Townships need more than just food,food outlets and malls

The Ujamaa Communal Garden in Harare, Khayelitsha. Supplied

A client mentioned to me how talented his young son was when it came to drawing. He could draw a perfect replica of anything that was shown to him, out of his head, without him having any lessons in art. He mentioned in the same breath that he could only buy him pencils to sketch because he doesn’t know where to purchase art materials to encourage his son to develop his talent in art.

I couldn’t think of any place to refer him to that was close by and  that sold art materials at affordable prices. It made me wonder, why doesn’t Mitchells Plain with a population of about one and a half million  people and thousands of artists,  not have any places selling  affordable art materials.

Mitchells Plain was designed to be a dormitory state, during the apartheid era, where people merely slept and went to work. The only way many adults could entertain themselves was to drink in shebeens and more recently, in sports bars.

The suburb is full of shopping malls, supermarkets, thousands of house shops, pavement vegetable vendors and clothing stores as if the only preoccupation of the people the plain is to eat and dress. Fortunately, there are many sports fields. This, however, is not cater to the needs  of the  artists in the area. Not everyone plays or loves soccer. The place needs an arts centre where the youth that are interested in the arts can develop and showcase their talents.

Many of our youth that drop out of high schools and even primary schools are generally not academically inclined but would do well in the arts, drama, dance and music. Because there is no place for these children to develop their skills, these youth are sucked into a life of drugs, alcohol and gangsterism. Many end up in prison, serving life sentences for serious crimes if they are not killed, lying in a mental institution or sleeping on the street.

Twenty five years into our democracy, and little has changed. I would like to see the owners of the two big malls and big businesses in the area along with government look into the possibility of making art materials available in the area at very affordable prices. Art and craft lessons should be offered in the plain in the community centres.

An arts and craft market or flea market should be opened for people to display and sell their work. The market should create a space for people involved in the cottage industry as well. The market could be part of a tourist destination to stimulate the economy of Mitchells Plain. A similar setup should be done in Khayelitsha as well. This might be one answer to reduce the unemployment rate in the area.

We have too many malls charging too much rent for small businesses to survive. Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha are cities on their own but they lack the infrastructure to make life a lot easier for the residents of the area. If there were more small scale businesses in the area, it would stimulate employment and save the residents the cost of leaving the area to access goods, skills and entertainment.

In the absence of proper entertainment and places for entertainment, the residents of Mitchells Plain have been deprived of the opportunity to feed their cultural appetite. No wonder, so many upwardly mobile residents are leaving the plain. These are few, what about the rest of the residents, who can’t or don’t want to move out.

With enough planning, life in the townships can and should be improved. The residents in these areas work hard enough and long enough to deserve better than just food and food outlets. What I have in mind is what is done in free third world countries all over the world but in South Africa, the best in entertainment is reserved for the rich and affluent. This injustice must stop because human beings cannot thrive on bread alone. They need their minds to be stimulated.

Dr Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling.