The destruction of Notre Dame cathedral is lamentable. A wonderful icon has been largely destroyed by fire. However, we should not despair.
Part of the reason this loss is so upsetting is that we are immersed in a Western way of thinking that equates authenticity with preserving the original materials used to create an object or building.
But not all societies think like this. Some have quite different notions of what is authentic. Iconic buildings such as the Catherine Palace in Russia and Japan’s historic monuments of Ancient Nara have been successfully restored, sometimes after great damage, and are today appreciated by millions of people.
But in our diverse world, the definition and assessment of authenticity is a complex matter. The World Heritage Convention guidelines state that properties may be understood to meet the conditions of authenticity if their cultural values “are truthfully and credibly expressed”.
Accordingly, a building’s authenticity is determined in relation to its location and setting, use and function, spirit and feeling, and well as form and materials.
Japan’s historic monuments of Ancient Nara – comprised of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and the excavated remains of the great Imperial Palace – provide important insights into the nation’s capital during the 8th century. These buildings are not less authentic because they were extensively restored after the enactment of the Ancient Shrines and Temples Preservation Law in 1897.
A palace gutted
The Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo (Pushkin), south of Petersburg, was gutted during the second world war. When Russian people first saw the damage, they must have despaired.
Nevertheless, the government provided the resources to allow room-by-room restorations. The restoration of the Amber Room, one of the most famous palace interiors of the 18th century, is a triumph.
Panels that had been looted by the Nazis were recreated over 25 years with an investment of $11 million. Today, the Palace is fully restored, a spectacular icon that attracts millions of visitors a year.
What about the relics and artworks?
The fire at Notre Dame has endangered a vast collection of Christian relics and artworks housed within the building and on its grounds, including the crown of thorns. First responders saved many, but not all, objects. At the time of writing, we did not yet know which ones have survived.
Does the argument regarding authenticity also apply to these relics and precious artworks? Well, yes and no.
There are two scenarios. The first is that the relics and artworks are partially damaged by fire, smoke and falling building materials. Within this scenario, the focus will be on restoration – and marvellous things can occur in the realm of materials conservation.
The second scenario is that (some) relics or artworks are virtually, or entirely, destroyed. Within this scenario, the artworks can only be replicated, not restored. Such replication would have a precarious tie to the original works.
From the viewpoint of restoration, there is a crucial difference between portable and non-portable artefacts. Other than those that were part of the fabric of the building, the relics and artworks were not made on-site. The building itself, however, has a continuity of identity and function through being located within a specific landscape.
What now for Notre Dame?
One way forward is to use the Venice Charter (1964) to guide restoration. This would mean that the new materials used in preserving this historic structure would be kept distinguishable from the original construction.
Another way forward would be to restore the structure in a similar manner to that of Catherine I’s palace, in which an untutored eye finds it difficult to distinguish between the old and new parts of the structure. Given the extent of the damage, this would be the more aesthetically pleasing and less jarring approach.
Unlike other places of deep cultural significance, which may be destroyed forever due to commercial development, Notre Dame can be rebuilt. With modern technology, it is entirely possible for the cathedral to be recreated with near-accuracy to the original. We can do this and keep the previous building’s spirit and feeling.
The latest research into the voting preferences of South Africans finds that trust in the country’s president is the single most important predictor of the potential party choices at the ballot. If voting behaviour follows suit this could be the key to understanding the success of the African National Congress (ANC) on election day – May 8.
These findings come from the second nationally representative study conducted by the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg. The survey was completed in the fourth quarter of 2018. The first study was done in the fourth quarter of 2017.
The findings suggest that recent leadership changes in the governing party and government have bolstered trust in the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa compared with his predecessor Jacob Zuma. The research suggests that this factor is expected to be a significant predictor of voter behaviour.
To understand what the influence of Ramaphosa’s presidency is likely to be in the upcoming elections, researchers from the Centre for Social Development in Africa compared the most recent survey results with those of an earlier survey conducted during Zuma’s presidency. Trust in the presidency under Zuma was at 26%. This time around that number had gone up to 55% – 29 percentage points higher than under Zuma.
