Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

Harfield Village: The bold and the befok

I moved to Harfield Village in April last year. For a little village that basically lies between two roads (Imam Haron and Kenilworth Road) this place has a lot of issues.

During the time I’ve lived here I’ve witnessed two domestic violence assaults in the street while others walked by. The first, described here, was in June and when I called the police, they didn’t respond. On many occasions since I’ve since seen this couple still walking the streets together, their faces set in grim determination. My heart breaks a little every time.

The second, described briefly in the first, second and last stanzas of this poem, happened in September and resulted in the most drawn-out interaction with the Claremont police station a person can ever imagine. Suffice to say: they didn’t have the right documents, didn’t want to take a statement, tried to put her in the back of the van with her abuser, refused to open a case, told her she’d never report, didn’t have a printer to give me a copy of my statement, lost my statement, made me give my statement again at another station, lost that somehow, and never really resolved the issue of the failure to give people copies of their statement several months later. This attack was also witnessed by two builders, less than five metres away from the couple, who did nothing, and then verbally abused me the next day for shouting at them for doing nothing. “Who the f**k did I think I was to ask them to stop him from hitting her?” Um, a human being.

Also during this time I witnessed an elderly white man set his dog on two young black women walking back from Rosmead Spar one evening. The dog viciously barked at and attacked the screaming women before the old white man gently whistled and it ran into his property. He walked in, no sound at all, while the women were left to recover their wits. When I confronted him about why he had done this and had not apologised to the two ladies, his response was “I didn’t see any ladies”. I called my councillor, Mr Kempthorne, who suggested that I read the animal bylaws to see if the old man had done anything wrong (in general, I think this was probably something he should have known, and also general racism isn’t in the animal bylaws, but anyway). In fact, this angry old white dude had infringed by having a dangerous dog without a leash walking around so I delivered a copy of the bylaws, highlighted, to his mailbox, and Mr Kempthorne also asked his office to send someone to talk to the man. Despite my angry eyeballing of his house whenever I walk past, I have seen no more of this racist white man and his dog. But I’m sure he’s still in there.

Also during this time I have been called to a community meeting to discuss “security concerns” where it was clear some form of collusion between the village association and a major security service provider had happened, and where community protests at the exclusion of smaller service providers were met with shutdowns from the chairperson of the Harfield Village Association (but only after he’d asked us if we wouldn’t mind giving a donation because he’d actually spent quite a lot of our annual fees on hiring the venue and the sound equipment). As those of us who thought this meeting a laughing stock walked out, we were threatened with the idea that “if we didn’t do something now crime would only get worse”. A week later, after making the news for this general circus, the security tender was revised, and somehow they all managed to work together in a non-collusive way to protect us all. For a small monthly fee.

So, if what happens outside the houses of Harfield is anything to go by, it is a pretty complicated place full of racism, security threats, inefficient policing, domestic violence, and a bunch of white dudes making decisions for all of us. If that isn’t bad enough, let’s explore what happens inside the homes of Harfield. The easiest way to do this is to go online.

A few months after living here I was alerted to the existence of the Harfield Village Association closed Facebook Group. While I thought the assault of Cynthia Joni nearby was enough of an example of the racism, classism and sexism that prevails in this community, I was not fully alerted to the unashamed commitment to these beliefs until I encountered this ill-moderated page. On this page, ostensibly set up so the members of Harfield can talk about the community, build community projects, and share information about great service providers in the area, things only get worse. It appears that in fact, inside their homes, Harfield Villagers (or at least some of them) are even more racist and offensive than they let on outdoors. A summary sentence would be: “non-white” is still a category of person for these people.

Examples include alerting other villagers when there are “non-whites” in the area who are not expected to be there (this of course doesn’t happen if those “non-whites” are gardening, cleaning, taking away rubbish, within strict areas, so you can see which house they belong to, in which instances the village welcomes them) or coming up with creative solutions to homeless people asleep on the pavement (see this post, where a suggestion includes “let’s tar over them”). This is also a site to sex-worker spot, and to alert other villagers to the general deterioration of the social fabric as referenced by the presence of women making a living (I saw one having sex in the park! says one resident). When I proposed a community discussion on the topic of sex work, of course the resident who had started the whole complaints process said she wouldn’t come (what if she had to realise they were humans!??!). In addition, when the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce approached the Kenilworth councillor to discuss the issue, he cited that “sex work is a crime” and we must bring the full force of the law down on sex workers (as an aside, I don’t know any sex workers who work in areas where there are no demands for their service. But I digress…) If you’re interested in supporting the human rights of sex workers, there is a protest march on the 20th to his office organised by Sweat (Tuesday January 20, meet at Wynberg Magistrate’s Court at 9am).

