Braamfontein: Joburg’s creative hub


There’s something magical about Braamfontein, Johannesburg’s creative hub; home to the Joburg Theatre, Neighbourgoods’ Market every Saturday and an array of funky art and coffee shops…

Road tripping through South Africa


The route

ADVENTURE: The route for an 11-day road trip (in June/ July) that changed my perspective on South Africa.

Have you lost faith in South Africa? Just take your car and drive… 
Drive to the lost and unseen parts…

You will be greeted by the most incredible sunrise, the yearning for random children to wave at you, the eager “Oom” or “Tannie” to feed you… 

South Africa, the way it was meant to be, a mosaic of mountains, bushveld, beach, winelands and beauty in her purest form. Here is about 4000 kilometres around this amazing country…


Arcade Empire: Hidden Menu

The new Arcade Empire, which opened next to The Grove shopping mall (Pretoria) nine months ago, has been attracting all types of young people with its variety in music. However, its variety in food seems to cater as well to everyone’s tastes, from pizza to steak to calamari, amongst others.
The best meal of the night? The cordon bleu wrapped in cheese!

On Tuesday, 26 March, a few bloggers and social media junkies were given an exclusive peek into their hidden treasures. Their chef, Doctor, has been limited by the two-page menu, but showed us what else he is capable of. Co-owner Rudolf Przybylski explains: “We wanted to spread the word that we are upping our menu and soon our service.”

On the menu last night (click on the pic for the caption)…

Christmas time in rural South Africa!


Please scroll down for the full slide-show…

About 40 children at the Peng-ai-Gong Care Centre in Zone 16 of Ga-Rankuwa, a few kilometres out of Pretoria, were greeted with toys, clothes, food and stationery last week, just in time for the holiday season.

Christmas love_smeets

CHRISTMAS LOVE: Abandoned children were greeted with gifts and food last week in rural South Africa. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The children all come from disadvantaged, vulnerable or abused backgrounds and attend schools near by. They go to the care centre after school till about 16h30 to eat and do homework. But things have not been easy: the centre lost its main sponsor a few months ago.

However, Bianca O’Neill, a lecturer at Tshwane’s University of Technology, heard about their plight and decided to help out. In September, the children were asked to draw anything of their choice that they would like to own and O’Neill instructed her students, who are future Foundation Phase teachers, to make these toys out of whatever materials they had.

It was a project that would be both educational and inspirational. The result was phenomenal: the children were given objects like a giraffe, doll houses, a Chris Brown doll, wire cars, amongst other things.

For Irene Kgasi, the centre’s manager, O’Neill’s arrival was a divine appointment:

“Bianca is a gift. She wiped away our tears just in time. We, however, still need a donor and more food as we cannot expect Bianca to continue helping us. Whoever is interested must please contact our Board Member, Angie Molebatsi.”

The centre is made up of a total of 46 boys and 58 girls (when they are all present) between the ages of 4-19 and also includes activities like numerical literacy and sport.

Peng ai Gong_smeets

HOPEFUL: The care centre’s manager, Irene Kgasi, hopes they will find a sponsor in time for Christmas. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The project of transforming a child’s hand-drawn dream into a real-life model was inspired by the idea of giving to those less fortunate, but also giving something that you made personally. It was a test to see how generous and imaginative the students were, but also to test their love for children and whether teaching was truly their chosen profession. The students were marked on originality, durability, neatness, as well as evaluated on the journal they had to keep from the day they started on the toy till now.

For student Mpho Kesimoloste, it was a wonderful experience:

“To see the smiles on the children’s faces was truly amazing…The whole thing became personal for me, because I did not know where to begin or how my toys would turn out. We also didn’t know how the children would react to the toys that we made and, to our surprise, they were very happy and it brought a sense of joy and happiness to them.
I believe that as people we should continue to help and care for needy and vulnerable children, this kind of thing should not end with us but continue to help these children to be positive in life.”

For Mpho* (8), an orphan at the centre, the gifts came just in time:

“We are so happy. We have never had a real Christmas. All I wanted was a toy… old or new. Now, I have so many! We are going to share and make it the best Christmas ever!”

O’Neill describes the success of this community project:

“This involvement has inspired my students so much… I’m proud of all my students and happy with all the people who made donations. Here’s hoping to continue with his for a long time and bring as much joy to the children and teenagers as we can.”

The project also hopes to break down the stigma attached to the Tshwane University of Technology, which became infamous earlier this year for their strikes and unrest. O’Neill explains:

“My students have proved themselves as hardworking and dedicated individuals, who are willing to make a difference.”