Two models for control
The study was done based on a nationally representative sample of 3 431 respondents. This is considered reliably representative of over 38 million potential voters. It’s the second of a three-part study to understand the links between socioeconomic rights and what drives voter choices in the coming elections.
To understand the shift in support for the ANC versus the opposition parties the researchers constructed two models for analysis of the most recent survey results. This was to control for the change in leadership.
When Ramaphosa was removed from the equation, governance or trust in institutions such as parliament and the courts was no longer a predictor of voter preference. But when inserted as a factor on its own and independent of trust in institutions, trust in the presidency emerged as the single most important predictor of voter preference for the governing party in the upcoming elections.
These findings echo other recently released studies and polls which predict that the ANC is likely to win the upcoming general election.
Differences between the first and the second survey
Our first survey in 2017 was conducted at the height of the leadership contest in the ANC. At that time party loyalty wasn’t found to be a predictor of voter choice. But it emerged as a predictor in the 2018 survey.
Given this, it appears that trust in President Ramaphosa may have rekindled loyalty to the party that brought freedom and democracy to South Africa.
The findings seem counter-intuitive or contrary to what one might expect given the social, economic and political instability in the country. For example, how does one account for the changes in voter preferences at a time of growing economic insecurity, near-daily exposure of corruption in high places, loss of trust in institutions, and poor government performance in service delivery?
The answer is that voters make decisions based on a complex set of variables.
The reasons for voter choices in this election appear to be more nuanced and complex than usual as citizens are struggling to make difficult choices. On the one hand, trust in the presidency is a predictor of preference for the ANC; on the other hand, it’s clear that factors such as corruption also hold sway for voters. Over 70% of all respondents in the recent survey thought that corruption had increased in the past year.
Given this, it’s likely that trust in Ramaphosa’s leadership may be based on the respondents’ favourable perceptions of his personal attributes as a leader such as his personal integrity, his knowledge and skills and experience. Other factors that might have worked in his favour include the establishment of commissions of enquiry to investigate corruption. For some voters, these factors will trump their concerns about corruption.
The data also shows that women voters (who in the first survey were more likely to vote for the opposition) have shifted their support back to the ANC. A highly significant factor in voter choices is the fear that they would lose their social grants if another party came to power. This clearly speaks to securing personal, family and material well-being.
The survey results present a nuanced picture of the complicated decision-making at play where potential voters are weighing up the issues and making conscious choices of who to vote for based on these judgements.
In spite of the numerous constraints that the Ramaphosa presidency faces, the shifts in voter choices reflected in the study suggest a degree of hope that the ANC under new leadership can still lead the country towards better days.
Should the president and the ANC win the election, the natural next question will be: can Ramaphosa meet these expectations and rebuild public trust and confidence in government, the economy and democracy?
Considering the structural constraints that he faces, as well as those imposed on him by his own party, it will be a tough task.
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If I had Cyril Ramaphosa’s dosh, I would be taking it easy. Instead, our President is rushing around the country almost as fast as his ANC comrades appear to messing-up his election prospects.
Burning rubber, and not books, our President yesterday took a ride in some new (hopefully fireproof) Prasa trains, followed by an engagement with the farmers of Stellenbosch.
Today he was at Nissan’s Rosslyn factory near Pretoria to welcome a new R3bn investment, before zooming off to a gathering of religious leaders. All of this before lunchtime.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is demonstrably on the election trail, with numerous public appearances, speeches, rallies, and his government promising that it will fix what – arguably – it has messed up due to incompetence and corruption, most notably the supply of water and electricity.
In this environment, it is easy to see his relish at the R3bn Nissan investment in the local production of new Navara pickups.
With this investment, there will be new jobs, training, exports, all sort of good stuff. Let us just hope that as the vehicles roll off the production line, pampered politicians and officials will be forced to procure and use these proudly-local vehicles.
Nissan bosses say their plant is now much more efficient than before, on a global scale, which helped it to secure this production deal – and the auto giant is ready to welcome to its plant the production of vehicles by sister brands Renault and Mitsubishi.