The Harfield Village Association page allows what can only be seen as values antithetical to constitutional ones to flourish, unmoderated and without recourse. It should have a tagline “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”.

At a feminist meeting group the other evening friends and I discussed how the use of social media allows us to curate our realities — we follow people who are often of the same beliefs as us, we Google search only things that reinforce our particular world view, we unfriend those Facebook friends who say things we don’t agree with, and essentially what we end up doing is living in a bubble where people are either as liberal or conservative as we are. We begin to believe that most people think like us. This is dangerous because it means we withdraw from spaces where our views are different, and we begin to lose our skill for arguing for the values we hold dear.

The Harfield Village Association page is one place where this appears completely true. As it becomes more and more a site for white middle-class people to voice and echo disdain for anyone other than them, the more liberal members of the area exit, and join the other page “The Harfield Youth League”. This leaves these racist, sexist, awful people to pat each other on the back for a job well done and continue with their diatribes of exclusion. This leaves them thinking that they are in the majority when they’re inside their homes and this mentality can only spill out onto the streets. I think it’s time for those of us who left the page emotionally scarred and exhausted to take a breath and dive back in (if they’ll accept our request) because there is nothing more true than this quote:

“Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor,” Ginetta Sagan.


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    • Bernpm

      Golden rule: “if it is not your fight, do not get involved”.
      Seldom a thanks. You can only get hurt.

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      Good luck, Jen! You best have hair on your teeth! They grind you down and make you hate all humanity. Swimming in that cesspool is not for the faint of heart

    • exafrica

      I arrived behind the fish and chips curtain in Cape Town having fled England only to realise that I was back from where I fled. Very pleased to have left the monolinguals behind.

    • Fran Armour

      So you don’t believe in looking out for other people?

    • Robert Heneke

      Start a neighbourhood watch, and take back the streets.

    • BrowniePerson

      If I could make a practical suggestion to show a better way, at least with regards to that scourge of Cape Town, vile street people who do our recycling for us. Create 2 or 3 marked boxes for your glass/paper/cans/paper/electronics, whatever you happen to produce a lot of, and place them outside with your rubbish. I’d imagine you’d get a mixed response, but it seems there are at least few people around you who are humans, and who knows they might follow suite.

      Those doing the collecting are usually seen as a primary cause of crime in an area – important white dudes will point gleefully to a spike on your bin collection day. Their response is usually the mailed fist of justice, aimed at aggressively pushing them out the area. The opposite response, welcoming and supporting a legitimate industry (at least in all the countries your neighbours would probably like to emigrate to) might just have a surprising result.

    • barbeh

      The only way to change this is to do what you have been doing. I am sure it is beyond exhausting but I am happy you are doing this. If not you, who?

    • Congo Jibril

      Jen Thorpe would never partake in something like a neighbourhood watch as this would mean that they would need to expose themselves to the real world, something they are afraid to enter. It easier sitting behind a computer and moaning.

    • Fran Armour

      You clearly haven’t read or understood anything written – the neighbourhood watch IS the problem!!!!

    • David Goldberg

      What is so exhausting about whinging about everything that is wrong with your neighbourhood whilst sitting at the your desk writing a blog of sorts? The ‘white dudes’ who are trying form a new comprehensive security plan that will make all residents (irrespective of colour) safer are the ones that are probably exhausted from trying to get people to buy into the initiative while having to deal with whingers like Thorpe. People like her most probably rent and has no grasp on what constitutes a safe suburb and the effects of crime and grime on the property values (or reality for that matter) otherwise she would not be so hairy fairy about the everything under the sun. The Harfield Village Association is run by volunteers made up of residents who are elected and who has been short ‘staffed’ for years yet never once has Jen Thorpe ever offered to assist. She has probably never attended any of the AGM’s or offered to help out in any initiatives like the upkeep of the parks (used extensively by all races and even sex workers to ply their trade), raising funds for Rosmead primary school (which is made up of pupils from the Cape Flats) or help out at the annual Harfield Village carnival where all profits are plowed back into the community. These people must be exhausted and are never thanked but only castigated. If she thinks this association is racists then volunteer and change it from within. Maybe its time people like Thorpe to come out from behind their computers and actually do something to build their community and not break it down.

    • margarita

      Sympathies Jen. When you scratch the surface, many liberals turn out to be but fascists in cardigans.