Mitchells Plain has developed into one of South Africa’s largest suburbs. Yet despite this, it is increasingly viewed as a dormitory town from which people travel to work in prominent central business districts. The community is riddled by an array of social ills including crime, drug abuse, high youth unemployment and gangsterism.
Due to the lack of and slow delivery of housing, the community has a vast population of backyard dwellers and is subject to internal and external land grabs. This has fuelled racial tensions between residents and neighbouring communities who have no access to decent and affordable shelter.
The Mitchells Plain United Residents Association (MURA), an organisation which aims to unite and network with other organisations around issues of mutual concern, observed that residents are not being included or consulted in local decision-making processes and have limited opportunities to participate in their own development. MURA approached Development Action Group (DAG) and requested support around developing tactics and strategies to engage and bring together local residents, private companies and organisations operating in Mitchells Plain. The aim of coming together was to discuss ways in which they could eliminate the social ills plaguing the community.
In addition to these realities, MURA observed that there is no meaningful input into the lives of the youth, unemployed adults and the elderly, despite community development projects being introduced. Instead, the community has been witnessing disinvestment in the area and land being tended to the highest bidder with little or no consideration given to residents. External investments are mainly concerned with financial gain reflected in the continuous development of shopping malls and religious institutions. There are no developments focused on community upliftment via skills development and the provision of opportunities.
As a result, MURA in partnership with DAG hosted a highly engaging and thought-provoking one-day summit themed, Re-imagining Mitchells Plain, on Saturday, 17 November 2018 in Lentegeur. The long-awaited summit was designed to create a platform to engage local civic organisations, along with public and private sector stakeholders in a dialogue around the big issues affecting the current and future development of Mitchells Plain.
During the summit, residents and organisations of Mitchells Plain sat and deliberated under one roof to develop a common vision and understanding of how to address the socio-economic issues affecting the community. The summit's special focus was on how land needs to be utilised in the area.
The Chairperson of MURA, Norman Jantjes, stated that the summit was organised to provide an opportunity for the community of Mitchells Plain to imagine where they would like to be. The summit was guided by three main themes which were discussed in commissions: safety and security, economic development and land. The event also provided a safe space for the community to assess and address problems such as unemployment, crime, drugs and gangsterism.
The summit further hosted three experts and thought leaders who provoked the community to discuss the three main thematic issues. MEC Albert Fritz, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Social Development, together with Alastair Graham from the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Urban Regeneration Programme, shared information and statistics which triggered discussions around the issue of safety and security, encouraging the community to think of tangible resolutions to the crime and violence problem. The second speaker, Rahima Loghdey, Western Cape Provincial Director of Economic Development and Tourism, explored economic development and emphasised on sustainable job creation with a special focus on unemployed youth. The final speaker was Aditya Kumar, the Executive Director of DAG, who activated residents to look at the way land was being distributed in their community. He encouraged them to explore ways in which they could have access to land, and take an informed look into how decisions are made regarding community development proposals and infrastructure improvement.
The keynote speaker, Trevor Manuel, reiterated that some of the problems like drug abuse, unemployment and gangsterism afflicting the community are due to a lack of investment that addresses local needs and creates employment. He added that Mitchells Plain was developed under the British ‘new towns’ model - a model that requires constant investment to ensure that it does not fail socially and end up as a dormitory town. He also advised residents to hold people in power accountable and come up with tangible solutions to eradicate gangs and drugs. Manuel further encouraged residents to participate actively in their community’s development and related budgeting processes, and make their voices heard at the municipal council level. Mr Manuel also urged residents to stand up to their community councillors and hold them accountable regarding service delivery irrespective of the councillors’ political affiliation.
The end of the summit saw the commissions present the outcomes of their work in a plenary session, as well as the drafting of resolutions that were adopted by all participants. A key resolution taken was that a follow-up engagement needs to be held so that stakeholders not present at the summit could have an opportunity to engage. This event would unpack the draft resolutions into a series of short, medium and long-term practical action plans.
Written by: Kundai Nyamutenha and Lerato Nkwenkwezi
Photos: Kirra Hendricks