This is an open letter to the City of Cape Town, mayor Dan Plato, the DA run municipal government of Cape Town, the ward councillors and developers with any agency around who gets to live where, when and how.
I live two blocks away from Cissie Gool House. I walk past every day when I walk the dogs. I know people who live there. What an amazing and almost miraculous thing has happened there over the last four years. A community of sidelined, separated, unseen, and needy people have done the unthinkable, in a building abandoned and left to decay. Children play. Washing hangs from makeshift lines. A veggie garden has sprung up.
I am not naive. I live in Woodstock. Petty crime, drugs, theft and even gangsterism are part of this neighbourhood. It always has been like that. Neighbours two houses up were bust for having a dagga farm behind closed doors. The police are ‘invited’ to my street on many weekend nights when the students’ parties get out of hand. We look out for each other. We know each other. We wave. Mostly. Those behind new high walls, not so much.
I know that people in streets close to Cissie Gool House have complained about noise, parties, fighting, drugs. Like me. It’s normal.
Law enforcement have been gathering for daily meetings at the park across the road from the main entrance to Cissie Gool. They are a ‘show of force’ and it is unsettling and nasty. I know that they are getting ready to evict the occupants. It is coming, I just don’t know when.
And every day my fantasy is exactly the same. Imagine if, instead of the bullying, violent evictions that will leave the building abandoned again, while those who represent the city pretend to be ham strung in the area of providing social and low cost housing in the city and close surrounds, the city sat down with the occupants and said, how can we make this a viable reality? How can we help you? Imagine. Imagine how much less the city would have to spend. Imagine how much less policed this would have to be. Imagine. Imagine people in the area bringing their children to Cissie Gool aftercare. Imagine people going to pick veg, or plant veg. Imagine going to the party instead of complaining about it. Imagine. Imagine spending the littlest amount possible to make Cissie Gool House an official low cost housing option, with those who already occupy it being part of the decision making process. Imagine. Imagine people living legally, close to where they work. Imagine people not having to leave their neighbourhood, after many were forced out of previous accommodation because of rampant gentrification and price hikes. Imagine solid community engagement. Imagine a solution instead of a fight. Imagine metro law enforcement sitting inside the fence. Protecting not harassing. Imagine something like District 6, but not being torn down. Imagine. This is our chance to do it differently.
I implore you ‘stakeholders’ to embrace, engage, discuss, be solutions driven. That is what I want from elected officials. Work for me. Work for us.