Documenting the fires

(…and lots of other stuff too.)

I first noticed Sullivan Photography when Justin Sullivan (for it is he) took some images of some gratuitous violence on the UCT campus during the recent ‘Fees Must Fall’ protests. But as a documentary photographer, he’s been concentrating on the wildfires that plague the Cape region at this time of year, and he’s come up with some more gems from Somerset West overnight.

These were snaffled from Facebook, so the image quality won’t be all that, but the composition, the drama and the devastation is all too clear to see.

The latest reports from the Somerset West fire this morning suggest that it is still far from under control, and with high temperatures and strong winds forecast for the rest of the day, the firefighters have got their work cut out for them. Again.

UPDATE: Here [facebook link] are some more of Justin’s photos from this morning.

Incoming: Black South Easter

Much talk around about the ‘Black South Easter’ that is expected to hit Cape Town over the next 36 hours or so, bringing with it high winds, dark clouds and much rain. And right from the outset, it should be pointed out that this nomenclature isn’t a racist thing. We don’t have an alternative ‘White South Easter’ which lives very comfortably in Constantia, happily subsisting off its ill-gotten, pre-94 gains and complaining about the ANC. No, this is so named because of the threatening colour of the clouds – a kind of meteorological Swart Gevaar, if you wish to continue the rather tenuous analogy.

The braai-ruining South Easter or ‘Cape Doctor’ which is usually prevalent in Cape Town from October through to (at least) December is due to a pressure area called the South Atlantic High (SAH) which sits just off the Cape coast and fairly regularly joins up with its equally high friend in Durban. These guys hang around together, being high, giggling at nothing in particular, eating Pringles and forming a ridge of high pressure below South Africa, bringing with them the warm Cape Doctor, which, despite its reputation for blowing patio chairs over in Vredehoek, is actually a fair weather wind.

All good so far? Fantastic.
So what goes wrong in this Black South Easter scenario, which is responsible for such nastiness as the great Laingsburg Flood?

At first the rain was gentle as a result of a low pressure system.  But from Saturday afternoon to Sunday a high pressure system brought heavy thunder showers to the catchment area.  Up to 425 mm rainfall was recorded that week-end, whereas the normal rainfall per annum is only 175 mm.

Well, despite their insistence that a high pressure system was solely to blame, it was actually the interaction between that high pressure system and what’s called a Cut-Off Low pressure area. Please don’t think for a moment that we’re talking about the usual mild-mannered inland low pressure trough that sits over the Karoo in summer here. No, this puppy is a deep low pressure area and it would much rather be with its mates down towards Antarctica at this time of year. Sadly, our South Atlantic High is so out of it that he’s joined up with his Bru from Durbs and unwittingly separated the low from his friends. Awkward.

Let’s explain what’s going on by transposing this situation into a bar room scenario. It would be a bit touch and go.
Ideally, the low pressure area would note the obviously wasted state of the South Atlantic High, politely point out the awkward social situation that had occurred – “Sorry dude, I just need to slip past, please” – and things would be quickly resolved.

Sadly though, meteorological pressure areas are unable to communicate with one another – or anyone else for that matter – and the angry young low has been doing Jägerbombs since lunchtime. He lets fly with everything he’s got, dragging the warm air from our high friends, chucking in some filthy black clouds and several inches of precipitation in his annoyance at not being allowed to sit with his mates over at the other side of the pub.

Fortunately, all this bluster doesn’t last for very long. Whereas a normal winter low pressure area would go on for a few days, the cut off low soon runs out of energy and falls down drunk at the bar. The ridge of high pressure looks on, grinning: “Dude, he totally fell over,” and gets on with clearing the dark clouds over the Mother City. That’s why Sunday actually looks quite nice and summer returns on Monday, when we’re all back at work.

If the forecast is to be believed, we’re in for a lot of rain from Friday evening through into Saturday. So do stay safe and remember these numbers in case of emergency.

What’s the point of…?

It struck me over the weekend that there are two questions I need answering.

1. What is the point of Somerset West?

Yes, what is the point of Somerset West, exactly?
Most Capetonians will know Somerset West as the place that ruins your weekend getaway plans by delaying you so much on Friday night that you arrive in your Overberg or Garden Route destination later than you wanted to be, tireder than you wanted to be and a whole lot more pissed off than you wanted to be. You curse the name of the wretched place and it gets back at you by making your return journey even more hellish, by allowing you to see the delays that face you all the way down Sir Lowry’s Pass.
And even with the multi-million Rand upgrade of the N2 passing through the place, they haven’t managed to make things much better, since there’s still about 500m of ridiculous single lane traffic on the way into the town.
And an extra set of traffic lights.

