Plan to get ’Plain to take off

From left are Michael Jacobs, deputy chairman of Mitchells Plain United Residents Association, Crystal West, Development Action Group programme manager, and former cabinet minister Trevor Manuel.

Civic groups discussed a new vision for Mitchell’s Plain at a weekend summit.

The Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association (MURA) and the Development Action Group (DAG) organised the “Re-Imagining Mitchell’s Plain Summit”.

Willie Simmers, from the Mitchell’s Plain Community Advice Development Project (MPCADP); Danny Rass, chairman of the Mitchell’s Plain People’s Forum; Abie Isaacs, chairman of the Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum (CPF) and residents joined in the conversation at the sub-council chambers in Lentegeur on Saturday November 17.

One of the outcomes of the summit is that Mura will meet with local sub-council officials to discuss development of the area.

Michael Jacobs, deputy chairman of Mura set the scene at the start of the summit, describing how breadwinners left their homes in the early hours and returned late at night; how Mitchell’s Plain had become a place filled with crime, grime and homelessness. He spoke about the broken railway system, and the overcrowded buses and taxis workers had to rely on.

“A crumbling transport system is adding to the woes of our people on the Cape Flats. We did not choose Mitchell’s Plain to live – the Group Areas chose us,” he said.

Mr Isaacs said work had to be done in making the National Development Plan (NPD) a reality. He said if all the relevant sectors, such as sports, safety and security and health, worked together a different Mitchell’s Plain could be realised.

“We need this partner participation,” he said.

Mr Isaacs said it was a pity some corporates in Mitchell’s Plain made money in the area but ignored their social responsibility by not ploughing back.

“We need a safer space within which to live,” he said.

Participants were divided into smaller groups, where they discussed sustainable job creation, land, and safety and security.

During a plenary session on job creation, Mr Rass spoke about how to approach government and corporates, to tender and work alongside them.

Speaking to the Plainsman, Norman Jantjes, chairman of Mura, said services and buildings had deteriorated over the years, and the City of Cape Town had not invested much in sustaining the growth and development of Mitchell’s Plain.

“There are no sports facilities, like an athletics track; there is only one synthetic sports field. We need after-school activities at community centres for pupils to attend – and crime and grime have taken over in the Town Centre,” he said.

The summit was the start of a conversation during which residents listed their needs and wants, he said.

“We need a theatre for the thousands of artists who are born here,” he said.

Most participants agreed Mitchell’s Plain, a dormitory town and a construct of apartheid, was still being marginalised, and they accused the City of seldom consulting residents about development in the area.

Lynn Philips, secretary of the Mitchell’s Plain CPF, said: “When we develop infrastructure, we don’t take the community with us.”

Her comments followed the keynote address by former cabinet minister Trevor Manuel who was also an ANC member of parliament for Mitchell’s Plain for many years.

Mr Manuel highlighted 10 key elements for a decent standard of living: (1) housing, water, sanitation and electricity; (2) transport; (3) education and skills; (4) safety and security; (5) health care; (6) social protection; (7) employment; (8) recreation and leisure; (9) a clean environment; and (10) nutrition.

He said those elements were embodied in the National Development Plan, a long-term strategic plan concluded just over six years ago with the objective of ensuring that all South Africans attained a decent standard of living through the elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality.

“We repeatedly asked the question, ‘What are the aspects that make for a decent standard of living?’” Mr Manuel said.

He said it was important that the re-imagining extended beyond the physical issues to deal with the living standards of all residents.

“Allowing the imagination to broaden a bit has a number of advantages. Firstly, more residents can join in – for example, the pensioners and the unemployed can lead on social protection, and the environmentalists can lead clean-up campaigns that involve everybody,” he said.

Mr Manuel also encouraged regular engagement among the community and relevant stakeholders.

“I understand that the residents of Mitchell’s Plain can rediscover their collective soul, if they all are touched by these issues and active in working for solutions. This is the ‘People’s Power’ theme that is so very potent,” he said.

In expressing support for the work of Mura, he said he was duty-bound to ask the tough questions about the quality of representation people had in Mitchell’s Plain.

The Municipal Structures Act and the Municipal Systems Act ordered the kind of representation people had and both those laws were based on “participatory democracy” that included the representation of residents on ward committees and held councillors responsible for regular meetings and report-back sessions, he said.

If that was not evident, Mr Manuel said, he would campaign that votes of no confidence be passed and by-elections convened.

“I raise these contentious matters because I do not believe that the struggle for democracy should leave a people bereft of representation,” he said.