Our obsession with the ANC is keeping us from engaging about what is really important. We fail deliberately in rescuing the public dialogue, writes Ralph Mathekga.
Athburg Walk in Hanover Park where Ashtivon Gaffley was shot. (Tammy Petersen)
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"Come with me down
This way please, I'll carry your load…
are better days before us
And a burning bridge behind, fire smokin' the sky is blazing,
There's a woman waiting weeping
And a young man nearly beaten all for love.
Paradise was almost closin' down…"
Growing up on the Cape Flats,
this song recorded by South African group Joy in 1979 at the height of apartheid,
was a firm favourite at make-shift parties my mom would have in the separate
entrance we lived in, on my grandparent's property in Lansdowne.
A "national anthem" to
a degree for an oppressed people in need of hope amidst a hopeless situation
and the courage to keep believing that there are in a fact "better days
As a young, girl-child growing
up in the '80s, for the most part I was oblivious to the oppression. To be
honest, life was more paradise than living hell.
I do, however have vivid
memories of my older brother making a birthday card for Nelson Mandela who was
in prison on Robben Island and the large black graffiti letters at the top of
our Penlyn Avenue, sprawled across a grey vibracrete wall in Belgravia Road
that read, "Free Mandela".
Also, the strange sense of fear
when seeing those yellow Casspirs slow-roll down the street with the police
inside barely visible through its blue windows; the black marks left in the
road by burning tyres, giving a mental picture to my brother's defiance, with
his MacGyver mullet and all, in going to protest despite being kept home from
Some 40 years after Joy's
recording, these lyrics, "There's a
woman waiting weeping
And a young man nearly beaten all for love…"
resonate as I read of Martine
just one of the many mothers who have lost their sons to gang violence across
parts of the Western Cape.
Martine's son was gunned down in
Hanover Park, which has for years been an epicentre of the Cape Flats gangland.
Shear minutes from that separate entrance and home where my grandfather of 95 still
Now a mother myself, I think of
how vastly different my life is. I grapple with whether it is too early to
teach my boys to start commuting to school with the Myciti bus, while for
Martine, life skills and street smarts extend to teach her surviving daughter
to drop and roll when the gunshots begin (Sometimes there are as many as 25
shots a day in this gang war).
The gut wrenching series on gang
violence recently published by News24 has highlighted this scourge, ongoing for
literally decades, and now once again coming to a head as the state deploys the
army to the Cape Flats.
But we know that the gangland
violence extends much further than just the Cape Flats – yet being coloured and
coming from the "Flats" are synonymous with gangsterism.
The term coloured and having a coloured
background has come to mean many things over the years. The legacy lines,
like the group areas act of the apartheid era, they remain racially divided.
Coming from the Cape Flats or
labelling yourself coloured, a term encapsulating the privilege that made us
neither acceptably white enough during apartheid and not nearly black enough
during our fledgling democracy, continues to be loaded.
For some, it's filled with
negativity and shame. For others, it has developed into a sort of coloured "started at the bottom, now we're here"
A snap chat around the office
lunch table with mostly born-frees, indicates that it is "nothing to be
ashamed of". And that similarly, being coloured is "so much more than
gangsterism and the Cape Flats".
But one thing's for sure, the
creation of the Cape Flats has by and large kept our particular coloured
demographic not only geographically fractured – but as a people, if you don't
know who you are and what you stand for, it can be very difficult to envision a
Past and current failings when
it comes to governance have left the door wide open for the lawless chaos that
has seen 12 people gunned down in the bloodiest month of the year for the likes
of Hanover Park.
It has been a systemic erosion
Without a sense of purpose or
identity and an inherent human need for belonging, gang culture and everything
else, like drug abuse fuelling the
illicit economy in SA,
are the order of the day across the nommer-riddled
neighbourhoods of the Western Cape.
Because let's face it, labels
are powerful, much like the tjappies
of these gangs themselves.
And as the skies above the Cape
Flats blaze with bullets, Travel and Leisure has just named Cape Town the "best
city" not only in Africa, but also the Middle East region – which undoubtedly
has its own fair share of weeping mothers.
Comparing Cape Town to "Southern
California on steroids", it is certainly a label to celebrate.
strong sense of historical and cultural identity is crucial, as is beautiful
scenery. The food and shopping scenes are important, too. And the hotels, of
course, must be world-class. The South African city of Cape Town has all of the
above, and more," states T+L readers who voted it the best city for the 18th time.
such a beautiful city," one reader is quoted as saying, "There are so
many things to do and places to see and experience. The people are incredibly
friendly and make you feel welcomed, and the value is wonderful."
there is always more…
In stark contrast, I can just
imagine what effect the headline "Army deployed in Cape Town to combat
bloody drug war" will have on tourists or the sub-labels
anti-gang strategy meant to address gangsterism at a street level and focused
on "community development, conflict mediation and changing community norms
in order to reduce violence and criminality" is not working in its current
form – but they must keep on keeping on.
If the illicit drug economy
needs to be shut down and alternative job and economic empowerment created –
tourism with tangible accreditation and upskilling programmes – buoyed by very
little layout needed in terms of bricks and mortar, must also be ramped up.
Truth be told, we are the sum
total of our good and bad experiences, character traits and whatever else goes
into making a viable community, neighbourhood, suburb, city or tourism destination.
The sooner we can realise it,
and deal with it in the right way – the sooner we can believe in Joy's better
day… and perhaps paradise itself need not close down.
- Brophy is editor of Traveller24.
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