Friday, March 11, 2016

Innovation mythology

Innovation is a big buzz word in South Africa at the moment. Stellenbosch, the 2nd oldest town in SA, has claimed the title of South Africa's innovation capital. Innovation seminars are happening all over the place, with plenty of exclamation marks. And squadrons of innovation gurus are jetted in to share with us their secrets to accelerating innovation. In corporate SA, you ain't on point if your tongue ain't talking innovation.

And it is all tragically anti-innovation. Stellenbosch is the least innovative place, and the most unequal. The maths is clear. And the emptiness of it all is clear - desperate attempts by the old guard to keep themselves relevant by using what they perceive to be the language of the day. It's quite a circus to watch, those chinos and old school tie brigades slapping each other on the back with craft lager in the other hand, keeping things exactly as they have always been.

The real innovation hub of Cape Town, I think, is the R310 corridor, bending slightly to start with the Philippi Village, taking in Khayelitsha, iThemba Labs, the Lynedoch Eco Village and ending with the iShack project in Enkanini, Stellenbosch. Along this corridor we have a winery producing wines from grapes grown in township backyards; a solar geyser project in Kuyasa that has transformed a set of communities; an entrepreneur delivering chronic medication by bike to the elderly and the frail; a government facility treating cancer with particle radiotherapy, for free; a residential village that is home to all layers of economic, racial and linguistic diversity, with its own sewerage works and a pending set of wild experiments in photovoltaic (PV) energy with Eskom; and a project putting PV on shack rooftops. All of these projects in some way have been born out of a plan to address inequality.

The only real way to start innovation, is to accelerate social justice, and radically reduce inequality. When society reaches far greater levels of social equilibrium, where opportunity is not a byproduct of your privilege, that is where innovation will happen on a massive scale, without any pushing or cajoling or innovation summits.

In South Africa, there are no shortages of good ideas that can bring about innovation, in so many sectors. And they mostly come from the least financially fluid spaces, the least formally educated spaces. When these pockets of creative rigour access financial and social capital, the potential for those ideas to gain mainstream traction is huge, and massive leaps in innovation will occur.

All of our efforts should be toward that goal, and anything that distracts us from that goal should be pushed aside. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Insiders Guide to Cape Town. Written for Virgin Australia inflight

This piece was commissioned by Virgin Australia for their inflight magazine.

Below is my text version, click the image below for the .PDF edited version that made publication. 

Table Mountain is flanked by two iconic collaborators: to the left is Devil’s Peak, and to the right, Lion’s Head. If you look at Devil’s Peak from the foot of Lion’s Head, you will see the form of a woman lying in the mountain. And once you see her, you will never stop seeing her. 

She’s lying on her back, her dreadlocks flowing into Table Bay at Salt River. She has just given birth, and the baby lies peacefully at her feet, forming the left slope of Table Mountain’s table top. The woman’s head and breast are the two peaks of Devil’s Peak. Take your time to find her, because it changes everything about the city once you see her. 

This image is the reason Cape Town is called The Mother City. She is a maternal city, with all the contradictions and power and vulnerabilities of a new mother, having just brought life into the world. Emboldened. Blue. Majestic. Uncertain. 

The thing is, that to see the Mother, you need someone to show it to you, like I am now. And it is in that sharing of knowledge, that the key to this city lies. Cape Town is a city divided along numerous, deep social, political and geographic lines. And to overcome these barriers, created by apartheid and colonial empire, and hardwired into our psyches, Capetonians need to be sharing with each other across the boundaries. And the Mother is one of the best places to start. Because once you see her, you start to understand that all the resources we need to make this city the place we want it to be, all those resources are right in front of us. You just need someone to help you see them. I couldn’t see the Mother until my friend Jethro the Ghetto Poet revealed it to me. And from then on, everything changed. I was able to see across the lines. 

You as a visitor to Cape Town are fortunate. You have an opportunity, more than most of us as locals, to get the bird’s eye view of the city, to see it above and beyond our issues. And so to make that journey a deep one, I want to introduce you to some of the places that have really opened my eyes. I want to share this city with you, across the lines, between the binaries. 

To start with, you have to head to the top of Table Mountain. This is one of the major energy centres of the earth, and an opportunity to get an aerial perspective of the city. From here, you can map out the city. It’s a big city, although as Capetonians we don’t always see it like that. Look across to Table Bay, to the harbour, and then keep moving right. As you scan, you will spot two tall thin brick towers. That is the former Athlone Power station, and just behind it, is Langa, the oldest township in the city, and the geographic centre of the metropole. 

