It happened again in March, that magical experience of community facilitated by another Open Streets Cape Town event! So far, the Open Streets events that Elemental Kids has participated in took place in Observatory and the CBD. This event marked our 4th one and took place in Langa, creating an opportunity for something different. I say this because the first two areas are very familiar to me, I have lived in Observatory for more than 20 years and worked in the CBD for many years too. Taking activities for children into the streets in both of these areas was straight forward.
Langa on the other hand is not a place I am familiar with, even though I have been there before numerous times in the past, performing in the streets in the 1995 as part of the performing arts programme I enrolled in through New Africa Theatre Association and engaging in other community related activities. However, I have not had a reason to go to Langa for at least a decade and so I have not been there. My only encounter with the neighbourhood has been from the highway as I drive by, observing the progress with the housing developments I can see from there.
I am sure my experience mirrors that of many other people – we need a reason to go places and to do things. if we cant find a good reason then it is possible there are a lot of experiences we will never have and never even know are available to us. As a middle class person living in the Southern Suburbs, finding a good reason to visit the townships that form part of the Cape Metropolitan Area (CMA) can be hard. I have been fortunate that in the course of my life I have had lots of reasons to go into different areas of the city through the work that I do, the things I have become involved in and my faith community. In fact, there are few neighbourhoods that I have not been to at this point. That being said, I know that there are many people that have not been able to find reasons to enter spaces outside of the spaces they occupy and generally move around in spatially confined zones.
I was recently talking to a young woman in high school, she is 17 and Congolese but has grown up in Cape Town . She arrived at the age of 5, living most of her life in Observatory. Her world consists of Observatory, Claremont, the parts of the CBD, Retreat and Goodwood. There are very few other neighbourhoods that she has been to or have had access too. She is not alone – there are many people that live in the CMA that only ever experience a small portion of what is available.
This is one of the many reasons why I love Open Streets so much – it provides a “good reason” for people to come together, explore different neighbourhoods in the city. It creates access and it helps to build community at the same time! It is magical and essential. We need more “good reasons” like this to create access and foster a sense of connection and relatedness. Going back for the Open Streets event gave me a good reason to return to Langa and made it possible for me to reacquaint myself with this neigbourhood. I was fortunate to share space on the side of the street with the endlessly talented and inspiring, Janet Ranson. Janet brought her abundant colourful elastic installation supplies to the street for children to play with. It was against an emerging back drop of stretchy lines running from poles, streets signs, trees and bushes that Elemental Kids distributed a ton of capes for children in Langa to be “Open Streets Super Hero’s”!
The distribution process happened much faster than I expected through! I arrived at 11 and rolled out 50 meters of material, the same colours as the Open Streets logo to set. I was still setting things up when children started to arrive, inquiring about the material and what it was for. Once I told them it was for capes, the numbers began to swell! Soon there was a long line of children waiting to get their cape cut from the rolls of fabric on the sidewalk. It was an intense 2 hours. Thankfully, there were extra pairs of scissors making it possible for willing volunteers to jump on board to help cut capes for children in what soon became a “Super Hero Factory”! A big thank you to Vivienne Barratt, her son and friends! Another big thank you to all the Giom and his family! I would have never been able to meet the demand that afternoon without you 🙂
In addition to handing out capes for Super Hero’s that afternoon, Elemental Kids also offered games for children to play. Andisiwe and Lunga travelled all the way from Masiphumelele to play games with children too. Lunga took a group of boys to play cricket and Andisiwe played “mpuca” with a group of girls. I took advantage of having assistance and walked the street for the first time in all the events I have participated in. It was fantastic! There were loads of people out and about, walking around, talking to each other and engaging with the various activities on offer. I saw an interesting micro-gallery created in a walkway between homes, watched children playing all sorts of games (from frisbee to chess), watched a video about contemporary forced removals in someone’s home. I think my favourite though were the residents that simply brought their chairs out to watch the activity in the street. It reminded me of what it was like when I lived in Manhattan. On hot summer days, residents in certain parts of the city would just move onto the street – bringing tables, chairs, domino pieces, cards and music. The streets felt alive! That is what Langa felt like to me that afternoon as I walked around.
If you haven’t been to an Open Streets event yet, make sure you don’t miss out on the next one, it is something everyone (young and old) should have an opportunity to enjoy and contribute to. It is an special, gentle way to get to know the city and it’s people. Thank you very much for the group of committed people that have been driving this initiative with such determination and passion – you are creating significant opportunities for us to become better human beings 🙂