Hypothetical scenario. You have a dilemma. You live in a neighbourhood which you sort of enjoy (mostly because of the high ratio of bars to residents). It’s built on lies and bad history (aren’t they all?) and you want to make a change. Change the legacy, make a bit of a dent in the future you see ahead of it. But you’re damn well exhausted. For many reasons. What do you do? For example, you’re tired of posts like these:
I’m very concerned about safety, as I’m sure that most people are. But the shit starts with these sorts of posts and this sort of commentary. You see, I’ve been digging into the history of this neighbourhood. And, as I touched on before, and probably will write about again, my dad used to live here. Until he was kicked out under the Group Areas Act. The person’s post above might be well justified because of increasing crime that’s happening in the area. And I’m glad that she engaged with them and tried to talk to them. But she probably wasn’t very nice about it. In this neighbourhood, people openly ask others what they’re doing there. As though they have a right to do so. They don’t quite understand that people have the right to be where they damned please. This post appears to be the least dangerous of many that I’ve seen, because it only highlights that she was worried about these 2 particular men roaming the streets. They probably were “casing” the area. Crime is high all over the place.
But what hit me – and hurt me – is the ‘Gated Community’ comment. And the one below that. Because, after months of ‘Our Village’ posts, and ‘Black man running in the direction of the train station – could be dangerous’, and cute names like ‘Harfielders’ for those in the ‘in’ group, I had lost it. This is not ‘their’ village. Not ‘their’ streets. Because, just a little while ago, they were the invading strangers, physically booting people from their houses and stealing their valuables without suffering any consequences. Their village has been built on theft and hatred and violence. Some of them might not know this. But most of them should. There are so many people here who have lived here for decades. They literally stole the homes they’re living in.
And they want to declare it off-bounds now to everyone who they don’t like. “Thanks, darkies, this is mine, now get out and don’t come back or I’ll call the cops”. That sounds terribly harsh, I know. But fuck me, I’m fed up.
The community page is filled with complaints (but that’s not unique to this community, so I won’t begrudge them their soap boxes – also, there are a few heartwarming posts here and there).
They’ve got into the habit of taking pictures of people they don’t like and posting it online so that others can be ‘warned’. The local priest had her picture taken when she, suffering from a back injury & walking in the rain wearing a hoodie, had a picture of her sitting on the ground trying to tie her shoe posted on the community page with the caption listing a ‘dodgy coloured woman’ in the area. Two men sitting in a public park also had their pictures taken because they didn’t look too savoury. The other day, I saw this:
You know, I get it. Public drunkenness is not great for anyone. It’s not cool that that couple are passed out on the pavement. But the commentary below the image went wild. “Tar over them!” was one. “Vote DA” was another (Jesus Christ). A lunatic by the name of Pam Brash actually said, ” I’d like to take a fire hose to some of them…I certainly haven’t had a privileged life either, everything I’ve ever had I’ve worked very hard for…”. After claiming that 17th century missionaries saved the West Coast’s people of colour from poverty, she summed up her argument (and her claim that she is a compassionate person) with this gem:
Fortunately, many people are as fed up with it as I was, as can be seen below. People are crying out for humanity and neighbourliness in the wake of all this online madness.
Wait wait wait, sorry – you thought Pam was finished? She’s got some real informed responses to some of the questions people asked her. You know, on account of her extensive background in South African history.
I tried to find a picture I had commented on, but it seems it’s been deleted. It was a photo, posted by a local business owner, of some women sitting in the swings in public park. The caption said something to the effect of “Nannies still sitting in the swings & damaging our parks’ property”. An earlier post (also with photos of people innocently sitting in swings) called for community residents to stop “their nannies” from sitting in “our swings” because the swings can’t take the weight & besides, they should not be relaxing while looking after your precious babies, anyway.
Nannies are now a subspecies of people who apparently belong to our community members, are clearly identifiable by their appearance, and must be contained so that ‘we can have nice things’.
