Grahamstown, Day 1

I managed to get to Grahamstown, South Africa, in good shape. The road between the nearest airport, Port Elizabeth, and Grahamstown is undergoing major repairs, and the 120km trip took more than 2 1/2 hours. But it was cool, because my traveling companions to the Highway Africa conference – editors from Namibia and an ICT specialist from England working in South Africa – were interesting travel companions.

The conference itself is pretty interesting so far. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much the Africans are counting on Open Source and Free Software as a key method to help them forward in crossing the Digital Divide. They will probably go forward to the World Summit on Information Society in Geneva in December with a strongly-worded document promoting Free Software. We’ll see what makes it into the finals, though.

I’m sharing a seminar with Alastair Otter, the editor of Tectonic (, the leading website covering developments in the open source community in Africa. As I’ve found with other Open Source people who know what they’re talking about, Alastair is cool, funny, engaging and not at all interested in showing off alpha geek status.

We had a nice conference dinner tonight, a live telecast on South Africa Broadcasting Corporation’s SABC Africa channel, complete with dancers, drummers, and a whole choir. It was most impressive. What was a bit funny was where the event was held, a building called the 1820 Settlers’ Monument, which was built under Apartheid to honor the first major wave of white settlers.

What weirded me out deeply about the place was its architecture, which really reminded me of Communist masterpieces such as the Palace of Culture in Prague, or the Hotel Praha. Havel once remarked about how you could tell a lot about a person by their aesthetics, and this architecture confirms a lot about this. The apartheid regime, like the communists, were some deeply evil bastards. And their opponents, remarkably, have represented what is good in human nature by not pursuing a path of revenge.

But I’ll leave the punditry to other bloggers who know more about what they’re talking about. It’s late now, and I want to wrap up so I can get back to burning install CDs of Mandrake Linux and Open Office. My workshops – two sessions at three hours each – start tomorrow. Hold your thumbs for me.

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