Years of unwavering determination and perseverance has delivered the successes needed to change the landscape of Lavender Hill with a much needed, all inclusive centre – thanks to international funders.
On Friday September 3, after four years of planning, advocating and many stumbling blocks, Lavender Hill organisations signed a 10-year lease agreement with the City of Cape Town to transform the notorious Blode Street field into a hub for positive change in the community. The funders, in collaboration with global organisation In Place of War, have committed to millions to see the project through.
For years the open piece of land, known as the battlefield, was misused by gangsters as fighting grounds to shoot at each other for drug territory.
Situated in the heart of Lavender Hill and opposite two schools, Hillwood and Levana primary, the field had become synonymous with violence, gun fights and other negative social issues but in recent years organisations have been hard at work to change the field’s reputation.
Mark Nicholson, founder of the Lavender Hill Sports and Recreation Foundation and one of the directors of the Rise Above Development (RAD), which is the umbrella organisation that was instrumental in securing the lease, said the mission for Blode Street had been a long time coming.
Asked how he felt about the lease and the plans for the “battlefield”, Mr Nicholson admitted they had their own battle to secure the agreement but said the signing of the documents on Friday was a proud, exciting and emotional moment.
In the interim of waiting for the processes to be approved, five of his family members were shot and killed because of gang violence.
“I’ve lost five nephews, two were shot and killed in Blode Street and I live opposite the field so I have seen all the bad things that happened at the field and I decided to change the negative into positive.”
Since 2003 the foundation has been hosting sports tournaments, feeding schemes, holiday programmes and other initiatives at the field.
“It wasn’t easy because there were a few times where we would use the field and people had to run for their lives because of shootings but we kept pushing and it has yielded results.”
The centre will be open and available to all organisations and residents in and around Lavender Hill.
Adele Campbell from the Wicht Court Association and chairperson of RAD management team, said the signing of the lease was momentous and encouraged more organisations to come onboard because the facility will be open to all.
“For me, who grew up in Lavender Hill and who is still active in the community, this is history in the making and now the big task begins.”
Ward 68 councillor Marita Petersen has been working in the background since 2019 with other City officials to get the lease agreement approved and was elated when it was finally granted.
Ms Petersen said the organisations and residents have been vocal about the need for the centre: “The field has been a den of iniquity. It is also a huge piece of land and for the City to develop it would have been a problem because of budget constraints.”
The City, along with the external funders, organisations and all stakeholders explored how to expedite the process and decided on a facilities management lease agreement after ironing out a few kinks in the processes.
“It was a learning curve for us all but I am very happy it all worked out in the end and I am excited for the future of Lavender Hill. There’s a lot of work ahead but the process has taught us how to work better with each other and that’s a beautiful thing,” said Ms Petersen.
She said all organisations should come together to make the centre a success.
The plan is to fence off the field in the next few months and start working on the centre, which will eventually house many programmes like arts and crafts, libraries, film making, a youth centre, an ECD and many others. The centre will consist of containers because the field used to be a retention pond and permanent buildings can’t be built on the site.
Janette de Villiers, founder and executive producer at Groundglass, the production company that released the film Numbers in 2016, was instrumental in initiating the plan for the centre and helped secure the funders for the project after she visited the area about five years ago.
Ms De Villiers was inspired by Turner Adams, a former gangster who spent many years of his life in prison and gave South Africa a glimpse into the underworld of gangs. He also featured in the films Four Corners and Numbers.
Five years ago the two walked around Lavender Hill and when they got to the field, Mr Adams said something needed to change for the youth of Lavender Hill.
“He told me about the plight and the systemic cycle of what happens and how kids land up in gangs. How after school, being hungry and not having any other outlet, that the gangs lure these kids in by almost offering them a sense of security which they’re not getting anywhere else because they usually come from dysfunctional homes.”
Ms De Villiers and Mr Adams then went on a mission to make the dream a reality.
“I didn’t ever think we would see what we saw on Friday. There was a lot of community engagement, a lot of will and the community have been great throughout it all and they want to see positive change.”
Mr Adams never thought the centre would come to fruition in his lifetime: “I am so emotional that we were able to make this happen. I am so happy for our local people and that they would be able to reap the rewards and I am thankful to the people who made this possible.”
He said the future depends on children and seniors: “If we don’t look after our children and seniors, we won’t be able to make it. This is why I was pressing for this to happen and I know that this is only the beginning and there will still be ‘nikke en drukke’ but we will reach our goal if we believe in each other and work together.
“It all started with a dream, just putting it out there and that led to this so it proves that anything is possible”.
In the next few months the field will be fenced off and there will be opportunities for community members to be employed by the organisation to build the centre.
Mr Nicholson thanked all the stakeholders, funders and all the organisations for making the dream a reality.
He encouraged residents to support the initiative and get involved.