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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Proud of Roots. David Lipschitz letter to the Cape Times published Tue 19 Jul 2016

On Monday, July 11, I took part in the Taxi Hand Signs exhibition tour given by artist Susan Woolf Mathabo at the Jewish Museum in Cape Town.

I found the tour fascinating because Susan has taken taxi hand gestures and found a way of representing them that allows blind people to read these signs, and then know how to hold their hands to ask for a taxi to take them to a particular destination.

She submitted her thesis for a doctorate in anthropology and fine art at Wits University

Susan displayed her art works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2011.

I have wondered for a long time how the minibus taxi industry works when there is no "underground" map (like the London Underground Tube network map) or the local MyCiTi bus schematic diagram.

The taxis go past so fast. How do you know if you should stop them? How do the taxi drivers know when to stop? How does a blind person communicate with the taxi driver?

The answer is so much simpler than I ever imagined and so much more genius.

The passenger holds their hands in a particular hand gesture and then the taxi driver knows if s/he should stop or not. There are signs to take one to almost any destination.

I think that perhaps these gestures predated "the white man's" adventure in Africa. How did the stage coach or horse and cart know that he must stop? Simple: the passenger held out his or her hand in a particular gesture. And consider that the information technology world is only now starting to use hand gestures so that people can interact quickly with computers without using keyboards or voice commands.

Is it possible that hand gestures predated language?

Imagine that before language we used gestures to tell each other things. There were also things like smoke signals and drum signals.

Canon signals, like the Signal Hill canon that used to tell people that the Mail Ship was in the Cape Town harbour, were in use long before telephones and other modern forms of communication. And I often hear this signal from my house in Milnerton, even with all the noise in a modern city.

The opportunity to find so much more lost data in the Ubuntu (African Wisdom) culture is so vast.

I pray that the local peoples find their roots and show them to the world.

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