President Mandela loved children. All children, for race was not a barrier to him. I remembered how he loved young voices singing, “Twinkle, twinkle little star”. How he loved to join in. And even, on occasion, providing a solo. I remembered how he loved to shuffle to all kinds of music. So, how about spending seven minutes, of the sixty-seven, in a shuffle for Mandela Day?

I remembered this the day after driving along Main Reef Road in Johannesburg. I became aware of toxins. Main Reef Road always has this effect to me… Toxins in mine dumps. Toxins in dry wetlands. Acidic toxins in water. Toxins in the air. Toxins in thoughts and feelings. Toxicity in unemployment realities. Toxicity in hunger looming

To raise our spirits. To raise our vibrational levels. To elevate our fears into awe at the myriad positive choices opening up for us, if we so choose… Moving us into positive actions that make South Africa a better place for all who live here… An inclusive space, a resilient place with a regenerative approach to eco-social-economic challenges as the way forward.

Music and Healing

Healing music can support healing from all sorts of traumas. And disappointments. And anxieties. And depressions. And insecurities. Music can bridge divides. Music can light up the darkness in our hearts. And moving to music brings our whole body into the experience of the delight in being alive. Despite harsh realities. And as respite from contemptuous projections… Music, scientific studies in Germany have verified, can save lives.

If, on Mandela Day, you can sing and dance outdoors in nature, so much the better. For despite our challenges there is definitely room for celebration. How so? Well, we have these little stars twinkling within us. These little shimmering lights are activated within, when the dark skies we gaze into. With a sense of wonder. With a sense of awe at how bright we all are. Every single one of us…

Is it the inner child’s sense of awe that makes healing possible? It might be. It might be wonderous awe that frees the imagination to dream new dreams. And to refresh ancient ancestral aspirations. Is it not awe that elevates fear? Awe that makes love of G-d’s creations possible? Including love of our fellow human beings? Including all sentient beings? Including non-sentient beings? After all these also have vibrational energies that emanate healing power. This is known in all shamanic traditions. And in some branches of western science too…  

Connecting with creations within creation enriches the confidence-building process. And what a variety of choices we have on our southern tip of Africa:

star-studded dark skies,

rainforests dense with evergreens,

streams running clear,

snow-capped mountains,

seasonal grasslands waiting for summer rain

winter sunlight against blue, blue skies

in sacred spaces

in biomes biodiverse…

Shuffling for Biodiversity Protection

I went into the DFFE’s Invasive Aliens Stakeholder Forum with a dream. I thought my dream was doable. Yet in fact-checking what I had gleaned I discovered that I hadn’t been listening to the facts as they were presented. And it created a doubt in my mind as to the value and viability of my dreams. And called into question my listening skills.

How had over eight hundred thousand million rand been transformed into eight hundred thousand billion rand in my mind? How had “nature reserves” been changed into “Residents’ Associations” in my head? How had this false conversion happened?

I was bemused to discover that I had gone in with a parochial hope. My interest was in keeping up to date with Joburg City’s policy on Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (PSHB). This tiny beetle, with its fungicide companion, has weakened many of our trees. While some trees have already died, more will do so in the coming years. That many of these trees are in the final phase of their life expectancy exacerbates the challenge. While the forum agenda gave it a slot, most of the time was allocated to invasive alien plants and creatures that threaten the biological integrity of South Africa’s biomes.

However, a greater underlying concern I have is that South Africa is headed towards The Great Hunger. Unless we prioritise growing food. As a matter of urgency. This may have overridden my ability to be fully present and attentive. Regardless of the reason, how might I rectify this? How might I transform my attendance from wasted time to productive learning that I might share with you?

I will do my best in this article by making suggestions of what I consider shuffling for on Mandela Day.

Perhaps we could consider removing invasive alien plants from our own properties and suburbs. Perhaps in the process people might identify where community food gardens may be grown.

Perhaps some will include trees in their eco-inclusive designs…

A larger number of plants than I expected are classified as invasive. Some are very pretty ornamental plants. Some are productive fruit-bearing plants. Some might be used productively as firewood. Or have other economic benefits when removed.

Perhaps in addition to checking your own plant stock against the invasive alien plant list you might want to get your community involved. Getting biome enthusiasts to educate the public on common invasive aliens like bugweed, lantana and privet might be a great start. Yet be sure to with removing invasive alien species on your property. Where these are present on public property it might be best to inform City Parks. And take it from there.

