“Ponte City”, une icône de Johannesburg/ ‘Ponte City’, Johannesburg’s icon

(Links in english/ lien en anglais)

Voici un article du Globe and Mail traitant de la revitalisation de Ponte City, un bâtiment résidenciel de 173 mètres et 54 étages, au coeur de Johannesburg (Afrique Du Sud) construit durant la décennie 70, en plein apartheid. Il était destiné aux riches blancs qui occupaient le centre-ville. Avec la fin de l’apartheid, ces derniers ont quitté le centre-ville et ce sont les indiens et les noirs qui occupent Ponte City aujourd’hui, dont beaucoup d’immigrants illégaux. Un groupe de promoteurs veut revigorer le centre-ville de Johannesburg et cela passe par la restauration de Ponte City. Malheureusement l’article ne met pas beaucoup d’emphase sur qu’il adviendra des résidents pauvres de cet immeuble qui devront éventuellement trouver une nouvelle demeure ailleurs…


Here is an article by the Globe and Mail talking about ‘Ponte City’, a 173 m. and 54 stories high building in the center of Johannesburg (South Africa). It was built in the 70s, during the apartheid era. The article mentions the presence of illegal immigrants and poors living in the building. Since Ponte City is meant to be revitalized by a group of developers, not a lot is said about the future of these unfortunate residents who will have to find a new home soon:


The fall and rise of a Johannesburg icon

A team of developers hope that reviving residential tower will return downtown to its glory days

July 30, 2007 at 3:50 AM EDTJOHANNESBURG — Once upon a time, there was no more desirable address in perhaps all of the southern hemisphere. Certainly, there was no taller one.

Ponte CityThey call it Ponte City: a 173-metre high, 54-storey cylindrical tower, the whim of a 1970s architect who created an iconic building that is to the Jo’burg skyline what the CN Tower is to Toronto’s. When Ponte opened, it featured shag carpet on the walls, burnt-orange linoleum on the floors, chrome-covered wet bars, built-in saunas and, from each and every apartment, staggering views of the continent’s most bustling city. People flocked to live here, just as architecture and style writers stumbled over each other to rave about its chic.

Back then, of course, only white people got to live in downtown Johannesburg. When the apartheid laws that segregated living spaces were repealed in the early 1990s, black and Indian people flooded into the city centre. And whites fled just as fast, taking their money with them. The metropolitan government largely abandoned the policing of the city centre and the provision of services.

Ponte City began a rapid decline. Within a year or two, its 11 storeys of parking garage were being used as a dimly-lit brothel, drug lords operated brazenly out of the lobby and three stories of trash built up in the hollow core of the building. Rent for the three-storey luxury penthouse fell to just $500 (Canadian) a month, as Ponte went from byword of style to epicentre of crime and urban decay.

Now, however, an unlikely pair of developers has bought the city icon, filled with dreams of restoring it to glossy urban glory; the latest, most audacious move in efforts to bring downtown Jo’burg back from the brink.

“When you get a building like this, you can have a social impact, because the private sector buying a building like this is going to bring the middle class back into the centre of the city,” said David Selvan, one of the new owners. “In one fell swoop you change the thinking. There are very few things you can do to have this kind of effect.”

He and partner Nour Addine Ayyoub plan a new Ponte, one with an on-site gym and up-market grocery store, an amphitheatre in the core that projects movies onto the building sides and coloured glass boxes popping out into the core so everyone can experience that heart-stopping look down. Flats will sell for $60,000 to $115,000.

“Look at this place! Could you afford to live here in Toronto or New York?” Mr. Selvan enthused. “No! Only in South Africa!”

Of course, the reason the flats will be affordable is that, a $14-million renovation notwithstanding, Ponte sits at the core of Hillbrow, the worst neighbourhood in the city with the world’s highest violent-crime rate. And no coloured looking-glass boxes can change that. At least not quickly.

But Neil Fraser, an expert on the redevelopment of the city, says that turning Ponte around will have a big impact on the area.

The city, through its Johannesburg Development Agency, has been hard at work in recent years to change thinking about the downtown, an area that a full 80 per cent of respondents in a 2002 survey said was too dirty and unsafe for them to set foot in. The JDA has rehabilitated derelict buildings such as a cultural centre, and created a new fashion precinct – and then provided incentives to private businesses to move into the neighbourhood.

