Let the real Cape Flats tell its storied story

President Cyril Ramaphosa interacting with the community of Hanover Park. The writers say the Cape Flats are not only danger, gunshots and drugs.
President Cyril Ramaphosa interacting with the community of Hanover Park. The writers say the Cape Flats are not only danger, gunshots and drugs.
Image: Esa Alexander

When disability activists Michael Masuta and William Roland first proclaimed “nothing about us without us” in the 1990s, something moved in our understanding of social justice solutions.

Making sure that the people most affected by the problems we try and solve are central to crafting the solutions we seek remains utterly important. There are ways in which we tell our own stories, with nuance and sensitivity, that should never be underestimated, and the desire to write people’s lives from the outside has always been dangerous since white men started doing it.

Recent stories, specifically a tortoisemedia.com article titled "Cape Fear", about the Cape Flats, seem to continuously focus on one aspect of life in these communities.

Without looking at the other experiences and stories that in truth – are just as, if not more, important as the decay caused by gun violence, alcoholism and drug addiction, what do we achieve?

What can we, as a community, expect from people who are so far removed from the community yet sit and dissect it through a gaze in order to sell a story? For those of us, born and raised on the Cape Flats, who are reliant on the public transport, local healthcare facilities and local schools – we see ourselves through a completely different lens.

As people from these very communities we are often berated, silenced and erased when we attempt to tell our stories. We are often demonised and viewed through prejudiced eyes by our ‘saviours’ because we supposedly do not understand the context of their writing when they refer to our homes as ‘downtrodden’. The assumption that we lack basic comprehension is both pathetic and laughable.

The Cape Flats as a community does not exist in a vacuum and bringing attention to the gory realities in a sensationalised manner – without objectively considering the community as a whole is ignorant and gravely dangerous. More so, when considering that we have had our entire histories erased and rewritten in falsehood before.

We are not only danger, gunshots and drugs. We are soccer teams run by the community, prayer circles by the moms, walking school-bus creators, baking lactation biscuits for the neighbour. We are mass study groups in aunty Debbie's backyard and bunny licks on a summer's day.

Our parents, despite raging violence attempted to keep our childhoods as normal as possible. These communities which get bashed due to elitism is all we know. For us there were no sweet escapes via the M5 highway back to the utopian façade of the suburbs built on the graves of our ancestors. Their ghosts still howl in our ears.

The Cape Flats is also paradise for us – where we all grew up in a mix of traditions, and religions. Where our parents let us attend Madrasah (Muslim school) and attend the Easter service at the local church. Where, for many, growing up with queer people and speaking Gayle – a language created by Coloured queer people in order to communicate safely – was not considered to be out of the ordinary.

Making sure that the people most affected by the problems we try and solve are central to crafting the solutions we seek remains utterly important

The streets of Hanover Park – is where we would sing songs together on New Year’s Eve because we could. We are more united and connected than those who gaze at us through privileged eyes lusting for poverty porn make it seem.

There are many social ills on the Cape Flats, but even more greatness that deserves to be told.

Reducing the challenges on the Cape Flats to social ills obscures the enormous socio-economic issues produced by greater systemic oppression that continues to plague townships, even in post-Apartheid South Africa.

There is so much more to be said, and those of us from Mitchells Plain, Langa, Khayelitsha and Manenberg should be allowed the opportunity at the microphone stand before anyone else dares to comment on the little they know.

As writers and journalists, our choices to write about certain things and not others are never neutral and the power to construct perceptions impacts on the humanity of the people we write about. We are compelled not to repeat history.

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