VIDEO: The world’s best break dancers – from South Africa (Ubuntu B-Boyz)

A video by Anthony Molyneaux and Jaco du Plessis

Ubuntu B-Boyz is a South African breakdancing group from Mitchell’s Plain. They received international acclaim when they were crowned world champions in 2006 in Germany.

The Ubuntu crew have opened for artists like 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce and Kanye West. They perform throughout South Africa, and have just recently performed at Rocking the Daisies festival near Cape Town.

Ubuntu BBoyz preforming at Rocking the Daisies festival in Robertson

Ubuntu B-Boyz preforming at Rocking the Daisies festival in Robertson

Apart from commercial performances, they also take part in ‘dance battles’ and competitions against other break dancing groups around the world.

The word Ubuntu is an African concept meaning ‘I am because we are’.

Courtney

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The Truth and Tredoux

Professor Colin Tredoux speaks about the infamous Station Strangler case, being taught by J.M Coetzee and the difficulties facing court convictions. Anthony Molyneaux sat in his leafy offices at UCT to find out what’s next for Tredoux.

“There was someone murdering young boys in the 80s and 90s in Cape Town. Modus operandi was the same it seemed, he would meet young boys between the ages of 8 to 18 years at train stations and he would ask them to do things for him,

‘Carry a box and I’ll give you R5.’

“Once he led them away from the train station, he would tie their hands up, rape them, murder them, mutilate them and shove their heads in the sand. Twenty two boys over an 8 year period were killed.”

Professor Colin Tredoux, a psychology professor at UCT, strokes his grey goatee thoughtfully as he recalls all the information on the infamous station strangler case.

There was a R50, 000 reward for any information on the murders in the impoverished Mitchells Plain area. Vigilante groups were escalating in their violent behaviour against suspected residents.

On the 19th March 1994, after another boy was found in the sand, the police finally got a break in the case in the form of two eye-witnesses.

The identikit drawn up by the two eye-witnesses led to a tip-off by a nurse of a patient undergoing treatment in a psychiatric ward in Cape Town.

The eye-witness testimony and the line-up that ensued made up the crux of the evidence against a 28-year-old Mitchells Plain school teacher named Norman Afzal Simons.

Simons was found guilty of the death of Elroy van Rooyen, the last boy to be murdered. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and locked in Drakenstein Maximum Correctional Facility near Paarl.

Tredoux, having investigated the finer details of the case, believes that the station strangler case has many curious tactics and methods that may have led to an example where the law and investigation can go wrong.

He is not the only one.

Norman Afsal Simons pictured at the Police station when he enrolled for the reservist position

Norman Afzal Simons pictured at the Police station when he enrolled for the reservist position

“Most of the police you ask about this are convinced he is not the guy. The lawyers who defended him are absolutely adamant he is innocent,” states Tredoux.

Advocate Koos Louw, who defended Simons, refused to cut his hair for 16 years in a sign of protest against Simon’s trial and conviction.

“You look at the theory of our law and what is supposed to happen and then you get the actual judgments and procedures. These two are remarkably different to what they are supposed to be,” says Tredoux.

Tredoux has a monumental knowledge of the case as he is an expert in eye-witness recall and line-up fairness through his barrage of published research papers.

“Early on my research centered on devising measures to improve the fairness of police line-ups. My second strand of research was Eigenface which is a tool to assist the police in getting better quality pictures of perpetrators from eye-witnesses. The third strand is armchair investigation as to why the current method is so inaccurate.

 “In Simons case, not only was the eye-witness extremely hesitant of pointing Simons out, but the line-up had serious concerns in terms of fairness. All the participants of the line-up were supposed to be of similar height, dress and have similar features such as scars or tattoos. In the line-up footage, Simons is the only one that has a facial scar and wearing the most notable mustard coloured pants,” states Terdoux.

“In South Africa we have more of a bias to prosecuting people rather than defending them. If you defend people more vigorously, more guilty people go free. We are desperate to prosecute people and drive crime down, we are happy to let innocent people have a little less protection.”