The program has made considerable achievements: The JDA is coy with its statistics, but there is no question that business occupancy has risen dramatically in the city over the past few years, while residential occupancy is increasing as well. Housing prices are up nearly 60 per cent in two years. It’s become politically fashionable for corporations, including many of those who fled the inner city at the end of apartheid, to move their headquarters back downtown. By opening up in downtown Jo’burg, they are seen as pledging support for the new, black South Africa it represents.

The city has also had unusual success in persuading the private sector to sign on to support the regeneration efforts. Mr. Fraser noted that the private sector has in many cases put far more money than the government into projects such as street lighting and sidewalks.

Ponte’s redevelopers envision their buyers as the professionals who now commute into businesses in the city from fortified homes in the northern suburbs. Bringing that middle class into the city, Mr. Fraser said, will stimulate retail and services, and a nightlife, providing an effect of normalization, he said. “Today you don’t have a 24-hour environment, and residential leads that.”

Sammy Mafu, marketing director for the JDA, rhymed off what the inner city does have: illegal shebeens (taverns), squatters, minibus taxi ranks that take over crucial arteries, sidewalk barber shops.

“Until the middle class lives here, you’re always going to have these problems,” he said. “The poor are only going to think about the health of their family and their tummy, not the health of their urban space.”

Ponte City

(Above: “Inside” Ponte City “doughnut shaped” tower)

Johannesburg’s inner city has become a refuge, albeit a dangerous and dirty one, for people from impoverished rural parts of South Africa and for illegal immigrants from all over Africa. Thousands of them squat in the abandoned buildings, and thousands more rent cheap flats such as those now provided in Ponte City. And they, of course, will have to go, as Ponte is reborn with its Italian bistro.

“It’s very painful to have to shift, because I’m used to it here, and it’s safe,” said Norma, a young illegal immigrant from Zimbabwe. She pays $100 a month to rent half a bedroom in a top-floor penthouse for herself and her four-year-old daughter – they share the flat with 10 other Zimbabweans. “I wish I would have the money to buy a flat here. I wish I would. But I will have to find somewhere and I don’t know where I will go.”

Mr. Ayyoub said his company has hired someone to help tenants find new housing, and approached other low-cost buildings in the neighbourhood to secure space.

Mr. Selvan, 56, is a lawyer turned film producer who grew up in wealthy white South Africa but spent years living abroad. Mr. Ayyoub, on the other hand, is the 40-year-old son of Moroccans who was raised in a tough immigrant-dominated slum of Rotterdam, an area not unlike Hillbrow. He moved to South Africa a couple of weeks before the first democratic elections in 1994, drawn by the country’s sense of possibility, and made a fortune in the software business.

The new Ponte will be ready for occupancy early next year. Mr. Selvan and Mr. Ayyoub acknowledged that it will be something of a mission to persuade wary South Africans to buy back into Hillbrow. But they are believers. “The city’s reputation internationally is based on turning this [neighbourhood] around,” Mr. Ayyoub said, waving out a 53rd-storey window. Just below him was Ellis Park Stadium, where the final game of the 2010 soccer World Cup will be played.

Last year, only a quarter of people surveyed said they thought downtown was too dirty or too unsafe to visit. “It is going very firmly [in the right direction],” Mr. Fraser said. “The impetus is there, the political attraction is there, a lot of things going in its favour, but there are a lot of areas that need TLC before you can say we’re on the road again.”

Points on Ponte

Designed by architect Rodney Grosskopff and completed in 1975, it has 54 residential storeys.

The building is finished with a rough grey concrete in a style referred to as new brutalism.

On windy days, gusts coming down into the building’s core from above collide with air funnelling back up, creating huge, sudden whirlwinds almost like cyclones. The building’s windows all had to be specially sealed to counteract the winds.

Ponte is said to have the highest number of suicide-related falling deaths of any building in the world. Most jumpers have gone outward, rather than down into the building’s core.