Local content, a key requirement for maximising state investment incentives, is to be boosted, with a target of 60%. To reach this, there will be mentoring, incubation, all sort of support for small black component producers, with the aim of making them larger and larger entities.
All good stuff, although the actual new direct jobs from these billions in investment will be in the hundreds, which won’t even send a ripple across the ocean of unemployed.
Speaking to officials behind the scenes, it was clear that this was not an easy investment to secure. This country has so many challenges.
However, as we move ever-closer to the election, it is reassuring that one of the pledges made at the President’s glitzy Investment Summit last year has translated into bricks and mortar, wheels and tires, engines and windscreens.
Nice one Cyril. Keep ’em coming.
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Microsoft has announced that it will close the books category of its digital store. While other software and apps will still be available via the virtual shop front, and on purchasers’ consoles and devices, the closure of the eBook store takes with it customers’ eBook libraries. Any digital books bought through the service – even those bought many years ago – will no longer be readable after July 2019. While the company has promised to provide a full refund for all eBook purchases, this decision raises important questions of ownership.
Recent years have seen the emergence of an array of access-based models in the digital realm. For Spotify and Netflix users, owning films and music has become unimportant as these subscription-based services provide greater convenience and increased choice. But while these platforms present themselves clearly as services, with the consumer under no illusion of ownership, for many digital goods this is not the case. So to what extent do we own the digital possessions that we “buy”?
Fragmented ownership rights
The popularity of access-based consumption has obscured the rise of a range of fragmented ownership configurations in the digital realm. These provide the customer with an illusion of ownership while restricting their ownership rights. Companies such as Microsoft and Apple present consumers with the option to “buy” digital products such as eBooks. Consumers often make the understandable assumption that they will have full ownership rights over the products that they pay for, just as they have full ownership rights over the physical books that they buy from their local bookstore.
However, many of these products are subject to end-user licence agreements which set out a more complex distribution of ownership rights. These long legal agreements are rarely read by consumers when it comes to products and services online. And even if they do read them, they are unlikely to fully understand the terms.
When purchasing eBooks, the consumer often actually purchases a non-transferable licence to consume the eBook in restricted ways. For instance, they may not be permitted to pass the eBook on to a friend once they have finished reading, as they might do with a physical book. In addition, as we have seen in the case of Microsoft, the company retains the right to revoke access at a later date. These restrictions on consumer ownership are often encoded into digital goods themselves as automated forms of enforcement, meaning that access can be easily withdrawn or modified by the company.
This is not a one-off occurrence. There have been many similar instances that raise questions of ownership. Just last month, social media site MySpace admitted to losing all content uploaded before 2016. Blaming a faulty server migration, the loss includes many years’ worth of music, photos, and videos created by consumers.
My research has found that many consumers do not consider these possibilities, because they make sense of their digital possessions based on their previous experiences of possessing tangible, physical objects. If our local bookstore closed down, the owner wouldn’t knock on our door demanding to remove previously purchased books from our shelves. So we do not anticipate this scenario in the context of our eBooks. Yet the digital realm presents new threats to ownership that our physical possessions haven’t prepared us for.
Consumers need to become more sensitised to the restrictions on digital ownership. They must be made aware that the “full ownership” they have experienced over most of their physical possessions cannot be taken for granted when purchasing digital products. However, companies also have a responsibility to make these fragmented ownership forms more transparent.
Often there is a logical business reason for such restrictions. For instance, since digital objects are infinitely reproducible – they can be duplicated quickly and easily at negligible costs – restrictions on sharing are a means to protect the profits of both distribution companies (Microsoft or Apple, for example) and media producers (including the authors and publishers of an eBook). However, these restrictions must be stated clearly and in simple terms at the point of purchase, rather than hidden away in the complex legal jargon of end-user licence agreements, obscured by the familiar terminology of “buying”.
Extreme weather events, such as Cyclone Idai that has recently devastated Beira, Mozambique, and Hurricane Harvey that hit Houston, USA, in 2017
are the types of climate extremes that cities increasingly have to prepare for.
Cities, particularly those with extensive informal settlements in the developing world, are being hit hard by these new climatic realities. Although rapid onset disasters often have devastating effects, slow onset climate events, such as drought, can also be detrimental.
