Julian A Jacobs recounts how after 44 years his elderly parents have left Manenberg to escape gang violence.
Cape Town - Derek and Constance Jacobs, my 70-year-old parents, packed up their belongings last month and left the place that has been home to them for the past 44 years.
It was an emotional leave-taking, and perhaps ironically so – their beloved home of more than four decades was none other than a council flat in gang-riven Manenberg.
And it was the incessant gang conflict – the needless shootings, the constant danger – that eventually forced their hand. They couldn’t take it any longer.
But that made the move no easier.
“I never thought I would be so attached to this place,” my father, Derek, said. “I can’t believe I am moving out after all these years. It seems like yesterday that we moved in. I love this place.”
As we carefully packed the final load of familiar household items on to the trailer, we prayed together as a family and thanked God for keeping us all safe all these years. Neighbours we knew as kids were no longer around.
My childhood friends are all gone – they’d either moved out, like my siblings and me, or they were dead, victims of the pervasive gang violence synonymous with Manenberg.
Neighbours who came to say goodbye struggled to hold back the tears as my parents bade them farewell.
For my parents, this council flat was their home. It was the “house” we all grew up in, although it was no more than a typical two-bedroomed council flat, better known among residents as korre. This very council home was being renovated when my parents moved out, 48 years after Manenberg was established in 1966.
Last year the City of Cape Town launched the renovation project. Yet for my ageing parents the Manenberg restoration came far too late.
The flat they have occupied for so long has an extensive history of deterioration. The cyclone that hit Manenberg in 1996, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, damaged the roof of their block.
And, as I stood downstairs with the memories of my days there welling up in me, I realised that even the stairs and the walls had seen better days.
Manenberg is a township 20km from Cape Town’s city centre. It is separated from Nyanga and Gugulethu townships by a railway line.
It is flanked by another coloured township, Hanover Park, to the west, by Heideveld to the north, and Nyanga to the east. Cape Town still bears the marks of the apartheid city it once was, with the marginalised communities – coloured, African and Indian – located on it edges.
The roads and public amenities, the lack of access to shops, transport hubs and jobs, were designed to put residents of these areas at a disadvantage. These policies helped keep people entrapped back then, and they remain trapped to this day.
Manenberg is no different from most Cape Flats townships, which sprang up against the backdrop of the apartheid government’s forced removal campaign of the 1960s.
So, watching my parents on their last day in Manenberg, I could identify with their sense of displacement. In 1970, they settled in a place that had no hot water and no protection from the gang infestation. They were restricted to raising their four children in a two-bedroomed government flat. Manenberg is probably one of the harshest places in which to raise children.
In recent weeks, the effects of violence are spreading through my old home town. Manenberg is again going through a spate of gang violence, and the innocent are the real victims.
As we chatted, my dad said: “I hate moving. I did it once all those years ago as a child, when we were removed from our family home in Crawford during the mid-1960s to Hanover Park.
“I can’t take this. I am not used to this. Manenberg has been my life, my home, for more than 40 years. I am going to miss the sounds, the busyness, the sense of community. But I will not miss the violence and the drug-affected kids who pay us no respect.”
As the city continues with its face-lifting of the Cape Flats, the status quo still remains. The ugly truth of living in renovated council houses (which residents will still not own) is that, once outside these homes, you are still confronted with the harsh reality of high unemployment, unsafe spaces for children to play, unsafe schools, gang-related problems, and continuous violence.
The city should rather address this as a matter of urgency if it hopes to be regarded as legitimate among marginalised communities.
Spending money on providing safe, properly built homes, safer communities and access to amenities is more important at this time than spending it on a new logo.
The promises that all political parties are punting ahead of the May 7 elections will not fool citizens any more, especially since they have been living in the same conditions for 40 years.
As my parents live out their remaining years with me and my siblings, many other residents of Manenberg of their generation face a gloomy future.
The city should play a role even now for the older generation in providing dignified care for them in accessible old age homes and safe spaces.
* Julian A Jacobs, a former resident of Manenberg, is the communications director of the Human Sciences Research Council, and has an MA in history.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.