Even with the current method being so inaccurate, there are more factors at play that reduce the chances of accurate convictions.

Internationally, he found through his studies that a large factor in identification inaccuracies is cross-race identifications.

“There’s a difficulty in recognizing people from other groups. If you look at the mistaken convictions in the United States, three quarters of them are white people trying to identify black perpetrators.  Of the roughly 330 cases that DNA has now vindicated in America, three quarters of those were cross-race identifications,” states Tredoux.

If memory recall, eye-witness inaccuracies and questionable line-up discrepancies are so prevalent, is there a future where DNA and technology rule, instead of subjective memory recall?

“DNA testing is always circumstantial. All it proves is that you were there. You can argue that you had been there before on another occasion. That’s different from someone saying, ‘I saw him do it, he is the guy who had the gun and he pulled the trigger.’ DNA needs to be backed up by a visual record of the perpetrator being there at the time of the incident,” states Tredoux.

CCTV is the new kid on the block in court rooms for attorneys to identify suspects. This ‘objective’ method should rule out all these inaccuracies in terms of eye-witness recall. However, Tredoux has mixed feelings about this new form of identification.

“The likelihood of identifying the CCTV image with the actual person has been shown to be 50 percent. The images are grainy for one, but it’s not just that, it’s a tricky task to match a photograph of a person at point one versus the person at point two. It sounds absolutely straight forward, dead-easy, but it’s not,” states Tredoux.

“CCTV and cell phone footage won’t be good for arguing identity; it will be good for circumstance. In this case, it’s not an argument about identity, it’s about likelihood.”

On the 28th of August, four teenagers were convicted of killing Dean Mayley in west London. The CCTV footage shows the criminals blocking Mayley’s path and then stabbing him in the chest when he refused to hand over his money. Just as Tredoux pointed out, their faces are indiscernible but the footage did help to place the perpetrators at the scene and aided in convicting the four teenagers.

CCTV footage revealed the incident yet the men's faces were indescribable.

CCTV footage revealed the incident yet the men’s faces were indescribable. (BBC)

Regarding Tredoux’s past work, I spoke with one of Tredoux’s PhD students, Alicia Nortje, about Tredoux and his motivation behind his work.

“If Colin has an opinion about something, he has probably thought about it for some time because he doesn’t make any hasty judgments. He is not hell-bent on justice. I think in the station strangler case, it’s a really interesting application of our work, and there is social responsibility that goes with that.”

PAST and FUTURE

Tredoux grew up in Pretoria and attended the reputable Pretoria Boys High School.

Upon moving to UCT to study English Literature in 1982, he was taught by the legendary Pulitzer, Nobel and Booker Prize winner, J.M Coetzee.

“Coetzee was a very cool person, quite distant. Formidably clever and he taught us unusual things like Defoe. I remember when I was an honours student and working in the computer science building. I used the word processes, as it was in 95, and Coetzee was always there, every night, typing away frantically on the processor,” reminisces Tredoux.

Coetzee is currently living in Adelaide in Australia. I wondered if Tredoux would continue his current direction and spend the rest of his working years in Cape Town

“I have another fifteen years [left]. It’s tricky because you can become a member of the overfed bourgeoisies very easily,” he says, laughing loudly.

After a long pause, he continues,

“I think a change of scene of some kind might be the best thing for me. A totally different country, a totally different way of doing things. A gigantic change could be it.”

Tredoux, working tirelessly over the past twenty years, has published many research papers such as ‘Evaluation of ID: using Eigenface as an eye-witness tool to aid the police’. He has also studied the accuracies of cross-racial prejudices in identikits and facial composites, has tackled racial preferences in children and researched line-up construction and fairness.

Concurrently, Simons has been in jail over the past twenty years and just as Tredoux is looking for a change, a major change may be facing Norman Afzal Simons. The alleged Station Strangler is due for parole in 2015. It seems Tredoux and Simons share something in common.

Potential freedom.

