It’s incredible, almost magical, how something so small can completely transform something far bigger and more powerful than itself. This is the kind of magic that dazzled Sunday, April 3, at Open Streets Mitchells Plain, where the presence of hundreds of giggling children played a huge role in lightening up a reputedly ‘dark’ street with music, dance, games, street art, laughter and lots and lots of bubbles.
Open Streets Cape Town is an initiative inspired by Ciclovía in Colombia—a citywide event where cars are banned from the street, and people rich and poor instead walk, run, cycle and skate through the streets. The Open Streets Cape Town manifesto invokes that by embracing the concept of Open Streets: we can all create shared places that embody respect for all and help to bridge the social and spatial divides of our city.
The Mitchell’s Plain edition was the 4th leg of a continuing series of events that seek to transform streets in Cape Town, not only by removing cars, but also by filling the space with skate-boarders, inline skaters, bicycles, local performance art, food, games, music, and a profound sense of community across the races, languages and cultures of wider Cape Town.
Mitchells Plain is a large, sprawling township about 32 kilometres from the city of Cape Town. It is where the apartheid government forcibly relocated ‘coloured’ people who government kicked out of the city under the Group Areas Act. Renowned for almost unprecedented levels of gangsterism, almost everyone, especially the locals, would agree that it has earned a very negative reputation. And because of the actions of a powerful minority, the gangs, the majority continues to live in that shadow.
Although not claiming to be a solution, this is one of the reasons why Open Streets Mitchells Plain was such a fruitful, light-bringing event. It created a positive space and platform where people were free to invent themselves and express their talents in front of people from all over Cape Town who were invited to observe, connect, celebrate and even break many preconceptions about Mitchells Plain, as they got to witness first-hand an, albeit limited, part of its narrative. Although there were visibly a fair number of visitors from outside the area, it was clear, especially after the locals were asked by a performer to “throw their hands in the air,” that the majority of the crowd were from Mitchells Plain itself.
It is no secret that Open Streets Cape Town has been critiqued, largely for being a very ‘white-middle class’ dominated event, serving the City’s inclusivity agenda in an unsustainable way. Perhaps this might have been the case for the Open Streets events held in the city centre, but when thinking about Open Streets Mitchells Plain I find no room for critique and am reminded of the words of South Africa’s late Nelson Mandela, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
The magic, joy and sense of belonging, across all generations, that was created at Open Streets Mitchells Plain revealed something in South Africa’s soul that is undeniably alive and full of creativity and hope, even in the darkest of spaces. And even if it was just for a day, the impact of that space, especially on the children, is something lasting that can only positively transform the soul of our society.
If you missed out on this event, follow Open Streets Cape Town to find out about the next Open Streets event!
Emma Broadway is an editorial intern with urbanafrica.net.Read older posts from this section