Readers who are interested in helping the centre, can visit their website:

South Africa’s people


South Africa, a country once cursed and condemned by her racist past, is now flourishing with eleven different tribes and numerous cultures. Here is just a glimpse into the beauty of her rainbow nation

These photos were taken over the span of two years (2010-2012), from posh cities like Cape Town and Stellenbosch to the more desolate Sutherland and the forgotten parts of Stellenbosch.
I avoided captioning the pics, in fear of people stealing them.

Please do not use these pictures for your own use. They are all copyrighted and my testimonies… If you have any questions about any of them, please leave a comment below. I am happy to share the stories behind each one, from 40 years of friendship, to Gay Pride and unique art.
South Africa reawakens in her people’s journeys.

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Paris, je t’aime…


Ever fallen in love with a city ? You dream night and day of dancing to her music, eating her food and exploring her every inch. Every time you return home, you long to go back…

Paris, much like Berlin, Barcelona or Munich, is one of the few cities in the world that has this effect. She is filled with so much motion and emotion, you often feel lost in her culture, history and characters.


She is the most visited city in the world with an estimated 42 million tourists annually. Her 12 million inhabitants make her one of the most concentrated cities in the European Union. She has produced the highest number of higher education students in the EU through her 17 universities and 55 grandes écoles (Ivy League schools).

She contains about 3800 historical monuments and has inspired the world’s leading poets and philosophers. She is also hub to the world’s leading fashion houses : Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent, Dior and Chanel.

Paris, a city for lovers of art, music, history, literature and lovers themselves. 

Rien ne m’a fait jamais battre le cœur
Rien ne m’a fait ainsi rire et pleurer
Comme ce cri de mon peuple vainqueur
Rien n’est si grand qu’un linceul déchiré
Paris Paris soi-même libéré

Nothing ever made ​​my heart beat as much
Nothing made ​​me laugh and cry
As much as the cry of my winning people
Nothing is as large as a torn shroud
Paris Paris, in herself released
– Louis Aragon, Paris

Her top attractions include :

Disneyland Paris : 15 million annual visitors
Notre Dame Cathedral : 13,6 million visitors
Sacré Cœur : 10,5 million visitors
The Louvre Museum : 8,8 million visitors
Eiffel Tower : 7 million visitors

Paris only became France’s capital in 508 AD/CE, after Lyon under King Clovis, and again in 1180 under King Philippe Auguste. The city of Vichy temporarily replaced Paris as France’s capital during World War II. This change in political structure was known as the Vichy-Regime.

Originally known as “Lutetia” meaning “midwater-dwelling” under the Romans, Paris became a popular and populous town built around the beautiful Seine river. The name “Paris” is derived from Homer’s Iliad based on Paris, the Trojan prince’s search for Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships. Paris therefore means “Son of a noble father.” Some believe the name is actually derived from the Celtic Gallic word parisio meaning hardworking people/ craftsmen. Other historians believe the name comes from “Par Isis” (from Isis, the Egyptian goddess of nature, magic and wisdom). Paris is also often nicknamed “La Ville-Lumière” or the city of lights.

For more important dates in Parisian history, visit :

Paris is also home to the Théâtre du Châtelet, where the César awards are held every year in February. The Césars are the French equivalent to the Academy Awards/ Oscars.

Here is my own version of the Césars…

  • Best French actor : Gaspard Ulliel. He’s only 28, but rose to fame as the lead-role in Hannibal Rising. Bitten by a doberman at the age of 6, his sexy scar on his left cheek looks like a cute dimple. You may remember him also as the missing soldier from Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement).
  • Best French actress : Marion Cotillard. She’s only 37 but has already made her mark in Hollywood by starring in blockbusters like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. Her French roles are the most memorable though, especially as Edith Piaf in La Môme/ La vie en rose.
  • Best stage performance : Grands Corps Malade (Big Sick Body). Paralysed at the age of 20 after diving, Fabien Marsaud was told he would never walk again. Fully recovered, he now inspires audiences around the world through his thought-provoking melodic poetry known as slam. His best pieces include Les voyages en train and Le jour se lève.
  • Best French thriller : Le Premier Cercle, Jean Reno and Gaspard Ulliel play hard-core gangsters in southern France as well as father and son.
  • Best French comedy : Amélie. Amélie sees the world very differently to the rest of us. Every sense is awoken by her curiosity.
  • Best French romance : Paris, je t’aime. See Paris through the eyes of 18 very different directors who picture love in all its forms…


Extra info :
Hancock, G. & Bauval, R. 2004. Talisman : Sacred Cities, Secret Faith. Penguin Books: London.

Oppikoppi 2012: Crazy, filthy, sweet fun!