You know… Fuck you. All of you. It’s public, fucking space. It’s our space, it’s their space. We own NOTHING. Even the houses we live in are stolen. So stop whining. Put up some signage or (much easier), get some stronger swings, and stop being a damned creeper and taking pictures of people doing things that are none of your business. Or TALK to the people who are doing things you think are so offensive. Don’t whine about it on social media and hope that your gang of suburban Facebook activists will take up the Great Cause and reprimand ‘their staff’ for doing something as innocuous as sitting in a piece of old tyre in a shitty park (literally, it’s full of shit, because someone also posted a pic of their baby’s toes covered in dog doo a few days earlier).
Why I’ve started ranting about this again, is because of the rickety bandwagon of indignance some of the community members have jumped upon has been fueled by the spate of crimes that have recently hit the area. “Do-gooders” one grumpy gus called those of us who protested the wanton whingefest that had taken over the page. A page really meant to help you orient yourself in the community and, hopefully, find out who makes the best cupcakes for your kids’ birthday parties (or, in my case, a party of one, wherein I eat cake in the bath, drink wine from the bottle, and sing along to 90’s Marylin Manson hits). Now our protests have been drowned out, because the neighbourhood peeping toms are justified in taking pictures of every brown person who enters the neighbourhood because these people must be the source of the crime. Again, I’m understanding. We brown people are a dangerous lot. Just the other day, I accidentally stabbed three people just trying to get to my car at Kenilworth centre. We can’t help ourselves. I was hopped up on cake, wine and industrial music.
I also understand the panic underlying the creepy behaviour. Crime is making us all jittery. They really want to protect our neighbourhood, and I appreciate that. They’re out at night, doing neighbourhood watch duties, they’re talking to people to tell them how to be safe. Fantastic! I want part of that! I can help, volunteer, keep my eyes and ears open! I’ll pick up dog crap in the park. But I’m new here and I already hate everybody. And I’m moving. I’m moving the hell out of here. I’m not moving just because of the crappy people (although, it was a factor in helping me decide where I want to live – diversity is important), but partly because it will be cheaper to live somewhere else. Another rather cute (albeit unintentional) way of keeping people out.
When I hear of the Harfield of the past, before the GAA, sure there was talk of crime. But with no drugs around, the supposed gangsters were just local skollies who hung out on street corners. And everybody knew them. And they knew everybody. One person even told me they used to sing. West-side fucking story-style. White people called the area a slum. Those who actually lived here called it a community. A community that was safe, where kids played in the streets, where neighbours watched each others’ children when their parents had to work. I know that, globally, these kinds of communities are dying out. But this one was sent to an early grave. No wonder people living here now are feeling paranoid and out of control and resorting to social media. There’s no sense of togetherness and we’re letting the bullies run the show.
Some bullies recently proposed that we make sure that there’s nothing attractive for homeless people to get from the garbage bins on bin collection days, because they want the homeless to go to other neighbourhoods. Apparently, these terribly dangerous people who scratch in our bins are not too dangerous for other neighbourhoods to handle. #notinourhood. Here, in Cape Town, it seems nobody cares about the next guy. We don’t care about the homeless, the neighbourhood across the road, the school kids needing to use our public parks, the people who have as much right to be on your street as you do.
I honestly don’t know how to change it. But I think it starts with nipping it in the bud when we see it. Starting with our language. Cut the crap, cutesy stuff that hides a dangerous pathway to exclusivity & prejudice (even ‘Harfielders’ has got to go). We can stop being quiet about people using terms like ‘ours’ and ‘them’. It’s a goddamned snowball. We can make a noise when we see people’s right to privacy being violated. We talk to people around us – whether they live there or are just passing through, in a human sort of way. We acknowledge the history that built up our neighbourhood/city/country and not be so damned short-sighted and blame all our troubles on the government. And not letting the bullies scare us off, I suppose.
Oh hell. That means I have to get involved now, doesn’t it. Christ.
I’ll see you at the next Watch meeting. I’ll bring my stabbing knife. Joking. Seriously, that was a joke. I’ve hardly stabbed anybody.
Claremont Histories: http://claremonthistories.weebly.com/
Claremont Histories (Facebook)
South African History Online: http://sahistory.org.za/
Harfield Village Association (Facebook)