_______________________________________________________

A documentary feature regarding the Station Strangler case and the details surrounding this case will be released soon. Follow this blog for more information.

Malema’s recent outburst in parliament may be a ‘game changer’

Julius Malema. Image at Leadership Platform

“Julius Malema eats, drinks and sleeps South African politics. It doesn’t matter that he got a G in woodwork because he knows this game better than anyone else around,” stated Richard Poplak, the acclaimed journalist, at the Stellenbosch University on Monday.

Poplak was promoting his new book, Until Julius Comes, which documents the South African 2014 elections and features Julius Malema and the EFF as the main protagonists.

Poplak’s book release coincides with the controversial disruption in parliament on Thursday last week where EFF members were kicked out of parliament for chanting, “Pay back the money”.

The outburst was against President Jacob Zuma and the fraudulent allegations surrounding his homestead, Nkandla. This action, according to Poplak, could be a ‘game changer’.

“We cannot underestimate how powerful that performance was in parliament last week. On Thursday Julius Malema did something that has been passed around the country, he stood up to the bad guys and gave them hell right in the big house,” stated Poplak.

“The idea of representation [of the public] suddenly switched and people realised they have a voice, and that voice is Julius Malema.”

Richard Poplak at Stellenbosch University

Richard Poplak at Stellenbosch University

Wearing a black beanie and a shaggy beard, Poplak spoke of the rising popularity of the charismatic Malema and the crucial role he plays in the party’s success.

“He [Malema] is the star, if he’s gone, what’s left? This question is pretty serious because at this point without him there is no movement.”

The EFF won 6.35 percent of the votes in the national elections. The EFF still needs to produce an in-depth policy document clearly stating what their future intentions and guidelines will be.

“Right now it’s like a Pink Floyd light show, everything looks great but at some point there has to be something underpinning it. It can’t all be Marxist rhetoric and red onesies.”

The 2016 municipal elections will be the next test for the EFF. Poplak predicts that they will show a massive upscale in the polls and that the DA will also have a surge in votes.

Poplak has been trailing the EFF and their rise to parliament over the past year and hypothesized what could happen if the EFF took power of the country.

“With what I understand of the EFF policies currently, there would most likely be a massive capital flight out of the country and a lot of white people would run screaming to O.R Tambo or Cape Town International airports clutching their cutlery.”

Until Julius Comes documents the political complexity of the new South Africa. Poplak, acting under the pseudonym “Hannibal Elector”, will continue to document Malema and the EFF going forward.

Skate in the Cape – Are skate parks the answer…or just a trick?

The Opening of the Gardens Skate Park

The Opening of the Gardens Skate Park

With the opening of a new skate park in Gardens, Cape Town, and the rise in skate competitions, what lies ahead for this increasingly diverse sport?

 

 

Judas Priest’s lyrics, “Breaking the law, breaking the law!” bursts out of the speakers, entertaining the packed venue known as The Pit.

The Pit, a skating bar in Cape Town’s city “bowl”, is hosting the Vans invitational skateboarding competition on a cloudy Saturday evening. Skaters speed from one end of the fluorescent lit bowl to the other, performing grinds and wall rides on each end.

A competitor attempts to impress the judges.

A competitor attempts to impress the judges.

The association attached to skaters is normally that of reckless trouble-makers and vandals but watching the skaters and crowd, I don’t see the connection.

There are no fights breaking out; even when a board accidentally goes flying into someones face or a beer is spilled onto a spectator’s camera. There are no vandals destroying pot plants or mail boxes. If anything, there is a general camaraderie and respect between everyone present.

The Pit Party. Invitational skate competition poster.

The Pit Party. Invitational skate competition poster.

 

Earlier today, an award winning skate park, known as the Gardens Skate Park opened in Cape Town. Hundreds of skaters were testing the new rails and boxes at the opening.

Quinton Robertson, one of the skaters taking part in the competition at The Pit, spoke about what he thought a skate park brings to the community.