Langa was established in the 1920s as a ghetto for black migrant labourers, and today it is becoming a cultural and creative hotspot at the heart of the metropole. Tony Elvin, the creator of the Langa Quarter, together with his colleagues and community members, is creating a new epicentre. The Langa Quarter opens onto the old Athlone Power Station precinct, which, in the next 20 years, is slated to become a major central development, with multi-grade living, recreation, shopping, schools and cultural playground. To get a picture of what the future of the city looks and feels like, visit the Langa Quarter, and hear the future as told by Tony. You can even stay: the Quarter is home to a unique hotel, the Langa Quarter Homestay Hotel, where bedrooms in people’s homes are turned into hotel rooms. 

Then head up Washington Avenue to meet Alfred Magwaca at the Langa Pass Museum, and learn more about the history that has shaped black experience not only in Cape Town, but in South Africa at large. The ‘dompas’, literally ‘dumb pass’ was a document that all black South Africans had to carry at all times. Not having it was a direct pass to jail. It literally controlled all black movement, and was one of the central tenets of apartheid rule. 

By the time you are done with Tony and Alfred, you’ll be hungry. In the Langa CBD, you’ll find Nomzamo’s Place, a chisa nyama or hot meat bar. This is my friend Viki Mangaliso’s place, comprising a butchery and a barbeque area. Choose your meat, it gets sent to the barbeque, and returns to you on a platter. Viki’s place is high quality all the way, with a portrait of Che Guevara watching everything that goes on. Highly recommended. They also have vegetarian options, try the chakalaka and pap if you don’t eat meat. 

Langa is also home to POPLA, Cape Town’s latest pop-up dining concept. Established by local radio celebrity and friend, Africa Melane, POPLA offers fine dining in heritage Langa venues. It’s a concept that is turning fine dining on its head - nobody expects a fine dining concept in a township. And that’s just what the city needs. Follow their Facebook page, and if you are in town when their next event is happening, make sure to book. You won’t get more insider than this. 

Back in the historic centre, and the Atlantic Seaboard, there are a few essentials: build on your experience of the Langa Pass Museum by visiting the District Six Museum, one of the most personal museums I’ve ever visited. Have a craft beer (try Citizen and Devils Peak, two of my recommendations) at Neighbourhood Bar on Long Street, one of my favourites because it is one of the most diverse spaces in the city;  or try local artisanal gin at The Gin Bar, on Wale Street. In Sea Point, head to the Sea Point Pavilion, next to the public swimming pool. Here you can eat one of my favourites - a Cape Malay prawn curry salomi, served at a tiny kiosk called Chilli Point. You will probably end up eating two of them. Work it off by hiring a bike from Upcycles, and ride the promenade to the Waterfront, via the Green Point Park. In the Park, spend a bit of time in the indigenous garden, learning about our medicinal fynbos plants. And then step into one of the KhoeKhoe huts, the earliest form of building technology in the world, and look across to the Cape Town Stadium, one of the most modern examples of building tech. Where in the world can you look across the full extent of human history in a space of just 700m? This my friends, is Cape Town.  

Bio Iain Harris
Iain is a Cape Town resident and the founder and Creative Director of award winning tour company Coffeebeans Routes. Trained as a theatre maker, film maker and journalist, Iain created Coffeebeans in order to use the canvas of tourism to tell a wide range of Cape Town stories. He also created the Cape Town Creative Emporium, a general dealership in original creative products from Cape Town. Coffeebeans stages monthly cultural events at the Emporium. See for details.

Venue changes for each event
+27 72 112 7466
15 Washington Street, Langa.
Sea Point Pavilion (next to the Sea Point public pool)
Beach Road
Sea Point

Neighbourhood Bar
Corner Long and Dorp Streets, Cape Town
+2721 424 7260
64A Wale St
076 765 8306

iKhaya Lodge 3 *
Dunkley Square, Gardens
+2721 461 8880

Cape Heritage Hotel 4*
90 Bree St Cape Town
+27 21 424 4646

Langa Quarter Homestay Hotel
Ndabeni Street (cnr Rubuasna) Langa, Cape Town
+ 2721 694 3717

The Langa Quarter and Ikhaya le Langa (the home of Langa)
Ndabeni Street (cnr Rubuasna) Langa, Cape Town
+ 2721 694 3717

The Langa Pass Museum
Corner Washington Street and Lerotholi Avenue, Langa, 7925
(084) 9492153

The District Six Museum
25A Buitenkant Street Cape Town
+27 21 466 7200
Tafelberg Road, Gardens

Upcycles Bike rentals
Sea Point Pavilion
Beach Road, Sea Point
076 135 2223

Monday, June 15, 2015


So this is how it's looking now:

25 June. Loit Sols & Churchil Naude
30 July. Mandla Mlangeni
27 August. Derek Gripper and Reza Khota
24 September. Provisionally Mac McKenzie, but perhaps Hilton can move here, and Burni Aman does October? This is also Coffeebeans official 10th birthday party.
29 October. Hilton Schilder, but maybe he does September and Burni does this gig?
26 November. The Khoi Khonnexion, feat Garth Erasmus, Jethro Louw, Glen Arendse.
31 December. This is something of a wild card. Potentially Ntlantla with As Is (featuring L2Z). That would be the right riot. Maybe Ernestine?
28 January. Keenan Ahrends
25 February. Ernestine?
31 March. State of Kassava, featuring Ncebakazi Mnukwana and Viki Mangaliso

I've also been thinking about Tebogo Louw, and his Zayn Adams tribute. The day before Zayn passed, we were talking over our backyard fences.  We spoke about the industry, about composing and performing original material, about artists he's been listening to. He says he's been thinking about a Zayn Adam's tribute. The next day Zayn passed. We found each other some days later in the same place. So what about Zayn ne? Yeah man, wow, he says.

So there's something about that tribute show, with some of Tebogo's own originals in the mix. Originally I was thinking this plus Ntlantla for NYE. But maybe this is something else.

And what about Ongoma? A blues night? Ongx plus As Is with Keenan and L2Z?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Our stories are the equalisers

Have you tried to find snoek in a restaurant in the Central City? What about umngqusho or chakalaka? Why is it that if you want `culture' you visit a township? Why is a City Tour a tour of only the original Cape Town city, and not the broader city, as if nothing out of the City Bowl is Cape Town? Why is the East City the neighbourhood surrounding the City Hall and the Granary, and not as far as Khayelitsha and Muizenberg?

Can we change the city by changing the language we use to describe it? Can we tell its story well if we as citizens are excluded from the narrative?

Cape Town is a great place to be, don't get me wrong. One of the reason's it is great is that it's a city that demands a lot of questions, which makes it challenging and stimulating. And isn't that fantastically, disgustingly, middle class? That the extremes of the city make it stimulating? How different would the perspective be of someone who lives on the poor extreme, where the quest is for survival.

I'm constantly uneasy in this place I call home. We have not done enough to unengineer what apartheid created. We haven't done enough to discover each other across real and imagined boundaries. It's so difficult to get lost in that incredible glass of our region's wine, when almost next to me someone else can't offer their child a proper meal.

Don't say `that's just the reality of the world, live with it', no don't tell me that. This is not simply the reality of the world. This is our creation. And we have to change it. Can we change it by having a glass of wine? Can we change it be eschewing all things wonderful?

This is responsible tourism - the attempt to answer the questions of how we make this place better. And this is where tourism in Cape Town is such an interesting conundrum. I got into the travel business a) to create a job for myself, and b) because I recognised the power of a new approach to tourism to create change by centering our offerings around our stories. Historically, the economically empowered have dictated the narrative; how can tourism create a groundswell where even the least economically empowered can position a story in the mainstream?

A great city for me is one where the stories of the city are everywhere. Where local food is easier to find than food from elsewhere. Where mobility is not an issue. Where safety is not an issue. Where failure to make something of your life is due to squandered opportunity instead of lack of opportunity.

A great city is a city where every facet of the city's life is built around what is needed to continue to keep that city great.

Cape Town is a great city in many ways. I won't waste space here detailing them. Rather let me look at some of the failings. One of Cape Town's greatest failings as a city is that it is a city of parallel universes, and as a result, its tourism happens in parallel rather than in conjunction. In Manenberg, a tough ghetto just about in the middle of the metropole, there is a mural, painted by school kids, that says `tourism is everybody's business'. And in the `story' model of tourism this is dead right. But in its current form, tourism takes place mainly in a layer of its own, detached from the city, almost in spite of the city; with scant regard for the needs of the city.

We know that the trend in tourism is for humanising experiences; is for the beach and game reserve experience, as well as the experience that connects the traveller to people and stories. In a city like Cape Town, this is tourism's great opportunity. In the knowledge economy, our stories are the equalisers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New York Times features Cape Town Beer Route

Our Beer Route, launched in November 2011, was featured in a story in the New York Times on 10 August about the explosion of craft beer in South Africa.

Beer Route in New York Times

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is goema?

Goema is a music of liberation. 

It is a music of transcendence.

Cape Town is a pirate city. We are a pirate of cultures. It's like Cape Town has pirated pieces of the whole world. Everything is gathered here. Cape Town is a port city after all, absorbing the world over hundreds of years. It's a touch of Europe, a little bit of India and Malaysia, it is a piece of Africa, there's Brazil in here and there's America and Israel and Maputo. Cape Town is not one thing: it is many things in one.

The music of this city with multiple identities is called goema. The name originates with the Khoe people. The Khoe women played a drum, it was called a goma, because of the ox skin that covered the drum. The women would play and the men would dance.

