Is Orange Grove a ‘world class’ African suburb? It most certainly is buzzing with life. While it is a cosmopolitan suburb, attracting a growing number of people, it is steadily deteriorating. Can this trend be reversed?


What is a world-class city?

Essentially all the world class cities are in the northern hemisphere. They include places like London, New York, Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo. They are financial hubs where transnationals feel very much at home. Places where the rich drink hard, play hard and have access to the finest foods, theatres, museums, galleries, parks, golf courses, fast and efficient transport… bars and prostitutes. All this the fuel they require to work like maniacs to conquer the ‘market’. For them there is only one market, the global market. And they want to gobble as much of it as they possibly can.

World-class cities are also places where the rich have access to world-class education and health care within secure neighbourhoods; this is the part I find most attractive. That it comes with ostentatious wealth from which global resources can be amassed and controlled is merely a challenge. Providing opportunities to channel wealth into more humane and sustainable directions I have learnt to regard it. For I am tired of the filth. I am tired of complacency. I am tired of the old and the new politics and business models. I think I might be voraciously greedy and want the best of all worlds… And I am doing my best to eat from all cakes?



What is a world-class African city?

A world-class African City is a city that is the financial hub of Africa – the gateway to the wealth of the rest of the continent.

When originally formulated perhaps it was meant to be the New York of Africa. Or perhaps Dubai. (Actually, Dubai is in Africa, isn’t it? Just checked – it is part of Asia. Imagine that!) Under Ramaphosa and Malema it may have morphed into the desire to make it the Beijing of Africa. And a stepping stone for Xi Jinping to leap ahead in the race for Africa’s mineral and natural wealth? (And another place to put his cheap and hard-working labour force to work? In exchange for large infrastructure projects, making it a potentially fair exchange?)

Yet now that Amazon is said to be in a duet with Eskom, who knows? Perhaps the ANC and EFF like China’s version of communist-capitalism and the Motsepe extended family likes Amazon’s version of capitalism-capitalism. Will the family get shares in Amazon’s solar energy production plant? Regardless, in terms of being part of the global economy it makes sense to host some of the new players. Yet only if the exchange serves our nation, with at least a 50% win for the South African economy?

An article from Urbanage, although written in 2006, captures a vision of a prosperous, post-apartheid Johannesburg very well. It reminded me that the problem is the solution. Used creatively, it has the potential to channel our crudeness and competitiveness into pride. And into innovation applied. I particularly like the city’s own phraseology: ‘a world class city with service deliverables and efficiencies that meet world best practice’.

Where is Orange Grove on this African world-class map?

While I envision Orange Grove as a secure and caring suburb, we are in fact a buffer zone – on the wrong side of the M1. Running parallel to a still decaying Louis Botha Avenue suggests that we’d better reinvent ourselves. Falling between the sophisticated Sandton and Rosebank and the poverty of Alexandra we feel the pressure of new socio-economic dynamics. That is, those of us who have bourgeoise tendencies. We want to increase our security and prevent a drop in property and rental values. Or at the very least, we want to protect or create pockets of genteel-living somehow. At least I do.

Yet, those of us whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus lockdowns feel the pressure even more: the fear of being resourceless; the fear of becoming dependent and a burden on others; the fear of becoming homeless. The already homeless are the worst off. Their numbers have risen. They look thinner than they did before. The harmless mentally ill, and the non-functional drug addicts and alcoholics suddenly stand out. Unmasked, the marginalized and self-marginalized have become symbols of the crisis our suburb faces… With fewer and fewer public spaces within which to hide, they require special and urgent support.


Between Township and Suburb

Orange Grove now feels like suburbia has met township. Quaint heritage buildings increasingly back up against shack-like illegal brick structures. And vandalised houses. This has become discomforting. The habit of referring to places like Houghton as a suburb and Alexandra as a township comes from the apartheid era – technically both are townships. These euphemisms, though, serve to alert us to the quality of life in specific places; suburbs are generally more desirable and well-resourced residential areas. Townships imply the opposite – intentionally neglected.

