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Heat, Power And Water

SANDY GRANT
Heat, Water and Power – three words, which sum up the extended holiday period. The heat, when it has been significantly above 40 degrees, has been brutal. Power supply, which has helped those with air conditioners, fans and refrigerators, has been erratic, often non-existent for long periods whilst much the same can be said about water.

Without means of storage with water tanks, it’s hard to understand how people were able to cope. Mmopane, Gabane and Moshupa, not least, were without water for weeks on end.

Why was this not declared a disaster area? Or wasn’t it sufficiently disastrous? Some businesses would appear to have made a killing from these curious weeks of either far too much or far too little.  Have we ever before seen people queuing to buy six or more 10 litre bottles of purified water? And then there were those rushing to buy air conditioners for the first time, fans, humidifiers, air coolers, and deep freezers whilst the chemists must have run out of stock of salt pills and sun cream. How many people, I wonder, were overcome by heat and had to be given treatment? Probably we will never know.  But how did people in the past cope with heat? For a start, they slept outside which only rarely happens today.  They could do so because there were then fewer crooks - but that may have been because people had few household items which were worth stealing. The old stores may not have had vastly expensive refrigerated rooms but they did have very effective evaporation cool rooms.

Curiously the idea of evaporation as a means of cooling seems to have been lost. Perhaps we no longer need the old, ubiquitous water bags which used to adorn the front of every truck because today we all possess cool boxes.  But then we still need to live in houses which are cool in summer and reasonably warm in winter. And that particular trick we seem also to have lost. A number of different factors may have been responsible for the disappearance of the rondavel , as with the windmill, but the replacement of the compacted earth or clay brick wall by the cement block wall has been a huge step backwards. Similarly the almost overnight disappearance of the deep-set verandah is something of a tragedy.

Houses of this type were standard models for those of middle to higher rank in the Protectorate Administration although only few were likely to have been owned by locals.  After 1966, only few were likely to have been built. Two were designed by Francis Green as a package job

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with Trinity Church in Gaborone. As the last of their species, it might be worth listing those two houses as historic monuments. House design continues to intrigue, as it should  but I am not at all sure that we have done well on this score during the last 50 years. Possibly the Kgalagadi brick, if its production can be sustained, may represent our first real breakthrough in that extended period.

What have we been doing all this time? We seem to have been innovating for years – but with what result? Years ago – sometimes in the 60s, I came across illustrated publicity information about the way that Mexico had produced designs for its new schools, not just the walls and the roofs but the furniture and even the water tanks. It was wonderfully exciting.  Wondering if anything similar could be done here, I wrote, disingenuously, to the person responsible - for the more knowing in our community - the very great Pedro Ramírez Vázquez. Wikepedia notes that, ‘he developed a system to construct schools in rural areas, constructing thousands of schools in Mexico and abroad. The UNICEF has used such system’. I don’t now remember what questions I asked or what answers I may have been given but I do have one momento of that amazing man, a gift from him of an unabridged edition of Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico and Peru together with a card, unfortunately undated, personally signed by him.

If he and Mexico could produce plastic (of whatever kind) water tanks in 1960s, why has it taken so long to come up with the Jojo? Why too, even now, have we been unable to come up with a more suitable design for destitute housing, which reduces maintenance to a minimum?  On that general topic, Private Secretary to the President, George Tlhalerwa was reported in The Guardian of 11 December as stating that, ‘It was not the job of government or donors to monitor or maintain houses. ‘When you give to someone, you are empowering them. We just elevate them and ensure their lives have changed for the better’.  It is possible that this particular belief may hold good in respect of the rich but can it also have validity for the poor? 



Etcetera II

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