Over hundreds of years, bantu tribes migrated south, missionaries arrived, colonisers laid claim and slaves were imported to the city. As the music of these worlds collided and became a common language, the goma became goema.

Think of samba. It emerged in the favelas, the slums, out of hundreds of years of oppression, and now it infuses everything in the Brazilian nation. Goema is our samba. It is our blues, it is our rebel music. It is our home. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Goemarati - a music strategy as design

Goemarati - you are welcome.
Designing an inclusive intervention

I'm not a designer. I trained as an actor and film-maker, and became an entrepreneur.

But I've learned that design is at the heart of everything that we do - if not always entirely by design. So that makes us all designers, in an unconscious way.

In people's homes, decisions have been made about where to put this painting in relation to that picture, where the chair stands in relation to the sofa, the pot plant in relation to the graduation certificate. These are all design decisions, but very few people doing this would consider themselves as designers. 
Enjoying the foodcourt at the
Manenberg Goemarati
I watch my son, he's 14 months old, plot his routes. Even at this early stage of life, design is central. When we walk out of the apartment, he has a specific routine. He always turns right out of the door. He touches the geyser outlet pipe on the wall. He touches the neighbour's gate. He stops at Leon's bamboo wind chimes, flicks it, and when it sounds, he laughs and turns to me. Then he grabs a stone from the pot plant and hands it to me. Every time, exactly the same. He has designed a set of rituals. And the design process is unconscious.

So I have realised that everyone is a designer. Some design unconsciously by virtue of being alive, and others design by design, as practicioners.

Some star power, Akin Omotoso
loved the Goemarati

In 2007 I produced a project called Goemarati. The roleplayers were Coffeebeans Routes, working with Creative Cape Town, the Cape Town Partnership and Lunch Communications, with funding from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism. We designed an intervention for the music industry of the Western Cape built around the distinctly Cape Town music called goema.
And I use the term design very deliberately, as we were consciously designing a solution to a problem. It just so happened that the design solution wasn't a manufacturable outcome.

Goemarati had four primary components:

1. thirteen live performances, one each month on Church Square in the central city, one in a suburb of the Cape Flats.
2. an online sales portal for Cape Town music and creative products
3. a street level mobile shop, an extension of the online shop, in the form of a loud tricycle
4. a monthly `zine', an edgy monochrome fold out magazine designed by Lunch, profiling the featured artists for the month, the Cape Town product available for sale, and celebrating a different facet of Cape Town’s history, especially stories from the era of slavery.

Take a look here at the full online report:

So we designed an umbrella marketing campaign for music and other creative products from Cape Town, using monthly live shows as the leverage, alongside local and global sales platforms and a dedicated monthly publication. 

Kalkfontein Goemarati at the taxi rank, great turnout

And one of the core elements underpinning the musical strategy, was a spatial strategy: connecting the central city as a site of heritage with sites in the Cape Flats, and by doing so attempting to create the basis for stronger linkages and movements of people and ideas. We wanted to link across apartheid boundaries and beyond cultural disconnects. Had the project lived beyond its pilot phase, this would have been a significant long term device for shifting some of the parameters of apartheid town planning and mental ghettos.

The tagline for the initiative was `You are Welcome’, and the entire project was designed to be inclusive. The criteria to be featured for performance was that you had to have product, in any form, whether it be an MP3 song or poem. The open mic session surprised us, it was oversubscribed for all performances except one, and turned out to the be most significant performance element of the project. It made us realise that if Cape Town doesn’t create spaces for its young people to be heard in public forums, we are incubating a time bomb. 

The project’s success was also its failure. You can’t measure on paper the value of the open mic sessions, the hunger to get on stage and be heard. You can’t make tangible in a report the effect on children of seeing a local star perform in the rain at the taxi rank close to their home. Except for the stats of the project - audience numbers, financial benefit to the industry, units of product sold etc - you can’t adequately measure the extent of the impact of such a project in its first few years.

We designed a powerful initiative, but one that couldn’t leave permanence after its pilot 8 months, one that wasn’t designed to leave permanence. Politicians in their 5 year stints need to tick boxes, show legacy, and a culture project is too difficult to measure and therefore that money is diverted to more tangible, measurable activities. That was the thinking behind not continuing after the pilot. That, and the instability of the Western Cape's politics at that time, shifting so constantly between political masters. This is one of the crises of South African government: it does not, in any of its designations, know what to do with culture. Identity, how we perceive ourselves, is a crucial economic cog.

And so there lies one of Goemarati's crucial design flaws: we couldn’t measure cultural impact. And its something that needs to be worked on. Any suggestions would be welcome! 

About Me

My Photo

I have a curious mind. I created Coffeebeans Routes, a travel company that creates experiences around urban stories, creativity and culture. I think in moving pictures.