Cities need to build their capacity to adapt to this range of impacts. One of the best ways to do this is to learn from other cities’ experiences. Drawing lessons from other places that have gone through climate crises is a good way to guard against future shocks and stresses.
One very recent case that cities around the world are watching is Cape Town’s severe drought and the threat of “Day Zero” – when the city’s taps were due to run dry. Although the city came close to having to turn off the taps, they managed to avoid it. After better rains in 2018 and a significant reduction in water use across the city, the dams are now reassuringly fuller than they were in 2017 and 2018, although caution is still needed ahead of the winter rains.
A lot has changed and it’s important to reflect on this, and share.
I conducted research to establish some key lessons to be drawn from the Cape Town drought. I found that local governments must focus on several important areas if they’re to strengthen urban water resilience and adapt better to climate risk. These include improving data collection and communication, engaging with experts and enabling flexible adaptive decision making.
And, crucially, I found that governance must be strengthened. Although three years of low rainfall lead to very low dam levels, there were breakdowns in the interaction between the national, provincial and municipal government that exacerbated the problem.
The research suggests that effective water management requires systems of mutual accountability between spheres of municipal, provincial and national government.
In South Africa, the national Department of Water and Sanitation is responsible for ensuring that there’s sufficient bulk water available, often in dams, that can be transferred to municipalities. The municipalities are then mandated to provide clean drinking water. This means that intergovernmental coordination across the spheres of government is vital.
As it stands, different spheres’ mandates overlap. This creates confusion and means the buck is often passed: one sphere of government will insist a particular competency isn’t its job, and hand the work on to another sphere.
For this to be resolved there has to be clarity on shared responsibilities and roles, as well as the development of mutual accountability. To achieve this, technical skills, personal and institutional relations need to be strengthened. This requires strong leadership.
Collaboration within municipal departments also needs to improve. The Cape Town drought highlighted the importance of this. Before 2017, there was limited collaboration between city departments on water issues. During the drought, however, the collaboration between certain departments increased considerably as the complexity of the crisis became clear.
Not only is collaboration within government important, but it also needs to extend beyond the government. During a crisis, all of society needs to be engaged, including citizens and the business sector. Technical expertise needs to be balanced with opportunities for a broader group to share its perspectives and concerns. Partnerships can help gather the range of perspectives and support needed to respond to complex problems.
Municipalities which, during the course of their normal business activities, have developed strong relationships with their stakeholders, will be better placed to respond effectively to a crisis. That’s because they will be able to harness stakeholders’ collective knowledge and contributions more easily.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, the Business Chamber has done this by strengthening relations with the municipality to help to facilitate the ease of doing business in the city. They recognise that all businesses require electricity, water, transport, and logistics, for example, and so focus on improving these areas. The municipality developed task teams made up of volunteers from their member companies who have skills set in those areas.
Importantly, there is an agreement that the Metro places high-level executives to sit in the task team meetings to ensure plans are put into practice. These types of relationships can be invaluable during a crisis.
While my study focused on Cape Town, its findings can be applied to other cities that want to strengthen their ability to adapt to climate change. Yes, cities need to pay more attention to how climate variability impacts on their resources, particularly water. But just as important is strengthening the governance of the water system. A well-adapted city is one that understands who is responsible for what and has strong trust and partnerships between and within the government.
In order to build capacity to adapt, new types of skills are needed. Local government needs to pay more attention to how to build partnerships, enable flexibility and support learning. These are the types of skills needed for a well-adapted city, but are still often lacking in local governments.
We are back. Another mildly anarchic but nonetheless serious wine tasting with the impressive The Real McCoy Riesling from Jordan in Stellenbosch.
This is followed by a chat on wine marketing.
John Fraser is joined by the inimitable Michael Olivier, who is one of SA’s foremost epicureans. Also on the panel are Clientele’s Malcolm MacDonald, who helped with the technology, infamous economist Chris Hart, and Gumtree Auto’s best biker Jeff Osborne.
Click here for the podcast, enjoy and maybe even learn a little: