Mitchells Plain Diaries

This is a recipe for a Township on the Cape Flats:

1. Take one medium-sized residential zone.

2. Pre-heat to levels of Rage and Discontent, using a Past like Apartheid.

3. Grease the pan with a good measure of Hope by Changing Living Standards. If this is unavailable, Promising Change is a good substitute.

welcometomitchellsplain4. Combine the following:

  • Elders scarred by a racist past
  • Unemployed mothers and fathers (underpaid and overworked works even better)
  • An excess of hungry children
  • Teenagers without a healthy outlet

5. Beat well.

6. Scoop off any role-models drifting to the top. These can be better used for another recipe. If you keep them in the mixture, the consistency will change entirely. And you don’t want that, do you?

7. Fold in the following:

  • Rising costs of living
  • Drugs – especially Tik (dirty, cheap, easy to come by) and Dagga (a.k.a. Cannabis, “just a herb”)
  • An ineffective “war on drugs”
  • Violent gangs
  • Overflowing hospitals
  • Under-equipped police forces
  • Under-resourced schools

8. Allow to simmer, boil, cool down at will. Township will rise and fall and rise and fall.

[9. Optional Modification: keep the role models that floated to the top. Stabilise the heat. Add leaders who know the community. Stabilise the larger community. The province. The country. But beware. You can not predict the heights it might reach under these conditions.]

Note: This is a simplified outlook of just one part of the Cape Flats. The Flats are diverse, and full of hope, and not at all homogenous. This is written to illustrate just one side, and not to serve as an all-encompassing picture of the Flats entire.

This is how you grow fond of such a community:

Rotate at the local psychiatric hospital. Work with adolescents, children and their families. Observe how their contexts – the past of the country, the past of their families, and their current socioeconomic position – influence everything they do.

Observe how with the right motivation, poor and struggling families pull themselves together. Angry teenagers learn to hug their parents. Parents learn to be parents.

Get lost on the way to the hospital in rush hour traffic. Be rerouted by your GPS. Drive with locked doors and wary eyes through every surrounding location imaginable. Freak out when the GPS loses connection. Survive.

Visit the local shopping mall. Sit in the car waiting for your colleague to buy her fruit. Grip the only steel object you could find, as a makeshift self-defense weapon. Convince yourself you would know what to do with it if any of the gangsters walking past the car were to look your way. Because you know, by now, who the real gangsters are.

Drive away, unharmed. Try not to forget that others don’t get to leave.

Observe families in Family Therapy. Notice how the child that acts out is often not the real problem. His behaviour is just symptomatology of the family.

See how floridly psychotic teenagers improve. See them come out of their shell in group therapy. Hear them commit to a life without substances. To returning to school. To bringing hope to their community.

See some that don’t recover. Some that return to their communities marginally better than how they came in. Know that just because they are recovered, does not mean they are well. See them return acutely a week later: the antipsychotics in their bloodstreams replaced with large doses of Methamphetamine.

See hope in the eyes of schoolchildren walking to and from school. Hear hope in the voices of teachers calling about their students.

Celebrate with families when their child is discharged back to them.

Wonder quietly if it is truly better. Wish, quietly, that you could keep them safe behind these walls.

Pray, quietly, that someday those who get to the top will be allowed to stay there.

Mitchells Plain graffiti. Photo not my own. Click for source.
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16 thoughts on “Mitchells Plain Diaries”

    1. Thank you so much. I was wary of describing a place that I don’t live in, and I’m all too aware that there is more than one aspect to Mitchells Plain.But I’m glad you liked it. Thank you!

      1. Nee dis die waarheid Ek het ‘n vriendin wat ‘n lektor is by ‘n universiteit in Limpopo Ek staan verbaas oor die insigte van seker studente wat sy van vertel. Ek was ook ‘n ruk gelede by Edupark hier in Polokwane Mense is besig met uitstekende werk Ek wens net ons kan die arm mense se lewensomstandighede verbeter.

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