One in a Hundredby Setumo Mohlomi / 03.06.2013
When someone says “intervention” I think of families sharing too much about one of their relatives on that Springeresque television show which started back in 2005. So, when urban interventions were planned as part of the 100 in 1 Day festival, it would not have been a stretch of the imagination to think of whole communities zeroing in on one or more of its rotten apples. Was this going to be a sanctioned day of mob justice, planned – accidentally or not – to coincide with the 50th Africa Day celebrations?
Instead, the interventions that took place were meant to make up “a civil action day where people take ownership of their city and create a better place to live”. If you thought that the Danish organization Kaospilots (who were responsible for bringing this concept to Cape Town) knew little about being African, you were probably as wrong as I was. As part of the 100 in 1 Day “festival of doing” the Danish school-come-consultancy partnered with Open Streets and cordoned off Lower Main road Observatory for pedestrians, cyclists and skaters, interveners and spectators to have a festival experience unencumbered by cars.
A street bash is an African enough way to spend the 50th Africa day, I thought. Maybe there would even be a surprise appearance from a Durban house DJ rumoured to have been in the city at the weekend? That’s what I thought, or at least hoped, until I arrived on Lower Main road and I saw more tie dye than in a Ska clothing shop and more bare feet than poolside at Virgin Active.
The interventions scattered on the street ranged from the elaborate four meter high and six meter long mechanical dinosaur operated by a boisterous handful of mid-lifers, to a small coal baked vegan chocolate muffin stand outside a kiddie’s rides rental place.
What was most telling of the success or failure of the initiative though, is the canvas on the ground along the less savoury side of the Lower Main road strip. On any regular night out in Observatory, this is the area where you will witness drugs being dealt unceremoniously, routinely even, and enjoy the odd fight to break the monotony of watching degradation in progress. On this particular Saturday, every imaginable colour of chalk was made available to the revelers to write and doodle on the asphalt. Surprisingly, there was not a single private part or vloek in the multi-coloured collage. Colourful and vibrant messages and drawings of love, peace, bunny rabbits and flowers decorated what is usually the shadier part of the street.
By the hangover part of that Sunday, however, the chalk had been washed away by that pall, cynical rain typical of Cape Town winters. The 100 in 1 Day organisers make no secret of the festival being a temporary endeavor. That of course begs the question of how fundamental change can be made to an African city, even one as European as Cape Town, when there is little talk of what happens when the colours begin to fade? Sustainable development is the buzz term in African intellectual talk shops and political humdrum circles. How much can the city and its citizens benefit in the long term from a model of progress which merely gives us a glimpse of what could be? How do we as Capetonians sustain the dream that we have for our city and strive towards making that dream a reality after the Kaospilots are air lifted back to Arhus Denmark?
Every day some of us South Africans, collectively incarnated as the civil society, graft away in the hope of making a contribution towards building the glaringly beautiful society South Africa shows the potential of one day becoming. If nothing else, the 100 in 1 day festival of doing could open South Africans’ eyes to the challenges faced by the members of our society who have dedicated their lives to affecting progressive change in one of the world’s most unequal societies. Many of the interventions required at least some form of monetary or material contribution to be a success. The Preventative Health Care Intervention that was planned to take place at Gugulethu Mall, for example, required the use of at least one finger glucometer and an automatic blood pressure monitor as well as the expertise of med students in order ‘to educate people about hypertension and diabetes’. This initiative sadly had to be postponed until the 8th June.
And if the funding fog horn doesn’t rouse South Africans from their slumber into the reality faced by our NGOs, then maybe the challenge of the scope and effect of interventions might do the trick. The half-baked interventions, amongst the many which were well thought out, should serve as a wake-up call for us louder than Dr Malinga’s brightest two piece outfit. Many agree that there are spaces in the Cape Town city scape which present the possibility of violence against women, but how much is the threat of violence in these spaces reduced by having them “covered in glitter and feathers, and swathed in satin and ribbons”?
Yes, the concept of bringing together the citizens of a city, from all walks of life, and creating environments where they are able to take responsibility for the look, feel and experience they get from the city is a novel one. Even if it is for just one day. But without a sustainable framework which would take that idea a step further and put long-term initiatives in place, the 100 in 1 Day festival as it is now provides a space for the Kaospilots to stay firmly in the driver’s seat of the concept for the foreseeable future.
* All images © Setumo Mohlomi