That Alexandra is stuck with the label ‘township’ often means that it remains the last to receive upgrades and service delivery. And sadly, also the first to destroy what they do have when power politics erupts in the interests of divide and rule. Or is this merely a false perception? Nonetheless, I wonder if calling Alexandra a suburb would make a difference to its status? Would it increase pride in its history? Would it lead to title deeds being given to landowners who have been waiting for decades to have their rights formalized? Would sustainable redesign lead to a better quality of life for its residents? Could residents who want to move be absorbed into the fast developing Linbro Park. And once our social housing has been built, into Orange Grove? While Alexandra gets a facelift according to their own vision for their community?

Why have I linked Orange Grove to Alexandra?  It is because the Corridors of Freedom have linked all the suburbs running on either side of Louis Botha Avenue towards Empire Road. The Corridors of Freedom vision is our potential slice of an African world-class city. This could be the pot of gold to be shared amongst us, if we work with it – across current divides.


The Corridor of Freedom and Education

Orange Grove is beloved by artists, intellectuals, families, retirees, students, immigrants, the free spirited… However, overcrowding, in this heritage suburb whose sewerage and storm water infrastructure requires urgent upgrading, is becoming an oppressive deficit to the quality of life. Disquieting for people like me who like the tranquil life… with Paterson Park for tree hugging and other outdoor pleasantries unavailable due to sinkholes not yet attended to.

However, what I perceive as overcrowding, others see as additional streams of income. And still others, as cheap rentals they can barely afford. (Forms of compassion too, in a harsh urban environment?) With prosperity it glistens for those who see opportunity when compared to their places of origin. For the jaded, civil rights die-hards degradation is has become. Can these two divergent viewpoints meet?

Can we agree that the trajectory we are on extends the lifespan of economic apartheid, when what we voted for in 1992 was: A better life for all. Working together for jobs, peace and freedom. Actually, this was what Zuma promised. I am almost sure the original included housing. And education. And a safe and clean environment. And health care… And ubuntu consciousness in action?



Choosing the sustainability path

My own desire for Orange Grove, indeed for every community I am part of, is that we become ever more sustainable. And inclusive. For sustainability without inclusivity is but another fascism – sustainability calls for transforming chaos into order; turning garbage into compost. Inclusivity, on the other hand, reminds me that I am but one of many and that my desire for well-being must be tempered by practical care of all creatures. And right now in my community, of human beings.

Why especially human beings? Because globally, we have moved into a potentially fascist phase, where deep ecologists consider human beings a threat to the animal and plant kingdoms. And some political and business elites consider humans less than animals. While others consider all life forms to be disposable, excluding their own. Is this not the shadow side of enlightened liberalism? And of unenlightened consumerism? And of dogmatic communism? Are these not just examples of practical Godlessness on the prowl?

To renew my own commitment to sustainability, I have had to allow some of my fascisms to fall. The one that surprised me most, was my loathing of plastic. It came about during lockdown. In most stores only single use plastic bags were allowed. Sometimes recyclable plastic, which made my heart pound – how can a nonrecyclable suddenly become compostable? My mind I stilled, took what was on offer. And then something else… a new pattern of accepting what I cannot change became established. Gave way to gratitude for what I have. And for what is available. What’s the use of hating when elevating is possible? (Being grateful, while looking for potential alternatives. And bringing them to market – created locally, used locally.)


Saving and creating livelihoods

Still, this is the last day of the festival of Chanukah, Judaism’s festival of lights, and the energy of this sacred time calls me to get up off my couch and actively attend to what’s happening in my neighbourhood. Again. Being part of a place where locals and tourists can come for good food and drink I am for. (Except that COVID19 seems opposed to all human interaction – seems to want us to know who our family and friends are, and interact with them, and them alone. Tourists we seem to have become every time we move out of our homes. Which has had me thinking that small intimate businesses, such as restaurants, might do with a committed local and loyal clientele that keeps businesses ticking over. A group of people who commit to ordering food on a specific day of the week for a specific minimum amount. (Exclusive access – a club of a kind? An apartheid of a kind? Skating on the edge, allowing new insights to penetrate the mind? In order to bring sustainable practices to birth?)

The other idea that’s being milling around in my mind is the creation of family businesses at all levels. The Motsepes’ have shown the way. In another direction, so have the Guptas. All over the world it is families working together that are transitioning rather well. (This a generalization though for some bespoke eco-social businesses can’t compete with cheaper product competition.) Nonetheless, at the lowest socio-economic level each householder in urban South Africa, with three dependents, should aim to earn a salary of at least R8000 per month. (This was posted on FB, by a lovely human, during summer. Apparently, this would allow for saving to take place. It is an earning rate that makes dignified living possible and sustainable.) I have no idea how it was calculated, so it’s for others to work the budgets out.


Ongoing eco-social challenges

Even though it is part of our local economy, trade in illegal drugs, and drunkenness, makes me queasy. As does purely transactional sex – when the pimps take all the cash. And my African ancestors have been speaking for months now: men and women must be separated. Men live on one side of Louis Botha and women on the other. I have been shy to share this, for it made no sense to me. Until I remembered that this part of the Corridor of Freedom is meant to provide accommodation for students – amongst other goals.
Would this turn these gender-based violence generators into gold? Would it serve to empower women? (If it were to happen, and I had a choice, I would have the single women live on the SuperSconto side of Louis Botha. It’s the side where the Norwood Police Station is situated and thus more easily reached. More readily policed.)


Funding for social interventions

I have been looking around for a building from which to provide social services to the most vulnerable in our community. A place where people can go for a shower, food vouchers, assistance, education, facilitation into treatment and rehabilitation centres… Two public properties  stand out: the former Norwood library and the former research library on Louis Botha. Could it work if run by Noah Can, under the supervision of the Black Sash or the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation?

It would require funding. Since they led our march against gender-based violence and drug abuse recently, should we approach the Church of Scientology? Or will we have better luck with the Gift of the Givers?

Perhaps a good place to start is by donating what we can to the Gift of the Givers. It is a Muslim organization with an excellent reputation for responsiveness and trustworthiness. They are at the forefront of disaster management and are currently requesting donations for PPE for medical staff in the Eastern Cape.



This brings my written efforts to encourage a permaculture approach to eco-social sustainable design in Orange Grove to a close. Recently liberated from following school schedules I want to spread my wings and integrate my twin passions. In the background I am a Portuguese Roman Catholic sangoma reverting to Judaism. In daily life I am a sower of seeds, literally and figuratively.  I have recently awoken as an explorer of ways to manage the interface between the built environment and natural ecosystems. In terms of community work I want to dedicate my time to work with those who share my eco-social sustainability vision. I also want to ground my work in a stable structure that generates wealth for me, my family and those I work with. To this end I am integrating my websites and refining what I offer; lockdown has also loosened my resistance to online consultations…



If over the years, my writing has provided you with guidance, affirmation, insights and/or entertainment kindly consider supporting my transition to self-sustainability by splitting a donation between me and Gift of the Givers. (Because I am an eco-social entrepreneur your donation to me will be taxable. I have no problem with this, for paying my taxes will contribute to a better life for all? I just wish that the focus on getting former president Zuma jailed would shift to getting all that squandered money back… From his children’s future taxes, if need be? Yet, is it fair to pass the parent’s debts on to future generations? Surely there must be just ways to recover the deficits in the common purse?)

My bank details are as follows:

Bank : FNB
Electronic Bank Code : 258
Branch : 258624 (Norwood)
Account Name: LDM Training and Consulting
Cheque Account No : 62312200827

To donate to Gift of the Givers visit


Sources and Resources

World-class cities:

Johannesburg: A world-class African city:

Report on Corridors of Freedom:

Different types of taxes:

Gift of the Givers:

Gift of the Givers’ Imtiaz Sooliman: The Eastern Cape is in deep crisis

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