The German writer Norman Ohler set a 2002 novel in the building, Stadt des Goldes. “Ponte sums up all the hope, all the wrong ideas of modernism, all the decay, all the craziness of the city,” he said of the tower. “It is concrete fear, the tower of Babel, and yet it is strangely beautiful.”

We showed some picture of Ponte City, you can see pictures of other Johannesburg’s buildings here.



Tombouctou, ville fabuleuse/ Timbuktu, the legendary city

(Lien en anglais/ Link in english)

Puisque la ville de Tombouctou, au Mali, est candidate pour devenir l’une des sept nouvelles merveilles du monde, nous vous présentons un article du Guardian de Londres qui décrit la richesse culturelle que la ville recèle (voir article plus bas):

Since Timbuktu, in Mali, is a candidate city to become one of the new seven wonders of the world, we present an article about that city from the London Guardian:

In fabled city at the end of the earth, a treasury of ancient manuscripts

In Timbuktu the race is on to preserve papers that document a west African golden age

A hot wind stirred up the desert sand. Fida ag Muhammad, a wispy man with a blue-grey turban, hurried across the street. Reaching a mud-brick building, he quickly unlocked its corrugated iron door and pushed it open. A beam of soft early-morning light pierced the darkness. On a metal table covered with a red bath towel sat half a dozen leather-bound manuscripts. Carefully untying the string around a small weathered pouch, Mr Muhammad pulled back its flaps to reveal a sheaf of yellowed papers. Their edges had crumbled away, but the neat Arabic calligraphy was still clear.

“A Qur’an,” he said. “From the 1300s.”

For an outsider, such a remarkable find might seem extraordinary. In Timbuktu and its surrounding villages like Ber, where Mr Muhammad lives, it is commonplace. After centuries of storage in wooden trunks, caves or boxes hidden beneath the sand, tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts, covering topics as diverse as astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women’s rights, are surfacing across the legendary Malian city.

Their emergence has caused a stir among academics and researchers, who say they represent some of the earliest examples of written history in sub-Saharan Africa and are a window into a golden age of scholarship in west Africa. Some even believe that the fragile papers, which are now the focus of an African-led preservation effort, may reshape perceptions of the continent’s past.

“It has long been said that there was only oral history in this part of the world,” said Salem Ould Elhadje, 67, a historian in Timbuktu. “But these manuscripts come from an African city, a city of black people.”

The Timbuktu of myth is a place at the end of the earth. In reality its location was the key to its development nearly a thousand years ago. With the Sahara directly north and the Niger river south, it was established as a rest stop for travellers and a trading post for gold and salt. By the late 1500s, however, when it formed part of the powerful Songhai empire, it had become known as a centre of great learning.

Books became hugely prized. Travellers from as far as the Middle East brought manuscripts to Timbuktu to sell. Using paper manufactured in Europe, scholars in the town produced their own original work, which was then copied by their pupils. Commercial transactions were recorded – slaves and ostrich feathers were among the goods traded – as were the pronouncements of learned men on everything from the environment to polygamy and witchcraft.

“Every manuscript contains surprises,” said Shahid Mathee, part of a University of Cape Town team studying the manuscripts. “We have even found texts where scholars offer advice on overcoming erection problems.”

Timbuktu’s decline began in 1591 with a Moroccan invasion. But the practice of writing, copying and storing manuscripts lived on here and in other west African cities such as Gao and Kano.

It was not until 1964, at a Unesco conference, that Timbuktu’s literary wealth was recognised. Still, it took a further 37 years for the campaign to document and preserve them to gain momentum.

On visiting Timbuktu in 2001, the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, was shown some of the manuscripts held at the Ahmed Baba Institute, named after the city’s most famous scholar, including a copy of Islamic law dating to 1204. Mr Mbeki was so impressed he declared them to be among the continent’s “most important cultural treasures” and pledged to set up a project to help properly conserve the manuscripts.

After centuries of exposure to the harsh desert climate, abrasive sands and hungry termites, many of the manuscripts are badly damaged. Even those intact, such as Mr Muhammad’s Qur’an, are so fragile the pages may disintegrate when handled. “Every minute, every second, part of a manuscript is being lost,” said Mahmud Muhammad Dadab, a scholar who compares their value to the works of Victor Hugo and William Shakespeare.