Oppikoppi magic as Eagles of Death Metal play

OPPI MAGIC: Oppikoppi magic as Eagles of Death Metal play Copyright: VE Smeets

South Africa’s hottest music festival during the coldest time of year beat all records this year, in its 18-year existence. Just a few days before, Gauteng was celebrating its first winter wonderland in 30 years, with lions at Joburg Zoo captured playing in the snow.

Happy audience

CHEERFUL CROWD: The audience goes crazy for the Kongos who finally got through their technical difficulties. Copyright: VE Smeets

The theme for this year “Sweet Thing” gathered an estimated 23 000 fans to celebrate over 100 acts in SA’s finest music (including Fokofpolisiekar, aKing, 340ml, Bittereinder, BLK JKS) and international acts like Seether, Bullet for my Valentine, Enter Shikari and Eagles of Death Metal.
Click here for a full list view.

Oppikoppi comes from Afrikaans slang, translated as “on the hill.” Those brave enough to walk up the hill drunk or stoned, are greeted by a beautiful view of the campsite and a few more hidden stages. The festival includes three nights of camping in dust and thorn bushes, surrounded by friendly strangers. You also have the choice of staying at the Kreef Hotel for an extra R1000 and may even bump into your favourite band members. Expect to pay between R600-R750 for a ticket, R500 on a tent and R400-R500 on booze and food.

The Kongos ft Jack Parow

IN DIE F*KKEN HUISIE: Jack Parow does a surprise act with the Kongos, much to the crowd’s delight. Copyright: VE Smeets

This year’s festival even included a collection of short films, an extra stage, a sand-art competition (on audience members’ cars… No, that huge phallus was not sand art, but that beautiful baobab and eye were), colourful couches (apparently if yours was cool enough you could join band members backstage), free pancakes and coffee served by the Red Frogs (made up by members from various churches from Pretoria and Joburg) and the unexpected surprise acts doing duets with others (Jack Parow singing with the Kongos drove the crowd wild).

If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough, you could witness drug dealers getting busted in your camping area. One guy at our site shouted at the cop who was dressed like a civilian: “I’m just a user!” as he removed his back-pack filled with marijuana and other goodies. They even kindly packed away his tent for him. Or, you could even be part of a movie… My friend and I were shouted at with “Cuuuuuut!” for helping out a guy covered in “blood.”

The worst part of Oppikoppi?

The endless queues; whether you’re waiting to go in, come out, get food or go to the toilet. But that’s how you meet people from all walks of life, from the banker in Sandton to the street vendor from Cape Town.

The best part ?

Apart from being part of a mosh-pit or noticed by your favourite lead singer, is the treasure-hunting afterwards. If you wait till noon Sunday (when most people are sitting in their cars in an endless queue), you could pick up an abandoned tent (zipper can be fixed), a cooler-box, a few Energades, the Cuervo ring you really wanted, etc.

Seether Shaun Morgan2

HOME SWEET HOME: Seether’s lead singer Shaun Morgan (aka Welgemoed) plays his best on home soil. Copyright: VE Smeets

The regulars like Henno Kruger (a photographer who has been to 14 Oppis) really enjoyed Wesley’s Dome and the Top Bar: “It was by far one of the best Oppis… Highlights included the international acts, Southern Gypsey Queen tribute, Yoav, Beast, Black Cat Bones and no disappointments.”

As an “Oppi virgin” as they love teasing us, I can safely say it was one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my life. Be prepared to see yourself at your craziest, filthiest, most joyous self and others at their most raw and naked.

Your friendships may bond over hours of endless drinking or dissolve after one gig they refused to go watch with you. You will probably bump into a guy dressed as Borat, see your best friend’s girlfriend flash her breasts on his shoulders or on stage and hear voices from the heavens.

These tend to be the naked, tripping guys who decided to climb a thorn tree to discuss the weather. Enjoy!

The video to prove it all:

Oppi fashion Borat style

OPPI FASHION: One of the main highlights of the Oppikoppi festival has to be the fashion. Be prepared to see anything imaginable! Copyright: VE Smeets


  • One Night in Cape Town party: Cape Townians got to rock out the night before the actual Oppi festivities started and see most international acts before the rest of us.
  • The old boys from the PBHS pipe-band adding some Scottish tunes to the weekend of debauchery…
  • Bullet for my Valentine playing the national anthem “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika” on their guitar. The crowd sang along in unison!
  • The crowd cheering “Saron Gas! Saron Gas!” before Seether went on stage. Lead singer Shaun Morgan (a South African) charmingly replied: “Yeah, I always knew that was a cool name!”
  • Seether breaking their guitar on stage, throwing the fragments into the cheering crowd.
  • SA’s favourites Fokofpolisiekar making the earth tremble and grown men cry!
The naked run

