A stroll back in time

Rodney Brown, Westridge

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was summoned to be up at 6am on Saturday July 24 1980. A barefoot six-year-old, missing a front tooth, living with my granny in Kewtown.

However, that day was extra special – we were going to move into our new house in Mitchell’s Plain. Granny asked me to navigate the truck driver from Macassar to the “promised land”.

I remember it well because the driver played that old Herb Alpert classic, Rise, on a white cassette.

Having settled in the ’Plain holds precious memories. I didn’t understand the euphoria but the excitement was insane. Growing up was easy, development was swift, and within months, many acquaintances and friends were made.

Houses at the time went for about R9 000. As children, we were young and exuberant and all we ever did was play. I had a habit of wandering away from home and once went missing for an entire day.

Fortunately, there were the bhutis – the burly security guards who occupied houses that were not sold at the time.

They eventually found me playing on a sand dune in Portland and returned me to my parents without incident. There were only four areas, Westridge, Rocklands, Portland, Woodlands and old Strandfontein. Other areas were already being built and potential for growth was huge. Our new home town was going to be famous.

The early years were spent with the usual Friday visits to the Town Centre. While my mom shopped, I was left at the square to listen to Tommy Saaiden.

He mesmerised crowds with his gospel music. Chip rolls were R1 and many Saturday afternoons were spent watching kids doing their stints at breakdancing.

Hiring a video machine was a luxury and if everyone hired the best VHS tapes, the best you could settle for were the BETA machines.

Terence Hill and Budd Spencer were my favourite. Sport was big in the ’Plain and in 1982 my mates and I joined our first soccer club, Red Rovers. There was huge rivalry and most clubs were formed from soccer-loving families like the Maneveldts, the Veales, and the Bantoms.

Saturdays were spent playing our own games in the morning and then staying at the soccer ground until our seniors finished theirs. In summer, kids played cricket and baseball at the Stephen Reagon grounds. Competitions were fierce. A handful of nicker balls, a packet of Niknaks, an orange and if you’re lucky, a Mellow Yellow soft drink, were enough to sustain you for the rest of the day. Our lifts home would be on an old bakkie with one of the parents.

Schools had their fair share of rivalry too. Athletics days were great with primary schools, Parkhurst, Mitchell’s Plain and Ridgeville primary schools always gunning for top honours. The walks down Park Avenue were legendary. Everyone vied for bragging rights and in the end, the winning school became famous.

Having lived in the area most of our lives, the local shopping centres had all the convenient stores. Flamingo Fisheries, managed by the Logdays sold the finest fish and chips, the Booysen family ran the hardware store, André Cochrane managed the bakery and Namso Drapers was finally replaced by the now Chinese stores.

We even had United Bank upstairs next to Kings and Queens Hairdressing salon. Uncle Dennis worked there and is still there. Dr Pepper was the dentist and Dr Jefta was our general doctor.

Peter Pan Video store was managed by Murshid Obery, who eventually also sold Asics boots to keep up with the fashion trend. My first pet was a chick my mom bought for 50c. It died after just two days.

Who can forget Bernie using his green hosepipe and using it as his trumpet outside Studio One cinemas? We even had a world champion boxing family down our road, the Whiteboys.

As the ’Plain developed, the social scene also became quite active. The Westridge City not only had the finest DJs, but also hosted beauty pageants with matinee discos featuring the finest in local dance groups, namely the Ozzboys, Energetics and the Brass Monkeys. Prophets of Da City later became highly influential on the hip hop circuit. Rocklands was home to the Pink Lady and of course, The Inn on the Plain and Route 66 in the Town Centre were places often frequented.

We were not allowed to use fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day but steel wool had the same effect. We had wonderful neighbours too. A whole family of postmen lived next to us. Clad in their sky blue shirts, navy trousers and white caps, they were the most respected of public servants. All four of them were more famous than the Doobie Brothers at the time.

I vividly remember my parents locking our telephone; however, as kids we all knew how to use the tap method when we were desperate.

We were care-free. Walks down Eisleben Road on Sunday afternoons were considered perfect family time. We would even detour through other areas just to meet people.

Everyone started talking about the new “pophuisies” that were going to be built. I was always intrigued why there were no maisonettes in Portland.

Speaking under correction, I think the shortest road in the ’Plain is still De Hoek Street, opposite Westridge civic centre.

Public transport was limited. The brown buses only travelled as far as Nyanga station.

There were only two ways into Mitchell’s Plain anyway. Traffic was nonexistent. People wanted to live here. It was the “promised land”.

The turning point for every young person growing up in the ’Plain was the student uprising in the mid- 80s.

Lots of solidarity was shown when schools took the fight for a just and democratic system to the streets. Evidence of these were burning tyres and clashes with authorities on an almost daily basis.

Mitchell’s Plain always made news headlines. The Plainsman and Metroburger were delivered religiously on a Wednesday and a Thursday respectively. We were always kept informed about the latest happenings, what was happening on the sports scene and even when the Station Strangler tragedy played itself out.

With the ’Plain’s prominence emerging, urbanisation was the buzz word. This resulted in even more areas being built. Infrastructure was developed, businesses started booming and there was a certain identity about the place.

MacGyver taxis were local transport kings at the time and if you were not seen in one of their blue vehicles, you missed out on a good ride. Westgate Mall opened its doors in the early 1990s. Within time the Town Centre was upgraded and in 2004 the Promenade Mall opened.

More schools were built, recreation facilities were upgraded and the public had access to gymnasiums and hospitals. We have some very iconic features around the place; however, it saddens me that the powers that be have not yet considered the building of theatres, high tech sports facilities and technikons in the area. There are easily over a million people living here. The people deserve it.

Mitchell’s Plain has become the Mecca of the Cape Flats. It has produced prominent household names – outstanding sportsmen and women, artists, politicians and business people were all produced here.

This place holds dear memories, shaped out of nothing and moulded into a diamond.

This diamond, rough around the edges at times, still stands proudly, shining in all its splendour. We are famous.