Invasive alien plants (IAPs) fall into four different categories. According to a SANBI article these are:

Category 1a:
Invasive species requiring complete eradication.

Category 1b:
Invasive species requiring compulsory control as part of an invasive species control programme.

Category 2:
Invasive species regulated by area. No permits will be issued for Cat 2 plants to exist in riparian zones.

Category 3:
Invasive species regulated by activity. No permits will be issued for Cat 3 plants to exist in riparian zones.

A plant might fall into different categories in different part of the country. In some places invasive alien plants can be a permissible asset – in agriculture, for example. Depending on the category of the plant, permits to grow these may be necessary.

Be aware that trees in public spaces, including alien trees, such as the jacaranda tree, may not be removed without permission from Joburg City Parks. In fact, no trees in public spaces may be removed without permission. And even here, according to policy trees will only be removed “when the tree is completely dead unless it proves to be dangerous to its surroundings.”

Given my lack of attention at the forum, and opting out of the information loop during lockdown, necessitated doing additional research in order to catch up. As I understand it, Working for Water is one of six programmes that fall under the Natural Resource Management Programmes (NRM). These address, “water resource management, biological diversity and the functioning of natural systems whilst ensuring meaningful livelihood opportunities are supported for those employed on these programmes.”

The eco-furniture factories that were showcased at the Forum, fall under the Environmental Protection & Infrastructure Programmes (EPIP). These focus on, “infrastructure related projects that contribute towards the environmental protection, conservation and sustainability, whilst creating work opportunities, and providing skills development to enable beneficiaries to secure permanent employment.”

Both NRM and EPIP fall under the Environmental Programmes offered by DFFE.

NRM works in three-year cycles. New tenders will become available for 2023. This is a massive undertaking and thankfully much work done has been done.

More is being undertaken to improve access to useful information. The website is a user-friendly database of invasive plants and animals. It includes the category status for each plant and region. And for the lovers of indigenous plants, it lists suitable substitutes for invasive alien plants.

Kay Montgomery, who headed up the forum, is keen to have the NRM budget used for the purposes intended. You are thus urged to tender for contracts. For detailed information, including history, challenges and the tender process view:

Whatever you decide, make sure it is by-law compliant. Use your sixty-seven minutes on Mandela Day to strengthen our constitutional democracy, not to derail it.

Shuffling for Responsible Inclusivity

Karin and Steven Spotiswoode, volunteers at Friends of Kloofendal Nature Reserve, work with their City Parks manager to bring invasive alien plants under control. They train and supervise EPWP (Expanded Public Works Programme) workers at Kloofendal to achieve their goals.

The workers come in unskilled and leave with ecological knowledge and skills related to removing invasive alien plants. They are taught to identify the plants they are to remove. They are provided with gloves to protect themselves from thorns and prickly hairs which are found on some of the invasive alien plants. Because many of these are toxic, workers are required to wash their hands afterwards – as a safety precaution.

In addition, the use of tree-poppers lightens the effort required to remove a sapling. It also increases efficiency.

For monitoring and reporting purposes, plants are placed in piles. Their identity and number are recorded in an exercise book. Additionally, photos are sent to Karin on a daily basis via WhatsApp.

This process is repeated with every new group – every three months. This is impressive value-add to a public works programme. That it is made possible by skilled and dedicated volunteers is information worth noting. Yet I dared hope there was more. I asked if they were able to provide letters of reference for the workers. After all, soft skills are best communicated in this way. And given that soft skills are transferable across sectors such letters are valuable to their recipients and potential future employers. Karin said that she makes an effort to do this – yet COVID did affect this too…

This act of working together, and of actively valuing each person’s contribution, adds respect and care to the work experience. It builds trust and transforms “unskilled labour” into a skilled labourer. In a context where “menial work” and “unskilled labour” still colours the way many people perceive essential tasks the work of the Friends of Kloofendal Nature Reserve serves as a replicable model with the power to grow self-worth and confidence in people who otherwise labour under unkind perceptions and conditions. That it improves the enthusiasm and quality of work outcomes so that goals are achieved, recorded and tracked is testimony to the value of an inclusivity that is cognizant of responsibility for everyone in the system.

If you would like to learn more, Karin and Steve would be delighted to pass on their knowledge and skills. Contact them towards the end of July to join them on an alien invasive plant walk.

Friends of Kloofendal Nature Reserve also offer star-gazing. The next one is on August 6th.

Despite what I have shared, you may still be wondering why I have included eradication of plants as part of inclusivity. The link is indirect and counter-intuitive. After all inclusion is about making space for everyone, for everything. This is true. Yet what happens to a landscape when stronger species are allowed to multiply freely can be devastating to indigenous species. And ultimately destroys the support base of life in a region.

However, if habitat, ecosystem and biome integrity is included in the definition of inclusivity, then perhaps inclusivity is best qualified with a commitment to responsible inclusivity. Once we do so, the removal of invasive plants, whether alien or indigenous, but not endemic, becomes a responsible and inclusive action. It enables us to see that respecting natural boundaries increases resilience for all creations who inhabit a common ecosystem.

This visit to Kloofendal Nature Reserve softened my disappointment that there is nothing in the Working for Water budget for my suburb. We are not a nature reserve. Nor are we registered as a conservancy. And Residents’ Associations’ don’t qualify. This is our reality…

Whatever you decide, make sure it is by-law compliant. Use your sixty-seven minutes on Mandela Day to strengthen our constitutional democracy, not to derail it.

Shuffling for Joburg’s Urban Forest

More challenging for the lovers of our magnificent Jacaranda trees, is the confirmation that these may not be propagated for planting anywhere in South Africa. Instead, it was suggested that lovers of that shade of purple try planting tree wisteria… The latter is a pretty, indigenous tree. Perhaps its colour is even more pleasing than that of the Jacaranda? “But it does not have the majesty of the exotic”, some might protest. This is true. However, you might want to take a page from my lesson this month – emotional attachments that don’t serve regenerative ecological sustainability are best dropped. Transferring Jacaranda-love to local biome-inclusive species might be a way to make the transition more palatable… Perhaps a thanksgiving song for the jacaranda and a praise song for tree wisteria might help… And an accompanying shuffle might just swing it?

And for those of you who love the Jacaranda with a deeper love than most, perhaps you want to try your hand at growing jacaranda bonsai… if this is permitted.

Yet, some might love the Jacaranda tree for its height and the spread of its crown. To provide this is more challenging, especially since some of the favoured substitute indigenous trees are PHSB hosts.

In addition, we require more biodiversity. Yet since I have now moved along and been thinking in terms of food for Mzansi, I wondered if fruit trees mightn’t fill a gap. Not alongside narrow roads, for you don’t want fruit denting the body work of your vehicles… Yet we have large verges that could definitely provide the necessary spaces.

This is just a thought though, to get you thinking about how we can provide fruit-bearing trees for the public all over Johannesburg. A local version of a food bank? Where we grow vegetables under tree canopies in public spaces? This of course, would have to fall under the auspices of both DFFE and the Department of Agriculture. Or would it?

Yet even if the Department of Agriculture also had billions to put into poverty-alleviation food security programmes they couldn’t possibly deliver agroforests at the rate we might require them. And if we plant piecemeal, chances are someone will want to steal them. Or simply uproot them, for reasons that defy logic. Yet if we all plant together, all over the city, we might get somewhere… really fast… It would require a willingness to be a volunteer…

I remain a dreamer. These two suggestions are an attempt to bridge the gap between conservationists and the little people on the ground. The people with small incomes. The people with continued hope that the state will attend to their needs. The reality, though, is that cultural diversity is challenging. It is not easy to make space for those we perceive as uncomfortably different from ourselves. It is not easier for those who perceive us as uncomfortably different from themselves either… So, a little give and take, that is sensitive to the biomes we live in, is perhaps something to consider. A common, and responsibly inclusive, vision would be a wonderful step in the right direction…

Whatever you decide, make sure it is by-law compliant. Use your sixty-seven minutes on Mandela Day to strengthen our constitutional democracy, not to derail it.

Shuffling for a Healthy Environment

In the same way that plants and animals benefit from having a pristine home to call their own, so do human beings. The right to a healthy environment, whether urban, peri-urban or rural, is entrenched in our constitution.

I remembered this too – the day after driving along Main Reef Road towards the west of Johannesburg. When I became aware of those toxins…  I remembered that my antipathy to the West Rand is a projection. A prejudice. I grew up on the East Rand and Main Reef Road is no better there – I imagine. It’s just that for some strange reason I always thought coal mine dumps were better than gold dust… That the people who lived on the east rand were somehow superior to those who lived on the other end of the road… The truth is that every effort to reduce too high levels of toxicity everywhere will build trust and confidence in our rainbow nation.