Hello? McFly????

It’s not in Cape  Town, it’s not in Stellenbosch, it’s not really a town but it’s also not really in the countryside. It’s not even by the sea.
It seems to me that the only thing that this ugly combination of dual carriageway and several sets of traffic lights is good for is to act as some sort of premature rumble strip, slowing the traffic down before it hits Cape Town. It’s marketed as being “The Gateway to the Overberg”, but why do we need a gateway to the Overberg? Why can’t we just drive to the Overberg, gateway-free? What they forget to inform you about “The Gateway to the Overberg” is that there’s only one car allowed through it at a time. And like the fat Afrikaners lining up at the automatic doors at Canal Walk, that’s going to slow your journey down considerably.

It’s screaming out for a bypass, but I’ve got a better idea. Why not save the dangerously high costs of building an expensive road by simply knocking the whole place down?

I suspect that only the inmates unfortunate enough to live in the damned place would have any objection at all to that.

2. What is the point of Infecting the City?

I’ve never really got over being asked “Is money spent on arts a waste?” by an interviewer at Wolverhampton Polytechnic. While my immediate reaction was to scream out “Yes, of course it bloody is!”, I felt that she was probing for a deeper, more considered answer than that, but probably with the same conclusion. As it was, I fudged it and still got offered a place on their General Microbiology course, which I immediately declined as it was being taught in Wolverhampton.

But I digress. Often.

Infecting the City is the “new” “name” for the Spier Public Arts Festival, which is now based in Cape Town. As their website tells us:

Infecting the City 2011 emerges from the bricks, flagstones and pavements of the City to challenge Cape Town’s idea of art, itself and its streets.

and it does this, according to a Cape Times story today, by spectators being treated to performances and artwork free of charge:

City “treasures”, including King Edward’s statue on the Grand Parade, were covered in clingwrap and trees on the station forecourt were draped in toilet paper.

Now, call me a philistine if you will, but I think that on any other day of the year and in any other context, that’s called “littering”.

And yet, somehow, they have attracted some fairly big names to support this nonsense, including Cape Town Tourism (partially funded by the City of Cape Town), the CCID (supported by the City of Cape Town) and er… the City of Cape Town.
Yes, folks – those loo rolls in the branches are paid for with the help of your taxes. Oh joy.

The “Is money spent on arts a waste?” question rears its ugly head once again with rather greater vehemence here. To fund clingwraped statues and loo rolls in trees when there are so many other issues facing this city seems, to me, a little misguided.
Even the corporate sponsors could surely find something more worthwhile to spend their CSR budgets on. Why not help build some houses, or, if you’re already doing that, why not help build some more?
Don’t fund 500m of cling wrap for some weirdo from beyond the Lentil Curtain to wrap up a statue. Maybe to wrap up sandwiches for hungry schoolkids, but not a statue. That doesn’t help anyone.

And yes, I recognise that anyone involved with the organisation of Infecting the City will probably defend it by telling me that I am being “challenged” by the concepts and that by raising this issue on here, I am participating in the festival and if that’s how they want to feel, that’s just fine, cos comment is free.

At least I’m not wasting public money chucking bog rolls into trees.
Seriously, WTF?

Footnote: Don’t even get me started on the Design Indaba… Eish!

Morning has broken

Morning has indeed broken with Cape Town shrouded in smoke from veld fires in Somerset West:

Fires in Somerset West have flared up again after being briefly brought under control, fire services said. Helicopters were unable to assist in fighting the fires because of the smoke clouds, platoon commander Clive Smidt told News24 on Monday morning.

The fire department had to rely on fire trucks to get the fires under control, he added. About 30 fire trucks were on the scene and more would be dispatched later on Monday morning. Smidt said the fires had been under control, but flared up again because of the wind.

Fire-fighting helicopters unable to fight fires because of the smoke coming from the fires they’re supposed to be fighting? There’s a limitation there: anyone spot it? 

Meanwhile, I snapped a quick pic in the rather ethereal light this morning.

Smokey sunrise

Everything is weird shade of peach, the mountain is still partially obscured through the haze and my car is getting covered in ash. 

EDIT: Here’s the view from town this lunchtime. Somewhere in there is 1,086m of flat mountain. 


EDIT 2: More smokey sun pics at CapeTalk (HT: Darkwing)

EDIT 3: Argus: “arson is to blame