Parks for the people

Parks as sites of activism

In addition to being places of leisure and recreation, parks and public spaces are containers of values, bounded spaces of inclusion and exclusion, sites of political, social and cultural activism whether overtly or by default. 

During the 1980s in the height of Apartheid repression people’s parks in South Africa were sites of active grass roots political resistance driven primarily by the youth. The UDF encouraged  people in the township to form grass roots organizations like street and block committees many of which organized clean-up programmes and built what became known as the “people’s parks”.

David Goldbatt’s photo of The Cross Roads People’s Park in Oukasie Brits from November 1986 comes with this description:

Clearing away the rubble of some of the buildings destroyed by the state, the youth of Oukasie built a number of “people’s parks”. This one was named for the squatter camp at Cape Town. Another was called Senzeni, What have we done? and another Ha Reye Lethabile, We will not go to Lethabile. Each park had benches, tables, sculpture, and symbolic artillery – pointed, it was said, at the police stations – all made from debris and scrap.  …. Other than works by individual artists, [these parks] were among the very few structures to emerge spontaneously during the years of apartheid as an immediate and yet symbolic expression of popular resistance and hope. …. In the State of Emergency of 1986 -1989 the police and the army destroyed the people’s parks. (Goldblatt The Structure of Things page 200) 

David Goldblatt Cross Roads People’s Park Brits Oukasie (From The Structure of Things  1998 page 200)

Reclaiming public spaces in the 2010s and 20s

It has struck me how, in the face of lack of service delivery on the part of local government (of a totally different order from the ruthless clampdown of 1980s Apartheid), some communities now engage actively to improve their public spaces. I am hesitant to compare social and civic activism of 2020s middle class suburban neighbourhoods with the political resistance by township youths at the zenith of Apartheid repression, but upgrades through community input in a space like The Wilds is an astounding example of what can be done with leadership  (thanks James Delaney) and ongoing initiatives (thank you Kennedy Welani Tembo). And in its own way, the George Hay Park in Parkview shows the results of community involvement and a strong and active residents’ association.   

George Hay Park Parkview

One corner is taken up by a thriving vegetable garden tended by Onias Khumalo, with a further 2 herb gardens in other parts of the park. 

Vegetable garden with beautiful artichoke plants August 2020
Onias Khumalo proudly tending the garden at George Hay Park Parkview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a number of trees in containers for residents to buy and plant in the park. As clearly Julia, Daniel and Nick did back in 2009. 

Trees for sale for residents and park users to buy and plant in the park
Julia, Daniel and Nick planted a tree for Arbour Day in 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there is the most wonderful wooden climbing structure around a “Faraway Tree”.  

Lots of small spaces to crawl in, under and over
A Faraway Tree to explore
George Hay Park Parkview August 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other parts of the park you’ll find people boxing, playing basket ball, trainers dribbling soccer balls in coaching sessions for young kids and others working out on outdoor gym equipment. 

Parkview Christmas Market 

And every November for the last 13 years except, sadly, for November 2020 when Covid dictated otherwise, the annual Christmas Market turns the entire space into a fun crowded and vibrant Christmas Market in aid of Nicarela Charity. For 2 days over 10,000 people come to buy Christmas presents, enjoy loads of activities with their children (jumping castles, craft activities, Clamber Club, puppet shows and more) and meet friends to socialize at the gin bar, the beer tent or the champagne and oyster bar. This market raises over a million rand annually for the Nicarela Charity. 

Photo courtesy Joburg.co.za

 

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