TOO SMALL: The Naked Run was a tad disappointing, with only about a dozen guys participating in the first of its kind in Oppi history. Copyright: VE Smeets


  • “The naked run:” only a dozen or so guys took part because of the changes in time (11h30 instead of 12pm) and distance (from 1km to 500m).
  • The giant floating balls: a nuisance for photographers and tall people. Some people ended up piercing them with their car-keys, causing drunkards to use them as cushions. A scary sight when they looked suffocated, after passing out on them.
  • The Cuervo collection desk. So every time you bought a Tequila slush, you got a ticket. You excitedly go to the collection counter only to be told by some bad-mood blonde to come back later.
  • Lack of communication with the crowd. The black and yellow Cuervo wristbands had an ID number at the back. Apparently there was a huge draw but when and where?!?
  • Last minute cancellations or changes (obviously unforeseen by Hilltop Live, those in charge).


  1. Your ticket and ID
  2. A pair of shorts (it reaches past 30 degrees in the day)
  3. Gumboots (you will end up throwing away whichever shoes you bring with)
  4. A map of the camping site (cleverly print it onto your shirt perhaps)
  5. A few shirts (you will win many more)
  6. A warm jacket, beanie and cool hat (so your friends can spot you from afar. Everyone starts looking the same after two days with the Cuervo straw hat)
  7. Lots of water (for drinking, cleaning, brushing your teeth)

    Creative campsite

    CREATIVITY: Don’t forget something creative to decorate your campsite with… Copyright: VE Smeets

  8. A large water bottle to hold your booze (cans and glass bottles are forbidden in the entertainment area)
  9. An old cellphone (your smartphone will definitely get lost, stolen or extremely dirty). OId Nokia batteries last much longer anyway.
  10. Plasters (those thorn bushes are a nuisance when you stumble back to your tent in the middle of the night)
  11. Snacks. The food stalls are pretty expensive. Expect to pay R50-R90 for a burger and R38 for a pancake (rather go get a free one from the church people!)
  12. SPF cream, sunglasses, money for food and petrol. Money can be loaded on a card for food and more booze. Be advised don’t put all your R500 on a card. It may get lost or slip out of the plastic sleeve. Leftover money can be used next year or be exchanged this year for airtime
  13. Sleeping bag, pillow, extra blankets (brandy will only keep you warm for so long)
  14. A torch and toilet paper (those portable toilets are a nightmare in the dark)

Check out the awesome Oppikoppi site here!

Finding Faith…


There is majestic colour in Stellenbosch as well as the Bo-Kaap of Cape Town, South Africa. It comes in the flavours of the Cape Malay people who settled here from as early as 1654, after being exiled or imprisoned by the Dutch East India Company.

Think of jazz music on special occasions, while eating Bobotie (a delicious light curry flavored with sweet raisins) as people dance around you or the sound of the mosque calling people to come pray.

I explored both towns, camera in hand, and was welcomed open-armed into various mosques to take unique pictures, which each reflect a particular theme important to Islam in South Africa.

Ibrahim mosque

BREAK OF DAWN: Ibrahim wakes up when it’s still dark every morning to open the mosque in Stellenbosch, for a minimum wage. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets/ copyright


Ibrahim portrait

PATIENCE: Ibrahim owns a small salary of R2000/ month to take care of the mosque. Every day, he wakes up at 4am to open the windows and doors before prayers. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets/ copyright


4 Close up time

TIME-SET: Islam consists of up to six prayers a day, with those attending facing towards Mecca. Mosques are open to the public, as long as they are quiet and remove their shoes. They are not allowed during prayers, unless they have special permission. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets/ copyright


5 Medium Omar and Hafiz

FRIENDS FOR LIFE: Omar and Ahmed after prayers at one of the eleven mosques in the Bo-Kaap. Originally Cape Malay, they have lived in the Bo-Kaap for all their lives and have been friends for 45 years. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets/ copyright


6 Interaction couple

LOVE-BIRDS: A Muslim couple take their wedding pictures in the Bo-Kaap. The bride claimed she preferred a western feel to her wedding. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets/ copyright


7 Portrait semi action Entisar

BACK FROM PRAYER:  Entisar is a tour guide in the Bo-Kaap. She charges R100 for half an hour. Here, she is returning from sunset prayers. She claims her business was strong during the World Cup, but now she is struggling to make a living. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets/ copyright


8 Closing shot Entisar

REFLECTIONS: Entisar brings tourists daily to the shrine dedicated to her “forefathers.” She claims it is the most popular site for her tourism business: “People claim to know a lot about Islam. Here, there is peace they understand for the first time.” PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets/ copyright