Welcome Witbooi, managing director of the Heart and Soul Foundation SA, remembers a man shouting hate speech from his balcony during the Hout Bay protests two weeks ago.
He witnessed social media erupt with comments of frustration, confusion and hatred, like this one, when Imizamo Yethu residents took to the streets to protest the City of Cape Town’s failure to rebuild their homes within the three months it had promised, following the March fires and inability to provide adequate living facilities in the Temporary Relocation Area (TRA), or “Silver City,” on the Hout Bay Soccer Field.
Concerned community members like Mr Witbooi noticed the largely negative, critical mood online, specifically across the “privileged” part of town in what locals call “The Valley,” toward the plight of the protesters.
In response, Mr Witbooi said they met on Sunday July 9 to devise a plan to unify their community and alleviate racial tension by starting a movement called #OneHoutBay.
“Because of that there was an idea that was formed here and said ‘Well, how can we create a One Hout Bay where we can address these tensions, where we can talk to the people from both sides and say that it’s not about skin color, it’s not about being white or black; it’s about being neighbours,” Mr Witbooi said.
Deon Robbertze, a community member who coined #OneHoutBay and helped the hashtag gain traction on social media by initiating a call-to-action on Facebook, said that historical apartheid spatial planning caused Hout Bay to inherit a set of circumstances that entrenched division.
The movement claims it is striving to accomplish its mission statement by developing constructive dialogue that drives community cohesion between sub-communities of Hout Bay to work on upliftment projects focused on food security, job creation, and racial cohesion through various projects and events.
Currently, the movements’ objective is to develop livable, humane quarters for people who reside in the TRA structures when the City fails to do so.
“An injury to one is an injury to all,” Mr Witbooi said.
“We will hold the City accountable for what they aren’t doing and show them that we can do it,” Mr Robbertze said.
Mr Witbooi suggested the movement’s latest endeavour in which #OneHoutBay organised for “privileged” residents to face the “challenge” of living in the 3x3m shacks of the TRA for 67 hours from Friday night to Monday morning. He said it was necessary for this part of the community to experience the settlements first hand in order to understand the problem from the protesters perspective.
“If we judge each other from not having walked in each other’s shoes, it’s easy to continue these racial slurs until next year, the year after that, and have another riot. We need to come to a consensus,” Mr Witbooi said.
“After 27 years of democracy, really? Do people have to stay like this?,” he said.
While Mr Witbooi holds that the 67 hours initiative had an overall positive response from both Imizamo Yetho community members and leaders as well as residents from The Valley who participated in the sleepover, some residents remain critical of its vision.
Eve Black, resident of Hout Bay of three years and participant in the #OneHoutBay movement, said she questions the community group’s long-term sustainability and effectiveness in mending misunderstanding.
“It does help that we have movements and we take initiatives but the communication does leave people out,” Ms Black said. “The strategy meeting needs to come together so we don’t start stepping on toes either.”
On Friday the movement is hosting its first official strategy meeting. Ms Black said she hoped the strategy would draw in everyone from all over the Hout Bay area as well as the “nay-sayers,” or community leaders, of the city to speak to Hout Bay Partnership.
“We would like to know, from the City, what are the plans for Hout Bay going to 2020,” she said.
“What five-year-plan is in place for many South Africans? Silver City is not the only one. There are 800 000 people living in the same conditions in the Western Cape.
“The Cape Flats looks no different to Silver City this weekend.”
Ms Black said although the 67 hours event was a temporary eye opener for a handful of people, that short period of time does not mend the miscommunication between the people of the Valley and the people of Silver City. True progress takes place over many months and years of interaction.
“We also know how human beings think. ‘Ok well sure we’ll give a R500 donation. Shame, we’ll give scarves, beanies, etcetera.’ It doesn’t really solve the problem,” she said.
“I have issues because we are not going to break down racial and colour barriers with one weekend.”
Mr Robbertze said the #OneHoutBay movement would attempt to reach out to community members who are not open to participating in events like its 67 hours weekend by hosting community bonfires, “come meet your neighbour” events, and open mic nights to try and facilitate community dialogue.
He is also summoning businesses to participate in community events.
“Talking is one thing, but doing is another,” he said. “It’s all about putting the right people in contact with the right people to solve the problem.”