The trauma of the Cape Flats

COMMUNITIES AT RISK: Social workers are at the forefront of providing support for communities in areas like Manenberg, the scene of several shootings over the years. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA) Archive

All of us know a son or daughter ravaged by drug abuse. It has become far too common that we have simply become desensitized to what seems like the unintended consequence of a people bearing the legacy of oppression and continued failures by the leaders of society.  

This is demonstrated in the recent local films giving us insight into life on the Cape Flats, where if you come from places like Lavender Hill, Bonteheuwel and Hanover Park, your future seems grim and the odds are stacked against should you have no backbone or support structure. This is what shook me when I watched Ellen, which tells the true events of a mother’s struggle and her journey with a son demonised by drug abuse. It is not so much the latter that paralyzed me but rather the incessant struggle that is a people with no proper support and an outlet for struggles of the self. 

Shocked we all were when UCT medical Professor, Dr Bongani Mayosi took his own life due to the pressures of life – and I say this lightly. I contend that Ellen’s son, Abie, was lost not the moment he took the first puff of Dagga and then later tik, but rather when he felt lost, overcome with a crisis of belonging and a future so bleak that he tried processing it by writing his own songs.

This is the tragedy for so many people from the Cape Flats who simply feel as if though they are condemned to a life of hopelessness. This claim is further backed by another recently released local film, Nommer 73, which again demonstrates a man with aspirations to leave the slum of a place that he is confined to. Those who are familiar with the film would have seen a man with noble aspirations destroyed by dubious means to achieve them.

And so we ought to start a national conversation about how to fundamentally address drug abuse, gangsterism and other ills which continue to beset the rich culture and heritage that should define the people of the Cape Flats. We are obsessed with a heavy police presence to the point where parties like the DA which governs the Western Cape are determined that the army will nudge us to a community of safety and harmony. We do not realise the glaring failures to provide an alternative to young people, sustainable jobs and an environment where people on the Cape Flats will feel proud and dignified.

I have lived all my life on the Cape Flats. I really don’t aspire to be anywhere else because I do not believe that I should be defined by the stereotype that has come to leech itself to the identity of residents of the Cape Flats. I am part of a handful of young people who were guided and driven to self-actualise. A set of values and common understandings about the value of life carried me through. And so if we were to fundamentally win the war on drugs and gangsterism, we would need an all-encompassing approach not reliant on the army and the police, but rather a socio-orientated developmental goal underpinned by education of values, jobs and better standards of living.

As the judge ruled in the murder case of Ellen Pakkies, the State has failed her and mothers who can identify with her struggle. A decade later, nothing has changed. This is an indictment on all of us and should make us shiver with fear that we may be looking at an untamed beast who won’t be defeated easily.

Tashreeq Truebody is an award-winning journalist who at a young age began his career in broadcasting. Firmly rooted in radio, Tashreeq started his training at Radio 786 and Bush Radio during High school.