‘Despite challenges, ’Plain is a place of hope’

* An old picture of a crime march which the Mitchell’s Plain Advice Office was part of.

Despite the challenges facing the Mitchell’s Plain community, which is marking its 40th anniversary, the fight to overcome them is ongoing, says William Simmers, one of the Mitchell’s Plain founder members of the United Democratic Front.

Mr Simmers, better known as Uncle Willie in the community, is the co-ordinator of the Mitchell’s Plain Advice Office that has been in existence for 30 years.

The Simmers family moved to Rocklands in 1978 and currently live in Rondebosch East.

Flipping through his book of newspapers and old photographs, Uncle Willie said: “Mitchell’s Plain is a very interesting and dynamic place. It has produced excellent people despite the social problems we face.”

He said as a result of the Group Areas Act passed in 1950 on April 27 – the day people commemorate as Freedom Day after it was chosen as the date South Africans would have their first democratic elections in 1994 – people were removed from their homes in areas such as District 6, Claremont, Goodwood and Bellville.

They were then placed in areas like Mitchell’s Plain, Bonteheuwel and Steenberg.

“Mitchell’s Plain played a big role in the struggle and has produced many activists who fought against the apartheid regime. Many are still active in the community.

“I specifically would like to highlight our women, who fought and still are fighting, against crime, family violence, substance abuse and other social ills that plague this community,” Uncle Willie said.

He said the advice office, with the UDF, fought against the apartheid policies and lack of service delivery.

“We fought for better transport facilities, hospitals, schools and the courts. The advice office was one of the organisations which fought for the Equality and Small Claims courts in Mitchell’s Plain.

“We went on marches and drew up petitions. Our members were arrested. I recall the days when I was detained at Pollsmoor Prison. People like Achmat Semaar, Dawn Adams, Jean Davids, Ryland Fisher, Tyrone Parks, Claude Mullins and so many more were active people who were part of the advice office and supported the organisation,” he said. Speaking about the youth, Uncle Willie said he is relieved to see young people taking up the responsibility of fighting crime in Mitchell’s Plain. “Back then there was crime too. It wasn’t as much as today, but crime did exist. I am proud of our young people who are standing up for their rights and are becoming proactive in our society. This is what our country needs, good leaders and active citizens.”

He said throughout the years there has been many structural developments in the city and around Mitchell’s Plain.

These include transport and public buildings.

Uncle Willie said while he is not against development, he feels that money should be invested in people.

“In Mitchell’s Plain, there is a lack of housing, hence we have the backyard dwellers situation. We do not have government in-patient rehabilitation centres in Mitchell’s Plain. This is a need.

“Then, unemployment is ever-increasing because Mitchell’s Plain is a dormant town, so hundreds of people must travel every day to the city for work.

“Community centres are used for functions like weddings and 21st birthday parties. I feel that these buildings should be used to host NGOs who work in the community. I think that money should be invested in skills development so that people can be empowered and equipped for jobs,” Uncle Willie said.

He said many NGOs in the area struggle with problems such as lack of finance and resources. “This is because we don’t get any financial support from the City of Cape Town.

“The advice office is one of the oldest organisations and we are struggling to keep our doors open due to lack of funding, yet our fight continues.

“We are currently part of an initiative, started by this office, to get all of the NGOs and other public service departments to join hands and to network in order for us to eradicate crime and violence from Mitchell’s Plain,” he said.

Uncle Willie said they have met with organisations such as SAPS’ Mitchell’s Plain Domestic Violence Unit, Edward Nathan Sonnenberg’s pro bono office, the Family and Marriage Society of South Africa (FAMSA), the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO), Mosaic, the Rocklands Youth Café, the Local Network of Care, the Mitchell’s Plain Network Opposing Abuse, Crisis Line, Diplomats for Youth, seniors’ clubs and active women community workers.

He said the structure will meet about four times a year and they will create a database of organisations and a profile of their services.

“We would like the initiative to grow and more organisations must join so that we can be really productive. Other government departments have been a little slow to come on board, but we still have hope for them,” Uncle Willie said.

Uncle Willie emphasised that Mitchell’s Plain is a place of hope and has genuine people who care about the community.

“We fought against apartheid, gang violence, drugs and abuse with great passion. Even though these issues have not been eradicated fully, Mitchell’s Plain residents still have the power of hope,” he said.