Re-imagining Manenberg is a Choice
Some people are only happy when they’re unhappy, the saying goes. And some are only satisfied if they’re complaining -- preferably to “the government”. If they look hard enough, they’ll find a cloud for every silver lining.
Last week, I received a call on my cellphone from Mrs B, who lives in one of the City’s “community residential units” in Manenberg.
The units had just been upgraded, she told me. “Oh good,” I said naively, jumping to the false conclusion that she was happy with her unit in the R200-million upgrade in (with an extra R40-million to compensate for construction delays caused by gangsterism, site security and vandalism).
Not so. She had a complaint. It was about Mrs F, who lives in a neighbouring Council block. Mrs F’s flat had also been upgraded, but the “community” had noticed that Mrs F had certain fixtures that were better than the rest. “The community knows that Mrs F can’t afford this,” complained Mrs B, and they had concluded that Mrs F must have been given favourable treatment by the Council. “The community” was therefore demanding the same fixtures, she stated, asking me to investigate the matter and revert.
It is a standard feature of many complaints for the complainant to claim to be speaking on behalf of “the community”, one of the most abused words in the political lexicon. The most common tactic in politics is for people with a personal interest or agenda in a matter, to hide behind the “figleaf” of “the community”.
Having been in government for almost ten years, no complaint surprises me anymore. I have seen them all.
So I half expected that, when the Province and the City announced a multi-billion Rand public investment programme last week to turn Manenberg into a modern, vibrant, safe suburb, the response from certain “community spokespersons” would be negative.
Shanda Pascoe of the “Manenberg Safety Forum” was quoted in the Argus as saying: “Please, people wake up and smell the political propaganda. This is just to secure a vote for the next elections.”
People who are this cynical are prepared to countenance every possible motive behind a government initiative, except genuine concern for the interests of residents.
People can see through this. I don’t have to “protest too much”. Our motive is to reduce the urban blight and rebuild the ruined social fabric in a suburb that accounts for 70% of all gang activity in Cape Town. Given that gang violence is responsible for 15% of all murders in Cape Town, stabilising Manenberg will make “the community” much safer, while reducing crime as a whole.
Kader Jacobs of the Community Policing Forum (CPF) -- whose role is also to reduce crime -- told The Times he “wished government had asked the residents what they wanted done in the area”.
Perhaps Mr Jacobs is unaware that the CPF has been represented in the discussions that culminated in this proposal. In fact, it is the outcome of an intensive community participation process conducted over the past 12 months. The attendance register from the latest consultative meeting, held in the very week the plans were announced, includes the signatures of 3 CPF members.
The public announcement was not an imposition of a final plan. It was just the next step in the community participation process, which began a year ago involving Manenberg’s NGO community, youth organisations, ward committees (which are themselves broadly representative of different sectors) and safety forums. They have walked the streets with urban planning professionals of the “Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading” project, to discuss different concepts for the physical transformation of the suburb. And they have come up with a “Community Action Plan” and a proposed “Public Investment Framework”, not a final plan.
Our media conference was intended to take these ideas to the broader community, as a precursor for the next stage of the Community Action Plan, which will include public meetings in every Manenberg ward, and intensive consultation with all “sectors” from faith-based organisations to school governing bodies.
Of course, some commentators have a direct interest in ensuring we fail, irrespective of the extent to which the “community” suffers as a result. One is Tony Ehrenreich, the ANC leader in the City Council, who rejected the proposals on the basis that Manenberg was not the only suburb suffering from gangsterism. What about the rest, he demanded? He was applying Mrs B’s logic on a wider canvas. According to Ehrenreich, government should rather do nothing anywhere, if it cannot do everything everywhere.
Most newspapers trumpeted these comments, depriving the wider Manenberg “community” of the opportunity to read about the proposals for their suburb, that form part of the Council’s integrated development plan, or look at the full-colour concept map.
Manenberg has become synonymous with urban blight, drug abuse, gangsterism, family dysfunction, violence and crime, a legacy of forced removals and the destruction of the social fabric under apartheid.
But anyone who walks around the area will notice its exceptional potential. It has its own waterfront along an inland lake, spectacular views of the Mountain, large open spaces with exceptional development potential (which are currently used as dumping sites and gang war zones). Anywhere else in the City, this would be prime property.
If “the community” really rejects the proposal, which includes a R3-billion Regional Hospital (with a range of specialist services), the Youth Lifestyle Campus, the Metro Police Training College and deployment base, the Sports complex, the upgraded schools, the high street and business precinct, the bicycle and pedestrian lanes -- we can always transfer this investment to a suburb that wants them.
The only thing we cannot put elsewhere is the waterfront and the views. The Manenberg residents can decide either to realise the massive potential of their inherently lovely suburb, or not. Our job is to create the opportunity for them to do so. They must decide whether they want to.
It is also government’s job to try to improve safety. The new Youth Lifestyle Campus, designed around safety principles, will contribute significantly. And last week we also launched the City’s first “stabilisation unit” a 90-strong force of trained and equipped auxiliaries, under the Metro Police.
This has cost the City and the Province R15-milliion, and in the first seven hours of patrolling on Friday, the unit conducted 40 “stop-and-searches”, searched 25 houses, made 14 drug-related arrests, seized significant quantities of narcotics ranging from tik to heroin, issued fines to the value of R111,500.00; issued three compliances notices, among other interventions.
The province and city also invest in a community psychology service, drug rehabilitation, social crime prevention strategies, student resource officers, among many others. We probably invest more in safety per square kilometre in Manenberg than in any other suburb. But none of this will work unless families and “the community” also take responsibility for restoring the fabric of their society.
I am sure that the community representatives who want to help transform their suburb outnumber those who don’t. If they want change, they need to make themselves heard. The public participation process is ongoing and the media conference was part of it, seeking to extend public involvement beyond community meetings and forums, to a wider audience. Everyone deserves to be considered a legitimate part of the “community”. But we will never do anything if we have to wait for everyone to agree.
In the meantime, let’s not find reasons to be unhappy in order to be happy.
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in Inside Government, the online newsletter of the Premier of the Western Cape.