With South African money, a £3.5m home for the Ahmed Baba Institute, featuring a museum, archive and rooms for scholars, is being built in the heart of the city, and will open next year. Meanwhile workers are trying to safeguard the institute’s growing stock of 30,000 manuscripts.

In a large room with fans whirring overhead, a team is building made-to-measure cardboard boxes for every manuscript that will provide protection from the dust. Fragile pages are being carefully affixed to special Japanese paper to stop them crumbling.

Across the courtyard, researchers sit in front of computers documenting the contents of each manuscript. Then, with the help of computer scanners, ancient knowledge is uploaded into the 21st century. “We are creating a virtual library,” said Muhammad Diagayete, 37, a researcher who was busy documenting a 1670 text on astronomy written in blue, red and black ink. “We want people all over the world to be able to access these manuscripts online.”

Private collections are also being restored. Outside interest, and funding, has helped to create more than 20 libraries in Timbuktu, from tiny collections with a few hundred documents to Ismael Haidara’s Fondo Kati Bibliothèque, which has more than 7,000 leather-bound manuscripts dating back to 1198. Many were brought from Andalucia, Spain, by his ancestors, who came to Timbuktu in the 15th century.

A few doors down is the Mama Haidara library run by Abdel Kader Haidara, no relation to Ismael, the best-known curator in the city. With funding from US foundations, he is also digitizing his 9,000-document collection, and is building extra rooms for scholars and tourists, as well as an internet cafe.

Before opening the family library, he helped to build up the Ahmed Baba Institute’s collection, travelling all over the region by camel, canoe and car to try to persuade families to part with their manuscripts in exchange for livestock or printed books.

It was a difficult task. Though many families cannot read Arabic, the manuscripts are regarded as precious heirlooms that cannot be sold.

In Ber, a two-hour drive from Timbuktu, Fida ag Muhammad spoke of valuable caches of manuscripts buried in the desert by families fearful that outsiders would try to prise them away.

As a result, experts believe that hundreds of thousands of manuscripts remain in private homes across the region, and the quest to find and conserve them will go on for many years.

“We have to persuade people that they need to be protected and documented,” said Abdel Kader Haidara. “If we don’t read what our ancestors said, we cannot know who we really are.”

Vous n’avez jamais vu Tombouctou? Voici une petite vidéo, assez touristique, de la ville dans ses plus simples attraits, ceux de la vie quotidienne de ses habitants. On y voit, bien sûr, l’architecture typique de la ville, en articulier celle de la mosqué Sankoré. (vidéo de Judith Porter)

Never saw Timbuktu? Here is a small “touristic” video  showing the city and the daily life of its inhabitants. The typical architecture of the city can be seen, particularly the Sankoré Mosque. (video by Judith Porter)

Émission Amandla du 6 juin 2007/ Amandla show from June 6th 2007

Voici les thèmes qui ont été abordés pendant l’émission Amandla du 6 juin dernier sur les ondes de CKUT 90.3FM (Montréal). Vous pouvez la télécharger ici (lien valide pour deux mois seulement).

Spécial en français/ Special in french.

Sommet Altermondialiste de Sikasso, au Mali – Ce Forum des Peuples s’est tenu en parallèle avec celui du G8 en Allemagne. Les problèmes du continent africain sont souvent abordés en tant que sujets lors des sommets du G8 (ex.: Kananaskis, Gleneagles…). Mais l’Afrique décrie l’inaction qui suit les promesses faites à ces différents sommets. Les altermondialistes qui ont assistés au sommet de Sikasso proposent la création d’une Banque Mondiale du Sud qui ferait contrepoids à la Banque Mondiale actuelle; une “banque des pauvres” selon Barry Aminata Touré qui serait une alternative à la “Banque des riches” qui devrait être dissoute.Xavier Harel, livre

Présentation et analyse de l’ouvrage de Xavier Harel: Afrique, pillage à huis clos : Comment une poignée d’initiés siphonne le pétrole africain – Harel est un journaliste spécialisé dans les questions pétrolières. Selon lui, 1000 milliards de pétrodollars pourraient s’abattre sur le continent, d’ici 2015, mais pour ensuite se réfugier dans des paradis fiscaux provoquant la pauvreté sur le continent. Détournements de fonds et dépenses titanesques des dirigeants d’États pétroliers africains sont de mise… Avec une complicité de l’Occident incluant États, institutions internationales et mafias!