“Kids will have a facility where they can hang out after school and when they are finished their homework. It doesn’t matter if they are bored, they can just watch and this helps to keep them off the streets.”
A skater hitting a ramp

A skater attempting an aerial trick at the Gardens skate park

The skate park hosted hundreds of young kids, some as young as 8, and people from all backgrounds.

Marco Morgan, a founding member of the National Skate Collective, an organisation hoping to advance the culture of skateboarding in Cape Town, believes however that this diversity has not always been present in the sport.

“Skateboarding has always had stigma of rebellion or dare-devils attached to it, and for that reason it has been attractive to some and less attractive to others.
“In South Africa, these stigmas ran a bit deeper and skateboarding was seen to be exclusively “white” with the type of slang, fashion and music associated.
“…looking at the skateboarding community today, these walls of exclusion have been broken down, and the South African skateboarding community shows diversity in its sport and culture.”
Mill park skatepark opening day. Skaters of all ages came from around Cape Town to the opening in Gardens.

Gardens Skate Park opening day. Skaters of all ages came from around Cape Town to the opening in Gardens.

There has also been an increase in gender diversity. The Pit’s competition includes a female, Melissa Williams.

Williams is the only female competing against 35 male competitors.

“Gender has always been an issue in skateboarding, as it has always been seen as a masculine activity; however with the increase of females participating in the sport, we are seeing a much more diverse community, illustrating a real sense of accessibility,” says Morgan.
“At a competition level, we have seen organisation such as SAGRA [South African Gravity Racing Association] and KDC [Kimberely Diamond Cup] cater to the demand for female competitors.”

Unfortunately Williams couldn’t comment on gender in skating as she had to be taken to hospital after severely breaking her finger in one of the heats of the competition.

Injuries are synonymous with skating. 

A search for  “skateboarding fails” in YouTube, offers days of footage that will make your eyes water and steer most people away from the sport.

Injuries are commpn place in the skate world. Image at Soletron.com

So I asked Leigh Soulink, a young man with dreadlocks and a massive red rose tattoo covering his neck,  what he thought drew people to skating, even with such high risk of injuries.

“It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something and you’re doing it solely because you want to have fun.
“I just like hanging out with my friends and being happy for the guy when they land a trick. That’s what skating is all about, just having a good time with friends.”

Sheldon Klopper, a spectator and skater himself says,

“It starts off with the people. They are very accommodating and it doesn’t matter if you’re starting out [with skating] or been doing it for 20 years.
“Skateboarding takes away that team sport vibe of being shut out if you’re not good enough.”

Skateboard with The Pit

It seems this accepting environment is one that sets skating apart from most other sports.

Today’s park opening and the regular competitions are a sign of the sport’s increasing popularity. More importantly, skating has an opportunity now by using the parks to shrug off the stigma associated with skaters.

By setting up the Gardens Skate Park , skating is granted more awareness and with this, acceptance.

Although a positive step forward, Morgan believes that throwing more skate parks at the issue of bad reputation, is not always a good thing.

“Skate parks are often the easy answer to dealing with the spatial antagonism between skaters and other users of public space.
“Although skate parks are awesome spaces for skaters to connect and congregate, it is seen as a way for authorities to control skaters spatial mobility and fence an activity, which most likely will result in facility-based mentality that supports the sport without supporting skateboarders’ needs.
“Most times we are not consulted about skate facilities and in these cases; these spaces do not fit our real needs.”

Morgan and the National Skate Collective are attempting to introduce a by-law that will allow skateboarders to skate on the roads legally.

“We have set up a task team with the City of Cape Town, to work together on developing future skate parks/skate facilities and integrating skateboarding into the urban fabric of the city,” states Morgan.

There have also been talks about a new skate park being constructed in Woodstock using these task team approaches.

The winner of the competition celebrating with a friend

The winner of the competition, Joubert van Staaden (left), celebrating his prize of R7000

This accepting community of skateboarders seems to be making progress in communities around the world. In South Africa, the diversity is striking and promises positive change.

But will this diversification and exposure lead to more facilities and support for the sport? Or will it serve to isolate the skateboarder even more by confining them and “fencing the activity” to spaces catered for them.

