Poetry iniativenot in motion

Shaun Warner, Ottery

The Ottery Poetry Initiative was launched in 2017, but conceived in 2016.

Our legs were kicked from under us by the City of Cape Town’s department of recreation and sports and its representatives.

Here’s how: We started in our local library. I was offering my poetry background as an alternative to loitering, to the kids of our community, with a meal/snack three days a week.

In the first day, with 18 kids in attendance, I realised painfully, that our kids had reading and writing impediments. Also that the room in the library is too small.

I quickly changed the focus of the group to that of a numeracy and literacy group.

Soon the facility officer here saw (in retrospect, I was a fool to trust him) that our group was attracting numbers consistently to the centre (and they are all about statistics). He offered us a classroom. One of the four white elephants on the premises. Free of charge.

We then serviced the community four days a week, with a meal between 5pm and 7pm. I also tutored on weekends.

Our work was featured in the Southern Mail.

I was offered a job on the premises as an Employment Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) worker. My condition was that I do not neglect my group. I accepted and all went swimmingly.

We operated on donations and that was few and far between, but we pushed through, although financial support was almost non existent. The City used me for my contacts and I obliged, because my group needed a premises.

Fast forward to 2018 and I decided to charge a subscription of R50 as all support fell through. Fund-raisers were a bust.

The Ottery Poetry Initiative supplied all learning materials, a snack when possible and the occasional outing. I was told by the facility officer here that I had to reapply for the classroom. Also they will be charging me rent, as, and I quote: “Our new boss has a forensic background, and we were never supposed to give classes away for free.”

So their ineptitude now became another burden for us to bear.

Please bear in mind that on any given day we had up to 60 kids in attendance.

I was subsequently told, in a meeting in February, between myself, the facility officers of Ottery, Lotus River and Coniston Park, that they would charge me a community rate of R6.40 per hour. That came to about R768 per month.

Between copies, snacks and learning materials, we would scrape by.

I agreed and we commenced tutoring on February 5.

On a back-pay system, as recommended by the facility officers.

In March the booking office of their department emails me an invoice for R3 450 for the month of February.

I immediately desisted from tutoring, as I now had an idea of how they operate.

I left the classroom as is, notified the facility officer I would not use the class until they sort this mess out, lest they charge me again.

An attorney assisted us pro-bono.

Eventually, the facility officer of Ottery admitted in an email that they erred.

Please note, I had to resign as an EPWP worker, as per their request/ demand,so that I could rent the classroom. I did so. Tutoring lost children is far more important than fighting for R16 per hour. Yet, at other centre(s) EPWP workers ran businesses allegedly, with impunity.

Yes. The City works for you. Not for me.

I have yet to meet with the booking office. I will soon.

The Ottery Poetry Initiative was actively involved in the betterment of the level of numeracy and literacy of the kids in our community.

Yet we got tied up in red tape by City representatives.

Who loses here? Who loses? At the Bruce Road facility there were recent upgrades in security. New safety gates and burglar bars.

Every room is now secure, except the room I taught kids in. This is the City that works for you. Not for me.

I am now being emailed to collect my books and return the key. Yes. This is the City that works for you. Not for me.

I am now forced to tutor my remaining members at their houses.

Ottery is split into two distinct gang zones. The classroom was situated centrally. Both Ottery A and Ottery B kids could access it. I now walk distances to tutor those kids most in need.

Most parents have lost interest because of the break. A forced break.

Yes. This is the City that works for you. Not for our kids.

The ward councillor has a safe office. The storeroom is secured. The facility officers’ office is secured. The remaining empty rooms are secured. Sadly, the room I teach kids in, remains without a safety gate.

We were given the old grimy chairs. The odd tables to use.

Yes, this is the City that works for you.

You decide. You decide if I have a right to be appalled and angry. You decide who the City of Cape Town works for.

We are a people in distress. We are being mauled by the City.

* Eddie Andrews, mayoral committee member for area south, responds: “The City’s recreation and parks department actively encourages and pursues partnerships and community development initiatives.

This matter will be investigated and contact will be made with the writer of this letter to establish the facts as well as to determine how the programme can be supported.