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Mitchells Plain CBD vs Cape Town CBD – the tale of two cities

Cape Town – 3 September 2016

I grew up in Mitchells Plain,most of my pre-teen memories are deeply rooted there.Mitchells Plain was created as a “model dormitory suburb” after the apartheid regime decided to relocate the victims of the oppressive Group Areas Act.It was used as a dumping ground for victims of forced relocations,a comfortable 30 plus kilometres from the CBD.

During the 1980’s,Mitchells Plain became a hotbed of political dissent.The UDF was launched from the Rocklands Civic Centre in 1983.Allan Boesak made his famous “all,here and now” speech to thousands who had joined the broad based front which was instrumental in bringing about the end of the evil and racist apartheid regime.

Town Centre was the commercial hub of Mitchells Plain for many years,and in many respects still is,even with the presence of newer hubs such as Westgate and Promenade Mall.The Town Centre is still the main transport junction for this suburb of more than 300 000 people.The Town Centre starts buzzing week days from around 5am,with mostly working class residents making their daily commute to work.

I decided to take a walk through Town Centre to experience the place for myself once again,so many years after having moved out of the area.My experience was to say the least,a shock to my senses.Having visited Lagos in Nigeria,a couple of years ago,the first thought that came to my mind was “little Lagos”.

Walking from my car,which I had parked near the Engen,I already started experiencing the harsh realities of life in Town Centre. Firstly,getting into the parking lot was a challenge for my car,which has low profile tyres.The entrance to the parking has simply been filled with broken pieces of stone and bricks,which I feared would pierce my car’s tyres.Along the way the wind brought a whiff of stale urine and other harsh smells.

I was accompanied on my walk about by well-known community activist and entrepreneur,Rozario Brown,who runs the Mitchells Plain Festival,having started the festival in 2009.He showed me around,introducing me to traders,some of whom have been there for more than 30 years.The short stretch from Rozario’s office to the trading section,which I remember as the old bus terminus,was a huge shock to the fond childhood memories I had of Town Centre.There is just simply nothing appealing about the place,simply a stark reminder,that this place is about cramming as many informal traders into a limited area,as is possible.This is not a place where people have coffee and meals at sidewalk cafes.

Jasmine Harris,a long time trader and resident,claims that Town Centre has become infested with drugs and prostitution.On Monday 29 August,she and staff of the Daily Voice were allegedly assaulted by men she claimed are drug dealers.I was shown the area,at the back of Pick ‘n Pay,where the alleged drug activity takes place.As soon as the men saw Harris and myself,they scattered in various directions.Harris claims that the DA councillor,Solomon Philander,has never done anything to address the concern of traders and residents of town centre.She says that Town Centre is a “Mother City” for coloured people,and for that reason the concerns of people are mostly ignored by the DA run city.She feels that Mayor Patricia De Lille and Mayoral Member of Safety and Security JP Smith,have made empty promises and failed the people.

An elderly commuter and resident of the area for more than 34 years,Doreen Hendricks,who is now a pensioner,feels that Town Centre has been allowed to become a den of crime,drugs and robbery because the City simply doesn’t care about the conditions of coloured people,versus what she claims “white people get in Seapoint and Claremont”.Hendricks says she is sick of shopping in Town Centre,and that it’s not a place to be in after hours.

Hillary Linders,a resident of Mitchells Plain for 36 years,says the conditions are getting worse and that people cannot use public transport from Town Centre over the weekends,out of fear of being mugged.A Somali trader I spoke to,says that he is afraid to even take a taxi home ,when he is done trading for the day.

Everyone I spoke to made the same complaints about drugs,crime,and generally bad conditions within the Mitchells Plain CBD.Many feel that they are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to service delivery.Traders claim that their complaints are largely ignored by the city and the councillor,until a few months before their vote is needed in an election.

Ward 79 councillor,Solomon Philander,admits that there are huge problems in Town Centre with regards to crime and drugs.Lack of a co-ordinated strategy between the SAPS,Metro Police and Law Enforcement is a large contributing factor he claims.Philander says that traders and residents of the Town Centre should take joint responsibility for the conditions and maintenance of the CBD.According to the councillor,a CID (Central Improvement District) is in the process of being formed,in order to create a partnership between the City and the businesses,to improve conditions in the Mitchells Plain CBD.Philander claims that the City does not have the capacity to effectively run the Mitchells Plain CBD or Town Centre.Philander says that none of his R750 000.00 ward allocation from the city can be set aside to improve conditions within the Town Centre.When asked what had been done about the conditions in Town Centre for the past 10 years,the councillor could not give me a definite answer.

Philander committed to the following for the Mitchells Plain Town Centre:

  • Safer area – by using cameras to improve the response time of the SAPS and Metro Police.
  • Draw economic opportunities into the area.

Philander would not commit to a time-frame for these changes to happen.

Compare Mitchells Plains CBD  then to the CBD of our beautiful Mother City.On a beautiful summers day,walking through St George’s Mall,you may as well be walking through the streets of London,or one of the boulevards in Paris,or any other European city.The city starts buzzing from early,as you enter Cape Town Station,there are coffee shops,bakeries and fast food franchises.There is nothing more idyllic than having a coffee at a sidewalk café in St George’s Mall,or sitting and having lunch under one of the trees in Thibault Square.In the Cape Town CBD,there is a feeling of freedom and of rushed relaxation.Cape Town is a place where people go to work but also love to enjoy even on their days off.At night,the city comes alive with lights and sound,you may as well be in New York,London or Paris.

Compared to what the commuters and residents of Mitchells Plain and its CBD experience daily,would they too claim that this is “The City that works for you”?

By Wesley Fester


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