Between the covers of neatly bound books at the National Library of South Africa’s Cape Town campus, are years of history as documented in The Plainsman.
Back then the name of this community newspaper included the definite article “the” which has since been dropped from our masthead.
Dominating the front page of the September 27, 1980 edition was a picture of 16-year-old beauty queen Loretta Riffel, dressed in a leopard print bather, who was preparing to head off to South America “as part of a prize for clinching the soccer derby beauty contest.”
“It’s plain there’s nothing plain about Plain girl Loretta Riffel,” the caption says.
While we no longer run pictures of women described as “luscious schoolgirls” on our cover, a page through 40 years of history as documented by the Plainsman, reveals that history repeats itself, people will be people and that residents will take a stand if the plight affects them enough.
During the early years of the area, residents were focused on establishing a police station, school, clinics and keeping municipal bills low.
“Problems under the spotlight” (September 12 1990) details a Mitchell’s Plain Co-ordinating Committee (MPCC) meeting with representatives of City council, to list their problems, which included housing and facilities for the area, among them schools, shops and recreational areas.
Crime seems to have always been a concern, with a story headlined “Burglaries thrive in ‘Plain” (November 28 1990) detailing the 1 361 burglaries reported in a year. “It has been said that the socio-economic problems, in the community had much to do with the situation. Mitchell’s Plain has a high unemployment figure,” the article noted.
This was very similar to last week’s story on the release of the annual crime statistics which showed that Mitchell’s Plain had the 13th highest murder rate in South Africa and was number one in the country for drug-related crime, common assault, sexual assault, malicious damage to property and the illegal possession of guns and ammunition (“’Plain still tops in crime, September 18).
The Plainsman also reported on the whether the targets set by organisations in the 80s had materialised.
In 1990, the Town Centre celebrated its tenth anniversary and fast forward another 10 years, the centre was in the news again as trading tariffs were put in the spotlight in “Town Centre hawkers haggle over tariffs” (September 6 2000). The story explained that the Mitchell’s Plain United Hawkers’ Forum represented four associations of informal traders who would be liable to pay the municipality a proposed R125. Traders, however, were only prepared to pay R40.
Business was given a further boost – and shoppers a new experience – with the opening of Westgate Mall in 1991 and Liberty Promenade 2003.
May 2013 saw the unveiling of the state-of-the-art Lentegeur police station when then national Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi handed over the police station and the local criminal record centre to Major-General Jeremy Vearey, the then cluster commander for Mitchell’s Plain and Strandfontein SAPS and commander of the Western Cape Gang Strategy – Operation Combat; and station commander Colonel Elizabeth Hermanus (“Ready to serve and protect”, May 8 2013).
Over the years the Plainsman has also reported on high profile crime stories involving children.
Among them, one that gripped the country in April 1997: the kidnapping of three-day-old Zephany Nurse from her mother’s side at Groote Schuur Hospital. In an almost unbelievable turn of events, the girl who was Zephany was found 18 years later when she and her younger biological sister Cassidy ended up attending the same school and fellow pupils commented on their striking resemblance.
That same year, 9-year-old Matthew Ohlsson had disappeared without a trace after he went to take out the dirt bin.
His mother Michelle believes her son is still alive and earlier this year media published a picture of what Matthew would look like as a 31-year-old man.
Rafique Hardien’s story had a tragic ending when, 17 days after he went missing on August 11 2004, his decomposing body was found wrapped in a carpet and dumped along a footpath at the back of Westridge swimming baths.
Like Michelle Ohlsson who dedicated her life to helping families of missing children, Rafique’s mother, Shakiera worked through the grief of losing her 4-year-old son by becoming a police reservist and missing persons volunteer at Mitchell’s Plain police station (“Shakiera directs her loss into helping others” May 24, 2017).