pressure sensor, which recognises when municipal water gets cut, so that it can start pumping water into the house.
Rainwater harvesting tank
A rainwater harvesting system fills up automatically when it rains. While the water is free, this system requires piping and guttering to get rainwater from roof to tank. Without proper post-tank filtration, rainwater is suitable for washing, irrigation, toilet flushing, car washing, filling up a pool, and other similar uses.
The tank system should also have a pre-filtration system that includes one or all three of the following: a mesh screen below the lid of the tank to keep out insects and debris, a rainhead fitted to the downpipe to direct leaves and debris away from the water flow before the water gets to the tank, and a first-flush rainwater diverter to flush away the initial water, which is likely to be the most contaminated.
If the water is to be used for drinking, it is crucial to include an additional water filtration system for water coming out of the tank, like the aforementioned whole-house filter, since the system needs to be able to remove sediments, bacteria and ...

The Cat Whisperer and I

True-blue cynics, we have gently put a paw forward into New Age thinking in order to lessen the chaos of our warring, two-cat household. World: Observe the battle between Lady Maya and Prince Loki.
For as long as I can remember, except during my teenage years when I was living in a small apartment, or when I was staying in a variety of temporary accommodations as a university student, I have always had pets around me. I liked the idea of sharing my life with animals.
In my early childhood, the first one I remember was a cocker spaniel, Black Doll VII, who was only briefly with us because it was quickly discovered she refused to allow any male — young or old — to go up the steps in our small, two-storey house. The bedrooms were upstairs, along with the house’s single bathroom, meaning her continued place in our family became very problematic. Thereafter, Bruno, a much mellower mongrel took her place, and he had no hangups about who used the stairs. Unfortunately, when we moved to a smaller, rented apartment (no dogs allowed, per the lease), Bruno was adopted by another family.
He had a bizarre craving — for a cat — of loving peeled melon skins.
In between, though, we had a constantly evolving menagerie of reptiles, amphibians, and fish in the house’s tiny basement, in the space between the stairs and the house’s furnace. We housed this collection in various glass tanks and we worked constantly to provide the correct foods and climate controls for these creatures.
The hognose snake only ate baby toads (live if possible); the zebrafish and neon tetras needed a slightly salty, carefully controlled pH in their water; the horned lizards needed heat-lamp warmth and wriggling beetle larvae, and the iguana also needed warmth as well as a daily supply of fresh fruit. Meanwhile, the box tortoise ate lettuce and other vegetables left on a plate on the kitchen floor. He had free range in the house, but his favourite spot was under the legs of the piano bench. Sadly, the menagerie had to be disbanded because of our move to that apartment.
Years later, after we had joined the foreign service and began to be assigned to postings abroad or back in the US on occasion, the old urge to have a pet or two returned. In 1975, in Johannesburg, we adopted a loving, all-black kitten and ...

‘Native Son’: A searing classic about racial violence

Though more than 80 years old, ‘Native Son’ speaks loudly to South Africans and the generation of Black Lives Matter.
When I first read Native Son, its atmosphere followed me for days. Rereading it half a century later, I again felt scorched by its dragon’s breath of burning intensity.
Richard Wright, its African-American author, died in self-imposed exile in Paris in 1960, 20 years after the work was first published.
Why review it now?
Although largely unknown in South Africa, Native Son was a publishing sensation in the US. More importantly, it passes the test for great literature: despite its shocking violence — the New Yorker wrote that it “was not for sentimentalists” — it has cast a long shadow.
The work, described by one critic as “disturbingly contemporary”, still speaks to the age of Black Lives Matter and race-haunted South Africans.
It is, perhaps, the most brutally honest fiction ever composed on the psychology of racial oppression. The Modern Library placed it 20th on its list of essential English-language novels of the last century; Time magazine included it in its top 100 novels of 1903-2005.
Famously, it also drove a wedge between Wright and the US’s best-known black novelist, James Baldwin, who in an essay that ruined their friendship, Everybody’s Protest Novel, attacked it as a pamphlet with cardboard characters. Baldwin later recanted, explaining that “at a carnivorous age . he had sharpened his sword to kill his literary father so that he could take his place”.
Born in a sharecroppers’ shack in Mississippi, Wright lived a childhood of extreme poverty, losing both parents by the age of 10. He later moved to Chicago, where, as a Post Office employee, he went to bed every night on a full stomach for the first time.
Native Son is centrally about the two cities of Chicago — its “Black Belt” and the exclusive white suburbs of the North Shore — and an explosive interaction “across the line”.
Unlike Cry, the Beloved Country, whose perspective is that of a village priest rather than his condemned son, it looks through the eyes of what in South Africa would be considered a young skelm.
Bigger Thomas is a 20-year-old petty gangster who hates his impoverished family, their rat-plagued single room and above all, the overpowering world of whites who, he tells his friend Gus, “make us live in one corner of the city” and “don’t let us do nothing”.
With bitter envy, the two men watch ...

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