Neighbourgoods Bazar, Cape Town
Saturday evening was a rush of football in Cape Town, the match hosted here yielding a fairly dramatic upset. The morning, though, was as far removed from the football as could be: It was spent at the Neighbourgoods Bazar, a weekly food-and-fun market in, appropriately enough, the Woodstock area.
It's on the site of a flour mill, with the brick buildings housing the permanent shops and a couple of huge marquees hosting the temporary stalls selling everything from rolls of sushi to bouquets of Sweet William. There must have been around 80 stalls, manned largely by enthusiastic amateurs - though I did notice a couple of professional outlets – who are vetted for their eco-friendly quotient. They are probably vetted for the level of zaniness too – one stall selling breads stacked the loaves in an old canoe. The patrons are obviously regulars, members of Cape Town' swish set and the hip and arty, though outsiders are made more than welcome.
That, though, is not the point of this story – such bazaars exist the world over, and Cape Town itself has other informal markets selling organic produce and ethnic crafts. The larger point is that the Old Biscuit Mill, Albert Road and indeed the larger Woodstock area, have been reclaimed from decay and desolation by a couple of entrepreneurs, who set up their art gallery next door. They were followed by a host of friends and fellow professionals so that Woodstock and the adjoining Sir Lowry Road are now the places to be seen, to exhibit and to set up restaurants.
This is only one example of Capetonians reclaiming their city. The most famous road, Long Street, was similarly run-down, its grand Victorian architecture showing its age and crumbling to pieces and the area being taken over by pimps, drug-pushers and other petty criminals. That's when – around the beginning of the decade - a pair of expat accountants returned home and began investing in the property on Long Street, restoring the buildings and eventually leasing out what they didn't run themselves. They own the iconic DaddyLongLegs and Grand Daddy hotels, and most of the other buildings on the road. Today, it's the city's tourist hub, its location in the city centre making it just a few minutes' walk away from most of the museums, parks, the Parliament.
Closer home, the area where I have been staying, Sea Point, has been similarly reclaimed by a citizens' initiative. Today the Main Road it is one of the safest streets I have seen; I often walk back, alone, after the night matches with laptop, camera et al. Yet it wasn't always so. "This was the drug street of Cape Town," David, the owner of the Manhattan Café, told me. "You couldn't go from this restaurant to your car without three drug-dealers accosting you. And of course with the drugs there was the violence."
That was around six years ago. Then the residents of Sea Point stepped up and, with the police and some non-profit organizations, took their area back. It took a while, David said, but the plan was wide-ranging and covered many potential problems. Today the area, patrolled by the city police as well as locally recruited security personnel, is family-friendly. Watching the Spain-Paraguay match with me in a café last night were a mother and her toddler, another single woman, a young couple and a family of four.
That's the larger story – there are problems in all cities, and the bigger the city the greater the problems. Cape Town has its share too, but people no different to you and me are starting to take back control of their city. That's the pride that runs through this World Cup, which has made it, for me, a success so far.