If you Google ‘Manenberg’, you can be guaranteed that nothing good about the suburb will pop up. It’s notorious for many social ills, as are many areas on the ‘Cape Flats’.
A former editor of mine suggested we move away from the use of the phrase ‘Cape Flats’. Does it not perpetuate the stereotype, thrust upon residents by the apartheid government? Or is it something that residents have taken ownership of? Taking back, and owning negative language, seems to be the ‘woke’ thing to do, so I write from a perspective of ignorance as I don’t live in Manenberg (and I’m probably not woke) and can’t possibly understand their daily reality.
Like many other areas on the Cape Flats, Manenberg’s layout is firmly informed by apartheid planning logic. It was initially developed as a dumping ground for the 1950s forced removals from areas around Cape Town’s city centre, such as District Six.
So of course, writing about any upliftment potential for a troubled suburb is drenched in controversy. It’s hyper-political, there are various factions competing for attention, and the media seems to seek out the narrative that any plan to upgrade a neighbourhood must be doomed to fail.
This week, the ‘Community Action Plan’ for a major urban upgrade of Manenberg was signed by the City, Province and the Manenberg Community Steercom. Participants call this a ‘historic consensus’ that was reached between government and community representatives on how best to deliver a major urban upgrade in Manenberg.
The upgrade includes a 594-bed Regional Hospital, a school’s upgrade that will benefit four primary schools, and a new School of Skills for the Manenberg community and surrounds. The infrastructure investment forms part of the long-term vision to transform the urban landscape along central Manenberg into a Youth Lifestyle Campus.
The Chair of the Manenberg Community Steercom, Jonathan Jansen, says the entire community was invited to be part of the planning of this new vision for the area.
“This has been facilitated through roadshows and numerous public meetings and the community were given ample opportunity to provide input on the future urban upgrade of Manenberg. The success of this plan will only be seen if the community are active participants and co-drivers of the implementation going forward. The process of engagement with the community will continue as this transformative upgrade steadily becomes a reality.”
The Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) NPO have supported the City and the Province from the very beginning, in facilitating community input on this upgrade.
The non-profit organisation has been closely involved with the community in Manenberg for years, trying to re-position the area from an unsafe, dormitory area to a secure, diverse, vibrant, innovative, cohesive, and sustainable neighbourhood.
There are many challenges ahead, including further public consultations, which may even railroad progress. But the positive news is that many role-players in the process are fully committed to transforming the urban landscape in Manenberg for the better. And this is at least something to hold onto.
Maybe in a few years’ time, when you Google ‘Manenberg’, they’ll have a different story to tell.