La ville de Tombouctou (Mali – voir photo plus bas) candidate pour devenir comme une des sept merveilles du monde moderne – La New7Wonder Foundation, organise la sélection de sept merveilles du monde et un vote se tient jusqu’au  7 juillet 2007, pour les choisir. Des sept merveilles connues jusqu’à présent seules quelques unes existent encore aujourd’hui. C’est pourquoi, un concours de “Merveilles modernes” est organisé. Tombouctou est la seule candidate provenant du continent africain (mis à par les pyramides d’Égypte qui sont la première merveille du monde antique). Tombouctou a une architecture particulière et est un haut lieu de culture mondiale depuis le moyen-âge. Vous pouvez voter au: www.n7w.com.

Présentation du Site www.parolesdesclavage.com – Site créé par Serge Bilé qui pousse au travail de mémoire historiquepuisqu’il relate un sombre passé de l’histoire de l’Afrique, celui de l’esclavage. Selon Bilé: “J’ai crée ce site pour donner la parole aux « anciens » afin qu’ils disent l’esclavage tel que leurs grands parents et arrière-grands-parents l’ont directement vécu et eux-mêmes raconté à leurs enfants et petits-enfants d’alors, devenus aujourd’hui septuagénaires, octogénaires, nonagénaires et centenaires. Avec Daniel Sainte-Rose et sa caméra, nous avons sillonné la Martinique et recueilli ces témoignages uniques pour qu’ils servent à l’Histoire“.

Actualité du continent africain – Le Canada interdit Winnie Mandela d’entrer au Canada à cause de son casier judiciaire. – Pfizer, l’entreprise pharmaceutique, est accusé d’avoir utilisé des enfants comme cobayes.


Here are the subjects that were addressed in the May 23rd Amandla radio show on CKUT 90.3 FM (Montreal). You can download the show here (link valid for two months only).


Alternative summit of Sikasso, in Mali – This Forum des Peuples was held in parallel with the G8 summit un Germany. The problems of Africa are often the subjects of discussion during the several last G8 summits (ex.: Kananaskis, Gleneagles…). But Africa complains about the lack of actions following the promises done during those summits. The people who attended the Sikasso summit proposed the creation of a World Bank for the South that would counterbalance the actual World Bank. According to Barry Aminata Touré, such a “bank for the poor” would be an alternative for the “bank for the wealthy” that would be dissolved.

Presentation and analysis of the book: Afrique, pillage à huis clos : Comment une poignée d’initiés siphonne le pétrole africain written by Xavier Harel– Harel is a journalist specialized in the world oil economy. According to him, 1000 billions of petrodollars could “fall”on the continent from now to 2015. But this money will flee to fiscal paradises afterwards, creating poverty in Africa. Embezzlements and huge “shopping sprees” by corrupted head of African oil producing States is common place… With the complicity of the West including States, international organizations and mafias!

TombouctouThe town of Timbuktu (Mali – see left) is a candidate for the New seven Wonders of the World contest – The New7Wonder Foundation organizes a contest where 7 new Wonders of the World will be selected through public vote which ends on July 7th 2007. From the 7 “old” Wonders that exists, only a few remains standing today. That’s why such a contest takes place. Timbuktu is the only candidate from Africa (of course the Pyramids in Egypt are the first Wonder of the world but it was selected during the Antiquity). Timbuktu has a special architecture and is an important cultural city of the world since the Middle ages. You can vote there: www.n7w.com.


Presentation of the Website www.parolesdesclavage.com – This site was created by Serge Bilé. It shows us the part of the African history which was the period of the slave trade.


Other news from the African continent – Canada blocks Winnie Mandela from entering in the country because of her criminal past. – Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, is accused by the Nigerian governement of using children as guinea-pigs.


Architecture africaine/ African architecture

Visitez Sociolingo. On y trouve d’excellentes photos représentant des exemples anciens et modernes d’architecture africaine.

Visit Sociolingo. You can see beautiful building pictures representing the old and modern examples of african architecture.