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Moonlight Massacre

by Anya Zinn / 13.11.2013

Maybe you didn’t realise it was a full moon, but for some reason you’re driving around Green Point around 9PM, and you see it: the glittering silver clutter of bicycle upon bicycle gliding as one body along the promenade, tailed by an accompaniment of carving skateboarders. You don’t know it yet, but they’re all en route en mass to Mouille Point, through the docks, to finally wheel down the infamous Long St to park off and have a drink at some lucky bar. This isn’t a late-night race or some charity event; it is simply a celebration of non-motorized modes of transport. It is the #moonlightmass.

From starting off with a humble flock of 30 cyclists in January 2012, growing to a field of about 4000 cyclists in recent months, there is no way creators Daniel Graham and Elad Kirshenbaum could have predicted the enormous success of the tweet that first proposed the idea of a moonlit meander. With it’s fast-growing base of loyal enthusiasts, it seemed it was only onwards and upwards for #moonlightmass, until the City of Cape Town pulled the plug by withdrawing the event permit at the beginning of the week, causing #moonlightmass to be postponed indefinitely.

The response has been fast and furious: onslaughts of protests and cries of dismay have been flooding social media platforms, and not only by past participants. Debates as to what the exact reason for the cancellation of this week’s #moonlightmass is, as well as, perhaps more important, who is to blame, continue to flare as readers try interpret and distill the muddled and conflicting statements released by the city of Cape Town versus the event organisers’ statements.

The stance of the city of Cape Town is easy enough to discern, as it’s mentioned at least once every paragraph past their statement’s defensive introduction: the City’s sole concern is one of safety. Not just the safety of the road-users, no, but for the participants of the event too – ‘often including children under the age of twelve’. The greater the event, the greater the risks, and our pious Mommy City obviously understood this quite well when, at the event’s inception, it was agreed upon with the event organisers that ‘if the event grew in number, certain compliance aspects would need to be adhered to by those planning the event’. Since the event has certainly grown in number, the city has graciously made public the list of ‘compliance aspects’ that needed to be put in place: adequate emergency vehicle access, deployment of sufficient traffic officers and marshals, and minimal disruption of pedestrian and vehicle traffic. They also mention as an aside that as participants don’t sign an indemnity form that would serve as a disclaimer were anything to happen, the city would be held liable for these ‘safety shortcomings’, if the event organizer wasn’t at hand.

Despite the fact that there has yet to be an accident (something past participants keep using to back their online campaigns), these concerns aren’t invalid – the event is only getting bigger, and any crowd that size, let alone mostly amateur cyclists, not all wearing basic protective gear like helmets and not all totally sober, would need some kind of monitoring. No, these requirements are not unreasonable, just the solutions offered by the city are:

The statements released by the #moonlightmass reveal the newly appointed necessities for the event, such as the need for 54 traffic-officer-trained marshals to babysit participants, under the guardianship of 17 traffic officials – just in case things get out of hand. Bear in mind that a grin and the odd high-five might not suffice as adequate payment for these enforcers of the law, so there’s that problem of how these government-employed officials are going to be paid for their valiant efforts. Other ‘suggestions’ to be enforced is a -staggered start – only after registration and helmet, bike and light checks, of course – as well as for riders to cycle single-file along a line of traffic cones, rendering the staggered start irrelevant anyway but hey, better safe than sorry, right? I’m surprised no mention was made of light-reflecting jackets and speed limits – very slack, Cape Town.

Moonlight Massacre

While their best efforts to solve the bullet-pointed list of problems they’ve thought very long and hard on is in line with their proclaimed vision to build an inclusive city, their intention to by no means ‘stifle creative events’ has resulted in them stifling the fun of them instead, which unfortunately just does not agree with the #moonlightmass ethos Daniel and Elad are clinging to so earnestly.

The #moonlightmass has, since its inception, revolved around three simple principles: fun, free and social. But it seems the more the City gets involved with the event, the further #moonlightmass drifts from its original purpose. In the beginning stages of the #moonlightmass, event organisers Elad and Daniel were more than happy to comply with safety rules and regulations dictated by the city. Hell, they didn’t have to ask for an event permit in the first place – similar national event Critical Mass sure didn’t – but one gets the sense that these boys (ironically) just didn’t want any trouble. Good intention reaped good will as the event started attracting a bevy of external support – paramedics and marshalls would volunteer their time and skills to ensure the safety of cyclists; insurance company Associated Insurance Brokers generously offered to cover each and every ride with a public liability insurance policy; and Olympic Vehicle bought in a sweeping vehicle after every ride – all for free. Despite this incredible example of community support, every passing event would bring with it another invitation for city and event organisers to meet, to discuss even more problems and the consequent changes that some of which I’m not surprised would take 28 days to come up with. #moonlightmass organisers claim that since their first meeting with the city officials, it became clear that they ‘could not wrap their heads around this unique ride’. With concerns over the lack of ablutions and water points, ‘how it is possible for hundreds of people to cycle through the city without littering’ and how it is possible for participants to cycle in jeans – were raised as serious points for discussion, it’s not hard to agree.

After 10 such meetings occurred in a space of 18 months, one cannot blame event organisers Daniel and Elad for finally ignoring meeting requests (however, they claim they attended every one). Their persistent rejection was too much for the city to bear, so, with hurt feelings and bruised ego, it aimed for where it would hurt most and snatched away the event’s permit, holding it hostage until the organisers agree to comply with their rules – because it’s no longer a two-sided love affair.

Some see this as only further affirmation of how kak and capitalist the DA is, some take it further and use it to affirm how kak our country is (just move to Oz already), but the fact is we’re not Europe. The government is still trying to work out how to run basic societal systems, let alone manage a recreational event they have no experience with whatsoever, so they’re being careful. So careful, in fact, that they’ve turned into that pale, slightly socially-inept kid with the neurotic mother who walks around with a wet blanket and see everything that could go wrong. The entire basis for their being so anal seems to be based on should’s, if’s, were’s and could be’s. Whereas event organisers of #moonlightmass come across as those bare-foot, long-haired kids who say ‘chill’ and ‘irie’ too much, concerned only with the universal meaning behind the event and leaving practicalities to fall where they may. As much as the city will not compromise on the safety of the people, Elad and Daniel will not compromise on the ‘purity’ of the #moonlightmass ethos.

So the rest of Cape Town, with the stands kicked up from their bikes, sit and wait for these two kids to learn how to share.

I’m sure many of you have, by now, come to the ingenious conclusion everyone else has of rebelliously riding your bikes anyway – may I suggest wearing jeans as an extra twisting of the knife? Riding your bike is not illegal, and you can’t help that 3999 other people had the same idea as you. #notmoonlightmass will not be taking place at 9PM by the Green Point turning circle this coming Sunday 17th November. Hey, you might even bump into Minister Alan Winde who has offered himself up to be arrested in solidarity – if he’s cycling slow enough to be arrested.

* Images © James Gradwell

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