26 March 2018
Eisleben Road in Mitchells Plain was covered in bright coloured chalk drawings on Sunday. Children and adults weaved between pedestrians and cruised along the street on scooters, bicycles, skateboards and rollerblades. Thousands of people participated in Open Streets, where no cars are allowed for the duration of the day.
“Look at all these people out here. This is actually what we need in our country,” said Thabo Mshwamo, 22, from Langa. “We need that unity. This is one of the events that I can say brings people together.”
Open Streets Day is a collaborative effort between the City’s Transport and Urban Development Authority and the NGO called Open Streets Cape Town. The concept involves closing off a major street in the city for a single day to enable people to use the space on foot or any non-motorised form of transport.
“Residents of the area have an opportunity to connect with each other,” said Marcela Guerrero Casas, managing director and co-founder of Open Streets Cape Town. “For the greater Cape Town, it is about exploring parts of the city which on a regular day might feel out of bounds because of perception of crime or simply the long distances.”
Mshwamo said he came with a group from Tsiba Education, cycling from Langa to Claremont and then through to Mitchells Plain. “We cycle to raise funds for other people to be given an opportunity to study,” he said.
Brett Herron, Mayco Member for Transport and Urban Development, said: “The purpose of Open Streets days is to reimagine roads without motorists by turning it into a playground for pedestrians, and all other types of mobility.”
Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille also attended. “If people come out to Mitchells Plain from other areas and come and enjoy themselves, it creates social cohesion. We started about three years ago. The intent was part of building an inclusive city.”
Mitchells Plain resident Ricky Mabee, 39, said: “It gives us as a community the chance to, just for one day, put aside our difference and enjoy our diversity.”
“It means a lot because we can interact with people we don’t know,” said Randall Goeds, another Mitchells Plain resident. “It’s also nice to see the community stand together as well.”
“This is my first time in Mitchells Plain,” said Brandon van Eeden, 45, from Newlands. “I cycled here with about 50 people as part of the Bike Bus. So 22 kilometres from Newlands, through Philippi and then here. It was awesome, a really, really nice ride. I would recommend it to anyone.”
Another newcomer to Mitchells Plain was Ansuné van der Merwe, 25, from Mowbray. “I have an idea of what Mitchells Plain is in my mind, but I won’t know until I come and see … I think it’s a really great way to open up public spaces and make it safer for everyone,” said Van Der Merwe.
Alexander Schoeman, 25, grew up in Cape Town and also lives in Mowbray. He said this was the first time he has walked around in Mitchells Plain. “I’m a candidate attorney so I come to the Sheriff’s Office in Mitchells Plain. So I do drive through here – actually along Eisleben Road – but now being able to walk around is really cool.”
“Open Streets gets people walking in areas and covering distances on foot or cycles that they normally wouldn’t,” said Clifford Chateau, principal of Duneside Primary School on Eisleben Road.
“The number of fitness activities [available], like spinning, aerobics, dance and hula-hooping contributes to a healthier society,” said Chateau.
Thandi Swaartboi, a professional dancer from Gugulethu, was among those leading attendees in fitness activity, a form of dance aerobics called afrobics. “For most of the people this [being in Mitchells Plain] is very new, and it’s very exciting,” she said.
Part of the Open Streets concept is to encourage people to use more public transport, but De Lille said the dysfunctional Metrorail has “got a major impact on the traffic congestion in our city”.
Speaking about the state of Metrorail in Cape Town, Casas said: “We’d like to think that we can raise awareness about the critical state of public transport in Cape Town. We don’t see our role in putting direct pressure on government but rather in enabling people to come together and raise their voices as active citizens.”
Civil society group UniteBehind was in attendance on the day to inform people about their campaign for safer trains.
“I think on a local level Open Streets Day gives the community of Mitchells Plain an opportunity to just mingle in a relaxed way,” said Zelda Holtzman, of UniteBehind. “People can move freely and this is the way it should be. So it gives an example of what normal life should be like.”
Holtzman thinks more could be done: “We should do more as a city to bring different communities together so it’s not confined to Mitchells Plain.”
“We should be working towards a link between Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, ‘Khaye-Plain’, for example, and have that as a boardwalk and an expression of freedom, diversity and unity.”
Diana Sanchez-Betancourt, co-founder of Open Streets Cape Town said the intended plan is to integrate different areas with future Open Streets days. “But this depends to a large extent on political will, availability of resources and community willingness,” she said.
“I think Open Streets is an invitation for communities to take that agency,” said Sanchez-Betancourt. “The structures are there. There’s sub-councils and ward committees … and then you have NGOs like Open Streets helping a little bit. Then the network can be connected.”