Yet who will deliver on the promise of a healthy environment?

The state must. It is its constitutional responsibility to do so.

On this note, it seems that the people at DFFE have been extraordinarily busy in achieving their goals and mandates. Yet what was clear is that civil servants cannot do so on their own.

The deficits across the system are just too many, too wide spread… and there aren’t enough of them. The harsh reality is that a healthy environment is best supported with healthy-environment related habits. Switching off electrical points when not in use is one of them. Using water sparingly is another. Ensuring that waste is sorted and goes to the right collection point is also worthwhile putting effort into. Being conscious consumers seems to be what life is asking of us:

Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Rot, Recycle

While none of these actions are directly kind to human beings, they all contribute to an overall healthy environment. Such small actions are also good habits that improve our chances of building a resilient future. They are training in caring for others. They are even excellent exercises in learning to care for ourselves.

Does positive change come from turning guns into manhole covers? I think it does. Not necessarily literally… I trust that you agree. Positive change comes from refusing to buy manhole covers from anyone. Including hungry and desperate people? I think hungry people need food, not “self-employment” that is destructive of community assets and infrastructure. Does entrepreneurship not have its limits? Does responsible kindness not come from providing the most helpful service to the people?

One element, many functions is one of the principles of permaculture. My dreaming is attuned to this sustainability design principle. Most people have dreams. And sometimes people like me, who delight in dreaming, may appear to lose touch with reality. I haven’t. I may have lost touch with the minutae of programmes. I have not lost touch with the big issues. I dare trust that my writing does serve a practical and useful purpose, namely, to galvinise the “doers” to enrich what they offer. In this case to use every element in the poverty-alleviation programmes to upskill those excluded from formal education. I have been remiss in not following up with the educational arm of the NRM. Yet I trust that they are delivering on their mandates. The only recommendation I therefore have is examples of “graduates” be posted on one of the websites. And social media. Success stories would go some way in building confidence in the positive employment or entrepreneurial impact of the programmes. While decreasing unemployment realities as much as possible.

Nonetheless, if NRM achievements are limited to protecting our biomes for future generations, that too is significant. It is a huge investment in the present for the future. And every bit of success in removing and eradicating invasives that threaten our biodiversity to realise that dream is to the credit of the people involved. You give me hope. You give me a reason to carry on dreaming for more people like you… I have no doubt that filling in all the vacancies in government departments would also lower unemployment rates. Even if only slightly, for every post filled is one small step in the right direction.

Whatever you decide, do your best to make sure it is by-law compliant. Use your sixty-seven minutes on Mandela Day to strengthen appreciation and responsible kindness, not to abuse our democratic freedoms.

Shuffling for the Children

In many ways Mandela Day is kindness-to-children-day. Regardless of identities. Local or foreign. I sat in on a meeting where I was told not to scare children with climate change. Not to scare children with harsh realities. Rather sow seeds of hope. Better still get them to sow the seeds themselves. Real seeds. Seeds that will bear nutritious food. And seeds for sowing in the following season. Using the indigenous knowledge of their mothers. And grandmothers… It’s all there. All that knowledge is in the mothers. All that is needed are some open-pollinated heirloom seeds. Not hybrids. And, of course, responsible use of pavements!

This came from the inner child of someone whose mission might be to feed the world. Without any judgements as to whether seeds are open pollinated or hybrid. Regardless of whether food is non-GMO or GMO. So long as people have something to eat is what is important. That too was a reality check for me. I began to appreciate that behind many realists is a dreamer focused on working within harsh realities to serve the common good. It’s elementary, isn’t it. Yet I could not see it until recently.

My hope remains that the awe within each person finds its way to the surface, to free creative imagination in each one. To attune reality to the ideal of appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life. And to work with that as the frame, the ground, on which to build resilience.

And for those of our people who have lost their indigenous knowledge of growing their own food, of farming?

Well, there are the successful farmers one sees along Main Reef Road, planting on the verges. On the edges where road meets soil. I have seen them in other places too. Perhaps with their efforts, and more like theirs The Great Hunger can be transformed into Food Sovereignty Abundance.