A greater question is raised: Will skating only be practiced in cordoned off, ‘legal’ areas in the future or will it be accepted for its freedom of expression and allowed to be practiced wherever the skater chooses?

As for now, the growth of this niche sport is on the up and skaters around Cape Town all seem to be winning.

Mantra what?

By Anthony Molyneaux

Giriraja Swami, an initiating guru within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, suggests that everyone should try mantra meditation. Swami states that a few sessions of the mantra, “accrues to ones spiritual credit and it will gradually increase in value. Any way one chants, one will derive immense benefit and pleasure from the mantra”.

After watching this short video of Swami, I decided to take on his suggestion and made my way to a local mantra meditation group on my university campus in Stellenbosch.

I arrive to a group of 20 or so cross-legged students on a warm Monday afternoon. All those assembled are in their twenties, sitting in a crude half circle around an old portable organ called a harmonium. I join the folk by taking my shoes off and sit down on the stretched out mat, trying hard to adopt the cross-legged pose that has always created major discomfort.

The mantras take place outside among the bustling students of the University, some kicking back between classes, others on their way to the busy cafeteria.

Birds are chirping their melodic song overhead as the lead, playing the haunting harmonium, begins the mantra. Around his neck is a necklace made up of small wooden beads. They are known as Tulasi japa chanting beads, and they symbolize his surrender to Krishna. It is believed the beads also protect the wearer from bad dreams and bodily harm.

His voice is serene and harmonious as he recites the mantra,

“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare 
  Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

As the ‘congregation’ begins to recite the verse, a man sitting directly in front of me with long blonde curly hair, resembling Shaggy from Scooby Doo, begins singing the response much louder and obtrusive than the other twenty people present. His tone is way off and it’s quite distracting, not dissimilar to my dad’s rendition of church hymns during mass.

Later on, after the mantra is over, I over-hear the shaggy haired man say that he is in the process of ‘making music’ and is preparing for an upcoming show. A tinge of sympathy came over me for those who would attend that spectacle.

I try to collect my thoughts and come back to the mantra. By this stage, the mantra has gained some momentum. The lead brings in a hip hop element – A request by the lead of ‘ladies only’ followed by ‘gentlemen, your turn’. My younger days of Christian rap groups, ‘Yo Majesty’ and ‘DC talk’ spring to mind and this reminder makes me feel like I was attending a really strange ‘Holy Hip Hop’ concert.

I retrace my steps again and hone in on the mantra melody. I close my eyes, zoning my thoughts on the repeated words and away from my trailing thoughts of migratory patterns of birds and who really killed Biggie Smalls.

The beat of the Mridanga drum focuses me and after 10 minutes of becoming absorbed in this steadily building pace of the mantra, I start to tap my feet unconsciously with the intricate drum beat. I start to sway my body and the mantra becomes easy to sing, more natural with every repetition.

The music and mantra takes over and I feel at ease, relaxed and still, my trailing thoughts seemingly out of reach. I tap into this calm – a feeling similar to the relief you get when you’ve returned home after a long day at work or school. When you can finally lie down on your bed, not think about a thing and you can absorb the quiet in the afternoon light.

My legs go numb from the awkward crossed position.. I am forced back to reality and I adjust my seating. Suddenly I remember that I am outdoors and among people during this meditation. I peek out into the world again.

Gawking students pass by, some don’t seem to notice, other’s point and frown, few stare and  laugh. The Mridanga drum plays an addictive beat and the small hand held snare rings a pleasurable tone. My eyes shut again and I drift back into the meditation.

 The final recital slows the mantra down to the beginning speed and we all chant in unison, symbolizing the end of the meditation. Slowly eyes open and almost everyone has a smile on their face, including myself.

Swami may have been right. It is captivating.

According to Krishna.com,

‘The Hare Krishna mantra is a chant meant for enhancing consciousness to the greatest possible degree. Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra can give peace, happiness, God realization, freedom from repeated birth and death, and total self-fulfillment.’

