Sunday, November 8, 2009

The righteous will occupy the land

Recently a friend who lives in Cape Town shared a very interesting and encouraging story with me.

Due to repeated incidents of crime and harassment, many of the parks in the upper part of Cape Town city, specifically some higher up against the mountain, have become no-go areas for many people. Even the so-called hobos, who often used to hang around in these parks and find a refuge there - especially at night - have become vulnerable to such criminal activities. However, according to our friend, some families and groups of friends who live in the neighbourhood recently decided that the time has come to claim back some of these parks and restore them to their original purpose, namely to serve as spaces in which people can freely enjoy being outdoors in peaceful leisure. So, over the weekend many of them now come together in groups, pack a picnic bag and set off to these parks, determined to show that these public spaces truly belong to ordinary citizens. Once in the park, they find a comfortable spot, unpack and enjoy their meal, play with the children or just walk around while they enjoy the sunshine and the gift of nature.

How widespread and significant this trend currently is, is not that easy to estimate. That it is a crucially important initiative is however not that difficult to see. In fact the time has really come for ordinary people, or what is popularly known today as “civil society”, to stand up and reclaim those spaces where peace, security and dignity – the normal rights of all citizens – can be enjoyed. And this can be done in a very concrete, simple and creative way, like coming together in bigger and safer groups to occupy and utilize the desolated parks anew. In a similar way the people of Gugulethu township came together after some policemen were killed in their community, to organise a street -or neighbourhoodwatch which can patrol the streets on a regular basis.

Such actions, which to some extent defy risk, can and must of course be applied to other sectors of the public domain as well, thus sending out a strong message to those who target such quiet and vulnerable spots for their own mean interests. At least it will remind them that they have no undisputed right or ownership to these areas. More importantly (and this is the ideal) it may just inspire growing numbers of people to move into a similar mode of action, thereby creating a wave of ongoing initiative and support – a wave which will not only neutralise and even eliminate threatening elements, but also empower more ordinary people to take responsibility for the well being and integrity of our society.

According to the Bible – and this is one of the more inspiring and hopeful texts in the Old Testament - “the righteous will indeed possess the land and live in it forever (29)… while the wicked will be driven out (v 28). Quite literally, some who long for a just and caring community are reclaiming what truly belongs to the just.

Carel Anthonissen

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