I sense it won’t come from poverty-alleviation programmes alone. No matter how much might be allocated to such a programme. It will not come from one single type of intervention. It will come from regenerative agriculture applied at multiple levels. At the level of the individual for the individual. Of the family for that family. Of the co-op for the members of the co-op. Of the market gardens for the suburbs surrounding them. Of the larger, more specialised organic farmers for the local and international markets. It will come from each one working at the level at which they are most effective.

For those of you with ancestral land, or with relatives on ancestral land, here is a final suggestion for today. Invest in your extended family on these lands. Buy them implements. Buy them seeds. Or find out how you can access available resources of this nature. Invest in water harvesting infrastructure…

Become a consumer of rural family products, fresh and beneficiated. Become a buyer. And if they are really successful, become a market in the urban area you live in… It is just a suggestion, for I don’t know your circumstances. I do know that indigenous knowledge of the land and the elements in the landscape are still available in some parts of our country. And that it is valuable knowledge. It is knowledge that can be transformed into an asset for the future. If you open your eyes to possibilities that transform harsh realties into life-giving, life-affirming, life-enhancing productive opportunities.

It will come provided theft and sabotage can be substantially reduced within communities. Through acts of responsible kindness. Placing criminals in jail is such an act. Yet more responsible, and kinder, is finding out what each person can contribute to making our communities more resilient – future hardy as it were. For everyone with a will to do so has some gift to contribute to a better world.

I have a belief I thought strange. It is that if everyone did what they came here to do then all would be dandy. To know what your contribution to making the world better is the best way to avoid stealing what does not belong to you. And, as a teacher who shares this belief added, “to avoid stealing from yourself”. For example, if you are meant to teach it really doesn’t help to be a university lecturer when it is kindergarten children who will most benefit from your talents. And the other way round…

President Mandela had a large vision for our nation. It is an inclusive vision that values each member’s contribution. And takes care of those whose contribution is to awaken us to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Based on his wisdom, it appears then that our dreams have become small. Parochial. Selfish. Self-absorbed.

Yet perhaps there is another way to look at what is happening on the ground. Perhaps our South African reality is but a microcosm of a global reality and when seen within this context, we are in the same boat as everyone else. Yet we have the possibility of getting off other people’s boats and onto dry land. Our land. If we do this, do we have a better chance of transforming our losses into compost, into black gold that nourishes life? I think we do. What do you think?

If you choose to do this as a spiritual exercise, perhaps you want to take it one step further. President Mandela was a great visionary leader. Yet did he think he was God? I don’t think so. I think he knew himself to be a servant leader. I think he valued and respected boundaries. I think he was, like we all are, just human. Just human in relation to the Source of Life. Or as Psalm 146 would have it:

Put not your trust in the great,

in mortal man who cannot save.

His breath departs;

he returns to the dust;

on that day his plans come to nothing.

Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,

whose hope is in the Lord his God,

maker of heaven and earth,

the sea and all that is in them,

who keeps faith forever;

who secures justice for those who are wronged,

gives food to the hungry…   

The Invasive Aliens Stakeholder Forum enabled me to reexamine my attitude to science, particularly western science. I concluded that I value the scientific method. I value the contribution of scientists to life. Yet at the back of my mind there is always an amber light that insists I distinguish between science and Science. And that I ask people to do the same. For I remember Auschwitz. I remember the Holocaust. I remember that some of Germany’s foremost scientists used their knowledge and skills in the service of death. They did this when German culture was at the peak of its civilized expression. Their scientists bowed to Science when, like everyone else, they should have bowed to Hashem (The Name). And to Hashem alone.

Wishing you a blessed Mandela Day, filled with actions that make children happy. Including your inner child. Actions attuned with the new earth. Regenerative actions. Actions that maximize every element within our system to reverse the trend towards exclusion, inequality and poverty. Actions that reflect the abundance Hashem has endowed the earth with – for the good of all her creations.  


(I am reviewing, with a teacher, what it means to be a sangoma for Hashem. And if this is the best way to describe what I do. And the best way to describe my particular contribution to life. I am a work in progress! This comes with its challenges… Do you find this to be true for you too?)

As possible aids to reflection I have chosen the following vlog. It is soft, feminine and a lovely example of a millennial in an English eco-inclusive village.

For the more practical amongst you I have chosen five quotes attributed to Albert Einstein to ponder on.  

Most people say that it is the intellect that makes a great scientist. They are wrong. It is character.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

The destiny of civilized humanity depends more than ever on the moral forces it is capable of generating.

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

This blog is dedicated to the millennial who inspired the star theme.  

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