The Hare Krishna mantra is a repetition of three names of the Supreme Being – “Hare”, “Krishna” and “Rama”. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness’s website has uploaded mantra meditation videos from London, New York, Ireland and many other cities around the world. Large groups of people from all walks of life dance and chant in the streets to this mantra.

I too enjoyed the session but I wonder if I would be able to dance in the streets and jump around in a kind of peaceful, religious mosh pit.

Much like some of the passers-by of the meditation group, crude looks follow the people dancing and chanting in the streets. ‘Crazy’ and ‘cult’ have been used to describe Hare Krishna’s practices.

But is it really crazy? Our current society of non-stop information, multitasking and deadlines seems to separate us from what meditations like the mantra teaches.

After soaking in a short time of the day where I force myself to break away from concerns and worries, I start to understand the gains of meditation. I can maybe even rationalize that our society might be the crazy one after all and not all dancing, twirling, singing people in the streets.

Upon investigating how this religion came about, I found that Krishna consciousness had only been introduced to the western world less than 60 years ago.

Srila Prabhupada, a spiritual teacher, arrived in New York in 1965 and began to spread Krishna consciousness to the American youth. In 1970, only one recruit signed up to Hare Krishna internationally. By 1980, close to 600 were signing up every year, according to E. Burke Rochford’s book, “Hare Krishna in America”. The growth slowed in the 80’s and 90’s but has seen tremendous growth recently with ashrams, a spiritual monastery, and temples being set up all over the world.

After my experience of the mantra, I decided that I would attend Buddha’s birthday celebration on the evening of the full moon.

I’m not sure if I will be dancing in the streets rejoicing with all the Hare Krishna’s just yet but the mantra meditation holds some quality that I want to acknowledged and adhere to. If anything, it has taught me not to care about what others think of you and has made me realize that I don’t have the worst singing voice out there. Hare Krishna.

Karoo at the forefront of future space travel navigation

The Karoo’s vast expanse of desert will introduce 3000 radio telescopes as part of an initiative by Square Kilometer Array to discover new planets, stars and possibly extraterrestrial life.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a world renowned radio astronomer, presented a talk as part of the SKA science conference yesterday evening at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study (STIAS) building in Stellenbosch. The presentation ranged from pulsating radio stars, also known as pulsars, to the unique possibilities that these special stars may offer the global community.

Burnell, an Irish astrophysicist is known for her work in the discovery of pulsars. Experts like Burnell believe that these stars have the potential to aid in navigation through galaxies, acting as beacons or lighthouses for space ships of the future. Burnell has not ruled out the possibility of finding life on other planets and the study of these pulsars could play a large role in this discovery.

“We believe life can be sustained when water is in its liquid form. The chances of a planet in our universe having liquid water are extremely high. The question is not if there is life on other planets but what we will do with this information once it arrives,” states Burnell.

Dr. Adrian Tiplady, the SKA Site Bid Manager spoke of the plans for the Karoo and its leap into space study, “The project kicks off in March 2014 and by 2022 we will see the last telescope erected.”

The first phase of the SKA project is the introduction of the radio telescope dubbed MeerKAT. MeerKAT will be the largest centimeter wavelength telescope in the Southern Hemisphere once completed.

“There will be a couple hundred dishes, or little radio telescopes, scattered around the Karoo and used to pick up radio waves from distant galaxies,” states Burnell. “The Square Kilometer Array will enable us to see all the pulsars in our galaxy that point our way, which will be about 10 times the amount of what we know at the moment.”

The Karoo was chosen as the location for SKA as it has a low inhabitation of people and low radio interference. Mobile phones emit large interference which is why a large, open, uninhabited area was chosen.

“South Africa in the near future is going to play a special part in radio astronomy,” states Bell.

A pulsar is the shrunken core of an exploded star. This relatively small, extremely dense star rotates at incredible speeds around its own axis. This rotation produces the sound which radio telescopes can gather and in this way, locate pulsars all over the universe.